The editor-in-chief of The Economist, John Micklethwait, asked a packed room at the World Ocean Summit if they thought the ocean was in worse shape now than when the conference was first held in 2012.
Almost everyone held up a pre-printed red card that read “yes,” leading Micklethwait to say that the room had responded “at North Korean levels” of agreement, referring to the authoritarian government’s reputation for unanimous elections.
Via video uplink to the conference in Half Moon Bay, California, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told the conservationists, business leaders, academics, and government officials in attendance that “the challenge of meeting current problems in our ocean is one of the most complex global problems that we face today.”
Kerry said “our oceans are in trouble.” But, he added, “The good news is we know exactly what is happening in our ocean and we have a good understanding of what we need to do. Though we don’t have the political will to do it.”
Kerry said governments around the world are not going to be able to muster the will to make sweeping changes in ocean protection without significant input from private business, non-governmental organizations, academia, and the media.
“That’s why I’m excited about today,” he said, referring to the makeup of the World Ocean Summit. “We need far more robust international dialogue on protecting our ocean.”
Prince Charles of Wales told the conference via video that “issues of the ocean are paramount to our own.”
The prince said, “Oceans provide huge wealth and sustain a large part of our global economy.” But, he said, the world’s fisheries are a case in point of the challenges. Although “sustainability is well within our reach” and “sustainably managed fisheries are more profitable than unsustainable ones,” overall fish stocks have been in decline.
“Too Many Fishermen”?
In Kerry’s words, there are “too many fishermen chasing too few fish.” Almost one-third of world fish stocks are over-exploited, “and most of the others are at maximum absolute levels,” said Kerry. Almost two-thirds of the global catch is wasted as bycatch, with fishers inefficiently targeting other species, he added.
That’s a problem, in part because more than one billion people rely on fish as their primary source of protein, he said.
Prince Charles said a challenge to overcoming the problem is some upfront investment, to improve fishing gear, educate workers, improve access to world markets, and provide meaningful certification programs for sustainability.
Kerry added that governments around the world should end subsidies for unsustainable fishing and implement more systematic checks on seafood delivered to ports around the world. He said he is working on rules in the U.S. that would require that all imported seafood be proven to be both legally caught and traceable.
Kerry said the world should also strive to protect 10 percent of the ocean in marine protected areas. (Less than three percent is currently protected, he said.)
At the conference, Prince Albert II of Monaco said marine protected areas “make it possible to reconcile sustainable fishing with ecological imperatives,” by protecting the species that are essential to the functioning of ecosystems and by bolstering fish stocks through spill-over into other areas.
Kerry also challenged all countries to work to reduce carbon emissions and increase investment in cleaner sources of energy, both to protect the ocean and “the future of all life.” He said, “We have clear marching orders.”
He added that although many countries have traditionally guarded their own sovereignty in their own waters, “that’s not the way the ocean works, or how species migrations work,” so he called on the delegates of the summit to work together to find common ground for stronger universal protection.
Don’t miss our live Hangout with National Geographic Explorer-In-Residence Enric Sala, marine biologist Tierney Thys, and submarine pilot and diesel engineer Erika Bergman on February 28 at 5:30 p.m. EST. Click here on Friday to watch: http://bit.ly/1j4hPqB #LetsExplore
Brian Clark Howard covers the environment for National Geographic. He previously served as an editor for TheDailyGreen.com and E/The Environmental Magazine, and has written for Popular Science, TheAtlantic.com, FastCompany.com, PopularMechanics.com, Yahoo!, MSN, and elsewhere. He is the co-author of six books, including Geothermal HVAC, Green Lighting, Build Your Own Small Wind Power System, and Rock Your Ugly Christmas Sweater.