Changing Planet

World Ocean Summit Puts Marine Issues “On Global Agenda”

Half Moon Bay, California, the site of the World Ocean Summit. Photo: Brian Clark Howard

Hundreds of representatives from national governments, environmental organizations, academic institutions, and corporations have gathered in Half Moon Bay, California, for the World Ocean Summit February 24-26.

As the sun rises over the hills to shed first light on the Pacific Ocean, delegates are meeting to discuss solutions to international ocean governance and sustainable use of a shared resource.

Setting the stage at a cocktail reception last night, Charles Goddard, the editorial director for Asia-Pacific of The Economist Intelligence Unit, said that “a great deal has happened to move the ocean to the global agenda.” The Economist is hosting the second World Ocean Summit, with National Geographic and supporting partners from the business sector. (The first summit was in 2012.)

Goddard said there has been a relative “poverty of knowledge” about the ocean, compared with the land, although that has been changing in recent years thanks to significant investments by governments, nonprofit institutions, and companies. This has lead to great opportunities for the near future, he said.

“Calls for sustainability and greater governance are rising but still fragile,” said Goddard, who pointed to impacts from pollution, over-exploitation, and climate change.

Goddard added that the goal of the summit was to bring business leaders together with conservationists and academics.

Echoing that goal, Julie Packard with the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the Monterey Bay Aquarium said business leadership is “the critical factor essential to success” in protecting the ocean. “Collectively we can and must do more,” said Packard, who warned that we “stand on the edge” of ocean heath.

The ocean provides oxygen, buffers the effects of greenhouse gases, supplies protein for millions of people around the world, and drives a vast engine of commerce, Packard said. “It is our lungs, our pantry, and a huge source of prosperity.”

Packard added that a few decades ago, there were hardly enough people working on ocean sustainability and health issues to fill the room. Now, there is much more investment in the ocean, she said, yet “we’re scrambling during a time of tremendous change.”

To motivate business leaders in the room to work toward ocean solutions, Packard gave the example of her father, who co-founded the tech company HP. He believed “companies should exist to improve people’s lives,” she said.

Leon Panetta Invokes JFK

Leon Panetta, the former U.S. Secretary of Defense, told the crowd that he grew up in Monterey, California, a short distance down the coast. When he was a boy, the local economy boomed thanks to a thriving sardine fishery. It had its physical manifestation in the famous Cannery Row, a series of processing operations that were immortalized in the writing of John Steinbeck.

But by the late 1940s, the sardine fishery had collapsed. “It was very difficult for a number of families, ” said Panetta. He added that seeing the hardship motivated him to work on ocean conservation issues, “so what happened here would not happen again.”

As a U.S. Congressman, Panetta worked on several efforts to protect the oceans, including a moratorium on oil drilling off California and creation of the Monterey Bay National Sanctuary.

“Our oceans are critical,” said Panetta. “They are central to our economy: one in six jobs are dependent on coastal communities. They also provide health, nutrition, they are essential to national security, and they are important to life itself.”

Panetta invoked John F. Kennedy, who had said, “The oceans are the salt in our veins.” And, Panetta added, “Our oceans are in crisis.” He pointed to 400 “dead zones” around the world, where life is choked out.

The time to act is now, said Panetta. By 2020, 75 percent of humanity will live in coastal areas. He urged the delegates of the World Ocean Summit to work together to find fresh solutions to international challenges.

On the conference agenda are discussions of regulation of the high seas, new technologies for fighting illegal fishing, mapping of underwater zones, and other topics. Conference sponsors include Blancpain, DNV-GL, Maersk, Google, Shell, Wallenius Wilhelmsen, and MediaMobz, as well as private foundations.

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: #LetsExplore


Brian Clark Howard covers the environment for National Geographic. He previously served as an editor for and E/The Environmental Magazine, and has written for Popular Science,,,, Yahoo!, MSN, and elsewhere. He is the co-author of six books, including Geothermal HVACGreen LightingBuild Your Own Small Wind Power System, and Rock Your Ugly Christmas Sweater.

  • Monica Högger

    It really is a problem…many reefs are in danger!!…There is a beach in Mexico, in Costa Maya, it is a beautiful beach, the color of the sea is so blue…just in front of this beach, there is banco chinchorro coral reef, one of the most important . To this beach arrives rubish from all over the world, they have found there plastic bottles from lots of different countries, they come with the currents and they kill animals that eat this garbage…it is so sad!!!….If only we could think that every time we use plastic(, in any form: bottles, glasses, bags, etc..) it may go to the ocean, in that moment we have the opportunity to leave it!…and use other forms to replace it that may be friendly with our oceans…the people in Mahahual are colecting the garbage that come from the sea, from different countries all over the world…its a shame!!! the ocean is not only responsability of one or two or three countries IT IS OUR OCEAN. There is a video in youtube called” Mahahual: un paraiso no reciclable” that I recomend you to see.
    If everybody knew how it feels to be into the sea and see the wonders of it, and feel the creatures so close!!! looking at you!!!…all the beauty…it is like been in another planet and so quiet with the reflexion of the sunlight that enter into the is just magnificent.. We can not let it disapear…

  • Isabel

    Is the location Monterey Bay, or Monterrey? Thanks.

  • Joey

    Sponsors include Shell, how nice of them to slap their name on such an event while spilling oil in african rivers.

  • Danny

    Good for them for finally acknowledging the oceans importance, but not once has the Fukishima radiation spill been mentioned. It has been pouring tons of nuclear radiation into the Pacific since 2011. You want to talk about fixing the oceans, maybe start with that although I think the damage cannot be undone.

  • Amrita Bhattacharyya

    save oceans save life

  • Ima Ryma

    A world summit on oceans is
    Prob’ly too little and too late.
    Humans doing their greedy biz –
    Oceans have suffered mass dire fate.
    At cocktail parties, humans mix
    And talk about the oceans’ plight.
    Wherever humans – politics,
    The far left versus the far right.
    Meantime, the ocean very near
    Further pollutes from the hot air
    Of summiteers who have come here
    To talk, but most don’t really care.

    Good intentions do oft break down,
    So best intent – make humans drown.

  • Rick Boelens

    By far the most serious issue affecting the oceans is over-fishing. The second is acidification caused by carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Unless politicians agree to take urgent action to stop excessive fishing and carbon emissions, marine life will irreparably damaged. Time to do this has almost run out.

  • Vidya Sagar Gautam

    Now the pH value of the ocean has decreased by 0.1 unit; but this is a logarithmic scale; & a decline of 0.1 scale signifies about ’13 % increase in acidity ‘ the ocean; & worth more to come.

About the Blog

Researchers, conservationists, and others share stories, insights and ideas about Our Changing Planet, Wildlife & Wild Spaces, and The Human Journey. More than 50,000 comments have been added to 10,000 posts. Explore the list alongside to dive deeper into some of the most popular categories of the National Geographic Society’s conversation platform Voices.

Opinions are those of the blogger and/or the blogger’s organization, and not necessarily those of the National Geographic Society. Posters of blogs and comments are required to observe National Geographic’s community rules and other terms of service.

Voices director: David Braun (

Social Media