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.

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