Open Letter on the Occasion of the “Our Ocean” Conference

image001We thank Secretary Kerry and the US Department of State for their leadership in getting the US public and world community to focus on the importance of the ocean in addressing the challenges of Climate Change in general, and ocean acidification in particular.

At the same time as “Our Ocean” conference, the UN Working Group on Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) is meeting at the UN in NYC.   Those areas beyond national jurisdiction, beyond any nation’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), represent 64% of our global ocean.  There are no doubt a number of reasons why the US delegation questions the need for a new binding international agreement for conservation of biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction, but it is encouraging to see the DOS and the Administration continuing leadership on ocean issues on measures that can be accomplished under existing law, orders and policies.

Its commendable that the DOS is joining in the international collaborative efforts to conserve the Sargasso Sea, that special place defined by currents, that Sylvia Earle describes as “as the floating, golden rain forest of the sea, populated by small, medium, and large animals.”  We hope that the US will help to support that MPA and perhaps others in the high seas.

One way the US could demonstrate leadership is to revisit the Executive Order on NEPA abroad to update it to be consistent with obligations under customary international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention so that all federal agencies are doing an EA or EIS for federal activities in the high seas that may have an adverse effect on that marine environment.

Another way is to revisit the Executive Order on MPAs to encourage federal agencies to cooperate with other nations and existing institutions to further the conservation of biodiversity in the high seas through the use of MPAs.

Encouraging the development of MPAs need not be limited to the high seas and may include areas beyond the coastal State jurisdiction of the US but of mutual interest, such as a Guantanamo Bay Peace Park Agreement with Cuba along the lines of the Jordan Peace Park established in the Middle East.

Photo 48: Bow of the RMS Titanic. (NOAA Photo Library)
Photo 48: Bow of the RMS Titanic. (NOAA Photo Library)

Finally, the establishment of MPAs in the high seas should not be limited to natural heritage but should also include cultural heritage, such as the RMS Titanic.  In the role of Secretary of State, Kerry can build upon the leadership demonstrated in the Senate in putting a bill on the table and getting it through Committee around the 100th Anniversary of its sinking.

So much is at stake in our oceans, in the Arctic, the Antarctic, and in the high seas.  It is our collective heritage and our legacy—and under Kerry’s leadership and that of the Administration, the US can help frame and lay the groundwork for the protection of the biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction on which we all depend.

Changing Planet


Meet the Author
Mark J. Spalding, President, The Ocean Foundation, is a member of the Steering Committee of the Western Hemisphere Migratory Species Initiative. Mark is an active participant in the marine working group, Ocean Acidification collaborative, Baja California group, and coral reef group of the funders' organization, the Consultative Group on Biological Diversity. He serves on the International Bering Sea Forum, and he was the chair of the Council of the National Whale Conservation Fund. He has consulted for the Alaska Conservation Foundation, San Diego Foundation, the International Community Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Fundacion La Puerta, and a number of family foundations. He designed and managed the Orca Fund. He has served as a member of the Environmental Grants Advisory Committee of FINCOMUN (Tijuana’s Community Foundation). Mark, who has been practicing law and acting as a policy consultant for 25 years, was the chair of the environmental law section of the California State Bar Association from 1998-1999. He holds a B.A. in history with Honors from Claremont McKenna College, a J.D. from Loyola Law School, and a Master in Pacific International Affairs (MPIA) from IR/PS. From 1994 to 2003 Mark was the Director of the Environmental Law and Civil Society Program, and Editor of the Journal of Environment and Development, at the Graduate School of International Relations & Pacific Studies (IR/PS), University of California at San Diego. In addition to lecturing at IR/PS, Mark has taught at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UCSD's Muir College, UC Berkeley's Goldman School of Public Policy, and University of San Diego's School of Law. Mark has helped design some of the most significant ocean conservation campaigns in recent years. He is an experienced and successful facilitator at the international level. He brings his extensive experience with the legal and policy aspects of ocean conservation to the Foundation's grantmaking strategy and evaluation process.