Our founder, Jeff Pantukhoff, was recently in Washington DC attending the Department of State’s exclusive Our Oceans Conference, hosted by Secretary of State John Kerry. While there is plenty of cause for concern regarding the health of our ocean ecosystems, there is also reason for great hope.
The conference discussed several of the biggest challenges facing our oceans including overfishing, pollution, and acidification.
Currently, over a third of the world’s commercial fish stocks are in serious decline due to overfishing by illegal fishing vessels. On Tuesday, President Obama announced a presidential decree that supports sustainable fishing practices and combats seafood fraud and the sale of illegal, unreported and unregulated fish in the US, ensuring that consumers will be buying seafood that is sustainable and traceable! Norway also announced that it was going to invest $150 million USD to develop and monitor sustainable fisheries worldwide.
In regards to marine debris, over fifty percent of all marine debris is comprised of single use plastics and plastic particles have now been found in Arctic ice. Production of plastics has increased drastically in recent decades. In 1950, 1.7 million tons of plastic were produced. Today, over 265 million tons of plastics are produced annually. In the US, many municipalities are banning single use plastic bags and many cities around the globe are doing the same. Secretary Kerry urged all nations and consumers to stop depending on and using single use plastics emphasizing that everyone should reduce, recycle, and reuse wherever possible.
Another type of pollution that is causing serious problems in our oceans is nutrient pollution from agriculture
and coastal development causing coastal dead zones to form due to oxygen depletion. Coastal dead zones are not naturally occurring and are a result of a 300% increase in both nitrogen & phosphorous since 1950 due to a huge increase in the amount of fertilizers and pesticides being used.
Greenhouse gasses, which cause acidification, are another major threat facing our oceans. 27% of all carbon dioxide emissions are absorbed by our oceans, contributing to a drop
in the Oceanic pH from an average of 8.1 over the past 65 million years to the current level of 7.9 and a projected level of 7.6 by 2150. This is causing a major decline in the world’s shellfish and corals with nearly 50% of the world’s coral reefs dying in the last 50 years. Secretary Kerry called on all nations to make serious commitments to reduce carbon emissions and reiterated that the US was cutting 30% of all carbon emissions from power plants by 2030. Norway announced it was committing $1 billion USD to reduce their carbon emissions.
In a very exciting development, actor and philanthropist Leonardo DiCaprio opened day two of the conference by announcing plans to donate $7 million over the next two years to aid in ocean conservation. In particular he emphasized investing the $7 million for the conservation and protection of whales and sharks and for the creation of new marine protected areas.
Speaking of creating new marine protected areas, several countries made exciting announcements on Tuesday, starting with the United States when President Obama announced he was going to double the size of the Hawaiian Islands National Monument, creating the largest marine protected area in the world which would be off-limits to fishing, energy exploration and other commercial activities. The President of Palau followed by announcing that he was establishing Palau’s entire Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) as a marine protected area. The Cook Islands then announced their own marine park protecting over 50% of its EEZ & pledged to expand it to 100% in the near future. The Bahamas pledged to increase its marine protected area from 2% to 10% of its EEZ this year and to 20% by 2020.
While the current state of our oceans is most definitely worrisome, we can all have great hope in the future as long as individuals and governments continue to work together to protect this vital resource. In closing the conference, Secretary Kerry called on all nations to work with him in developing a unified “Global Ocean Policy” to make protecting our oceans an urgent priority!