There is urgent need to save the oceans: John Kerry

Public Event on Oceans in Beijing, China

Illegal fishing-representative photo, courtesy seafoodwatch,org
Illegal fishing-representative photo, courtesy seafoodwatch,org

Beijing: US Secretary of State John Kerry Monday (June 6) said that there is urgent need to save the oceans.

Delivering his remarks at the Public Event on Oceans here, Kerry went on to emphasise that the leaders of two of the largest economies in the world, the U.S. and China, are not just thinking about terrorism and nuclear weapons and various relationships, but they’re thinking about the ocean.”

Kerry said both countries recognize the urgent need to safeguard the marine resources. Both countries have to play a leading role in addressing various threats to the ocean, particularly the threat of acidification – which comes from what we put up in the atmosphere, and then drops down in rain or in deposits – in overfishing, and pollution of various kinds.

The same carbon pollution that drives climate change is also altering – actually acidifying the ocean, Kerry said adding it changes the basic chemistry of the ocean at a rate 10 times faster than at any other point in human history that we have measured. What happens with the acidification is the CO2 that goes into the water actually turns into carbonic acid. And that carbonic acid can destroy shell-packed entities like clams or fish, mollusks and so forth. Over time, we’re noticing that even where there’s a higher acidity, you have smaller and smaller clams depending on the level of acidity.

Unsustainable fishing

Drawing further attention to the problem of acidification, Kerry said it is changing coral reefs and habitats of the fish. One-third of all the major fisheries of the world are overfished and most of the rest are being harvested right at the top level of what they are able to sustain, which is why it is unsustainable fishing that is taking place.

Expressing serious concern, Kerry pointed out that illegal, unreported, unregulated fishing is taking place in vast expanses of the ocean, that is the high seas. Illegal fishing or pirate fishing, has skyrocketed in its levels so that millions of fish – millions of tons of fish are being taken out of the ocean. Much of it is what you call bycatch, so it just gets thrown overboard for the fish that they’re particularly looking for, and it is a slow attrition – killing, if you will – of the ecosystem itself. Pollution, Kerry said, is choking our waters in many parts of the world. In America, for instance, coming out of the various rivers that feed into the Mississippi River – there are 31 states that feed into one river. But the agricultural runoff of nitrates and chemicals and gasoline from gas stations and so forth pours into the rivers, pours out, empties into the Gulf of Mexico, and there’s a 5,000-square-mile area that is a dead zone. There are now well over 400 dead zones around the world where nothing will live because there’s no oxygen, there’s no capacity for life.

Kerry also pointed out that we are dumping into the oceans millions of tons of plastic that entangles creatures, harms habitat, and it breaks down very slowly. And as it breaks down, it is ingested by marine mammals and fish. Experts point out that by 2050 there may well be more plastic in the ocean than fish.

Kerry underscored the urgent need to save the oceans by asserting that none can live without it. Not only does it play a vital role in generating oxygen – about half the oxygen that human beings use comes from the ocean. Not only does it play a vital role storing carbon dioxide – it’s a huge storage tank for the carbon dioxide that could go up into the atmosphere and warm the Earth at a much faster rate, but it goes into the ocean where it’s stored. It also regulates our climate. It is a key pillar of the global economy. Literally hundreds of millions of people make a living through ocean-related industries, and trillions of dollars in cargo are transported across the ocean every single day, he added.

Action Plan

There is an Ocean Conference in September of this year – it will be the third conference in order to raise people’s consciousness but also to get countries to commit to actions that will help to preserve the ocean. Last conference was held in Washington. On that occasion, $4 billion were committed in pledges to go to efforts to help save the oceans, and about 6 million square kilometers of ocean was set aside as marine protected areas, and this year the plan is to add substantially to that record.

The US and China

Kerry said that the US and China are the two largest economies and also two of the world’s top fishing nations. The two countries are also two of the global leaders on ocean science. He said just as we’ve been able to do on climate change, the United States and China have a huge ability to have the same impact on ocean conservation provided that both countries combine their efforts and policies.

Kerry expressed the hope that China will use the September conference to announce new commitments and initiatives to support sustainable fisheries, to create marine protected areas, to reduce ocean pollution, and to combat climate change.

Even as we look ahead to the Conferenece this fall, Kerry went on to observe:”we are not waiting until then to take action. This is the second consecutive year that we have included a separate discussion on ocean issues as part of the Security and Economic Dialogue that we are engaged in for these two days here in Beijing.”

Drawing attention to progress being made, Kerry remarked:

“we have agreed to set up sister marine protected areas in places like the Hainan Sanya Coral Reef and the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa and elsewhere to exchange best practices on MPA science, monitoring, and management. We’ve also identified Xiamen and Weihai and San Francisco and New York to serve as partner cities, helping us to learn from each other in such areas of importance like urban waste collection and recycling, so that we can reduce the flow of garbage and pollutants that go from our shores directly into the ocean.

In addition, China and the United States both support the establishment of a marine protected area in Antarctica’s Ross Sea, one of the world’s last remaining pristine marine environments. And we’re going to be working together to realize this goal as rapidly as we can.

And together we’ve also agreed to develop a process to exchange detailed information on seafood products so that we can better keep illegally obtained fish from making it to the market, and we are working jointly with other governments to complete a legally binding agreement to prevent unregulated commercial fishing in the high seas of the central Arctic Ocean.”


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