US Secretary of State John Kerry clearly cares about the ocean. He grew up with the sea and backed many progressive ocean policies while in the US Senate. You could feel that emotional connection at the OurOcean conference, which he hosted over the last two days in Washington, D.C. Unlike most political conferences I have been to, there was a tight agenda, and there was – by the standards of political conferences, anyway – a lot of action.
- The United States announced a significant extension of the Pacific Marine Sanctuary and actions to stop illegal fishing in US waters.
- The Bahamas committed to making 20% of their oceans ocean sanctuaries by 2020 (and 10% already this year) and put forward $200 million to improve the management of their protected areas.
- Palau and Kiribati both declared huge new areas off limits to commercial fishing in order to help (especially) tuna stocks to recover.
- Norway will invest $150 million in sustainable fisheries research.
- Togo pledged to join Senegal and fight illegal fishing of their coasts – a move that could have significant positive impacts for local fisher communities.
The list goes on. The devil with many of these announcements will be in the detail. Just because good words were spoken in Washington does not yet mean that there will be real change out on the ocean. Still, in a situation where less than 2% of the oceans are currently protected and fishstocks are being overexploited everywhere, this list is heartening. And Chile committed to host a follow up meeting next year to check whether the words have indeed resulted in action.
Kerry’s approach was refreshing. His speeches were engaging and forceful, reminding us all that without the ocean there can be no security or development in future. He also freely admitted that there was not enough being done yet. He even called on the audience to create a global mass movement to force politicians to take ocean protection (more) seriously. Greenpeace definitely wants to be part of that!
But oddly enough, at the very same time as he said those words, Secretary Kerry ignored the strong movement that already exists to protect the High Seas. OurOcean shamefully ignored the tens of thousands of you who called for urgent protection of 64% of the ocean that belongs to no nation.
It’s not that the need to protect the High Seas wasn’t mentioned. Leonardo di Caprio called for an urgent end to the “Wild West” exploitation of the High Seas and said that people want to see governments taking action. But on the Twitter feed in the conference hall, not a single one of the over 10,000 tweets calling for High Seas protection ever showed up! And while John Kerry called for a “global political plan for the Ocean,” he failed to mention the High Seas even once.
It’s easy to see why. If Secretary Kerry had talked about the High Seas, he would have revealed a giant contradiction in the US position on ocean protection. While OurOcean was happening in Washington, global negotiations to create a rescue plan for the High Seas were happening at the United Nations in New York. Secretary Kerry was rightly proud of the actions he could announce in Washington, but his own negotiation team is shamefully failing to back ocean action at the United Nations. That’s pretty untenable, and has left many of us, including my boss, Kumi Naidoo, very confused.
Despite the infuriating censorship of the issue, I am inclined to give Secretary Kerry the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he is so embarrassed by the inconsistency of his government’s approach that he is ignoring high seas biodiversity out of shame?
We’re going to give him a little more time to change the United States position on the High Seas Biodiversity Agreement. But I’d like to see him apply the same efficiency and passion with which he and his team delivered the OurOcean conference towards fixing the US’s position on the High Seas. If he does not, the ocean movement, which he called a “hard ass group of folks” will come right back at him.
It’s obvious that we can never protect our Ocean if we ignore 64% of it. So let’s take John Kerry at his word and help build a movement he cannot ignore. Join our call for Ocean Sanctuaries now!