The ocean crisis is deepening: overfishing, pollution, climate change and ocean acidification are causing damage from the icy polar oceans to the warm waters of the tropics. Worrying stories about ocean destruction and scientists’ warnings are becoming both more frequent and more alarming. Only last Friday, a new scientific study published in Science magazine and featured on the front page of the New York Times warned that the industrialisation of the oceans may lead to mass extinctions, but that there is still time to avert catastrophe if steps are taken immediately.
This week we could see real progress in our fight for the oceans; a crucial meeting of the United Nations Working Group is taking place right now. At the end of this meeting, we are hoping to see delegates make a recommendation to the UN General Assembly concerning an agreement that would protect all the marine life that inhabits international waters. Ocean lovers from around the world are following this meeting closely; sharing their oceans resolutions to create a growing awareness, demanding solutions, and speaking up in support of the politicians working to turn the tide in favour of ocean protection.
We needn’t look too far for leaders willing to step up for the oceans: United States Secretary of State John Kerry has done a great deal to raise the public and political profile of the oceans crisis and point to solutions. Just last summer, he convened the international ‘Our Ocean’ conference where he brought together many ocean experts and politicians, as well as key influencers such as Leonardo Di Caprio to help forge a “global political plan for the oceans.”
But right now, we need him to ensure that his team at the UN support the growing consensus at the meeting. The agreement is seen as desirable by most countries, yet the US appears unmoving in its opposition. The US government’s position is clearly contrary to their generally positive position on oceans issues and completely at odds with Secretary Kerry’s passionate advocacy for ocean protection. The US government must do better.
The high seas cover 64% of the planet and are home to countless whales, sharks and turtles, yet they are virtually unprotected. In fact, these waters, which belong to us all, have become a ‘wild west’ where industrial operations can operate almost entirely free from regulation.
A UN Agreement to protect the marine life of the high seas would enable the creation of a global network of ocean sanctuaries that would safeguard the myriad ocean life and also provide the framework for regulating damaging industries. It would lay the foundation for exactly the sort of ‘global political plan’ Kerry called for in 2014.
At Our Ocean 2014, John Kerry reminded us that we all have a responsibility to speak up for the oceans, drive the issue up the political agenda and hold politicians accountable. Secretary of State, ocean lovers worldwide are doing that right now. I hope your team is listening – both to you and to them.
John Hocevar is the Oceans Campaign Director at Greenpeace US.
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