Inspired by the Our Ocean Conference
By Executive Director Serge Dedina
Last week, the U.S. State Department issued a last minute invitation for me to attend the Our Ocean Conference in Washington D.C. hosted by Secretary of State John Kerry. According to Secretary Kerry, the purpose of the conference was, “To catalyze actions to protect our ocean from these threats and to empower a new generation to lead the way toward a healthy and sustainable ocean.” As the Executive Director of WILDCOAST, I have worked tirelessly with my amazing team and fishing communities, governments, and the private sector to establish safe havens in the ocean to protect key ecosystems and ocean wildlife. Areas such as Cabo Pulmo National Park are now global models for ocean conservation, with fish stocks rebounding at an incredible pace after banning fishing. And in California, our advanced and extensive system of MPAs are recovering fish populations up and down the coast. So it was great to see global leaders come together to announce new measures for ocean conservation and funding initiatives to further on the ground marine protection initiatives.
What became clear to me upon listening to Secretary Kerry speak at the opening conference reception at the U.S. Institute for Peace (across from the State Department) was the passion that Secretary Kerry has for our blue planet. He recounted how he came to love the ocean while sailing as a child with his father. That dedication to the sea, because apparent while he was a U.S. Senator representing Massachusetts and was a leader in dealing with global climate change and regulating the heavily overfished northeastern Atlantic. Now as Secretary of State he is leading efforts to combat climate change and work with nations around the world to implement effective concrete actions to protect the ocean.
So it was inspiring to have President Obama came out on state to announce the new Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, off the coast of New England. This new 4,913 square mile reserve will be a critical location to protect ocean wildlife and help to recover the ocean in an area of heavy commercial fishing but incredibly abundant biodiversity and productivity. As I listened to our President, whose ocean conservation legacy will be the greatest in history, it also became apparent that he has a deep and profound love the ocean as a result of growing up in Oahu and his visits to amazingly wild places such as Alaska during his time in office.
Since 2014, the three Our Ocean conferences have generated commitments valued at over $9.2 billion to protect our ocean and committed to protect 9.9 million square kilometers (3.8 million square miles) of ocean – an area the size of the United States. The commitments focus on the key ocean issues of our time: marine protected areas, sustainable fisheries, marine pollution, and climate-related impacts on the ocean. It was hard to keep track the dizzying list of 2016 Ocean Conference commitments, but they included new MPA designations in the Seychelles, UK, Micronesia, Canada, Eduardo, Cambodia, Palau, Colombia, Malaysia, Costa Rica, Malta, Sri Lanka, Korea, Thailand, Morocco, Norway, Lebanon, and Kuwait.
It was alarming to see the absence of Mexico in this list of nations, especially since the opening conference video featured our longtime colleague and ocean conservation champion Dr. Enric Sala touting the importance of conservation efforts in Cabo Pulmo. I communicated recently with representatives of the Mexican government about the notable absence of Mexico at the conference and am hopeful that next year, when the conference is in Malta, that Mexico will be present and join the vanguard of global nations committed to preserving our blue planet.
After spending three days in the company of ocean champions from around the U.S. and the world, I came away more committed than ever to the cause of protecting our coast and ocean and expanding our efforts and team who are in the field and in the water in California, Mexico and Cuba to forever preserve some of the world’s most amazing and ecologically significant coastal and marine ecosystems.
By Serge Dedina Ph.D., WILDCOAST Executive Director