Chile, U.S. Lead Move to Protect Our Oceans in Time

At the 2015 Our Ocean conference in the host Chilean port city of Valparaiso Oct. 5, the Chilean government, along with the United States’ and others’, committed to a series of actions to protect precious ocean areas and marine resources, continuing last year’s momentum

Chile blocked off a vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean near Easter Island to protect it from threats, including pollution, overfishing and oil and gas exploration. The United States, meanwhile, is moving to create the first new National Marine Sanctuary since 2001, one in Maryland and the other in the Great Lakes. President Barack Obama, in a videotaped statement, said he would seek to protect more American waters in the coming months.

Britain, Gabon, Kiribati, New Zealand and Palau have taken steps as well to protect sections of the sea in recent months.

Other moves explored at the summit to deal with plastic pollution include:

  • A new partnership between the U.S. and the UNEP Caribbean Environment Programme in the wider Caribbean region to implement Trash Free Waters, a collaborative approach to reduce land-based sources of trash and marine debris;
  • A U.S. commitment of over $1.5 million in 2016 to work with partners to remove marine debris from sensitive ecosystems in the U.S. and to develop innovative projects that change behavior to minimize the amounts and impacts of marine debris;
  • A partnership between the coastal cities of Xiamen and Weihai in China, and San Francisco and New York, to share best practices related to waste management to reduce the flow of trash into the ocean.

Secretary of State John Kerry made these remarks in a keynote address:

We’re not just fishing unsustainably, my friends; we are living unsustainably. Our ocean is taking in a massive amount of pollution—8 million tons of plastic alone every single day. To put that into context, scientists say that the ocean may soon contain one ton of plastic for every three tons of fish. Not only that, but the chemistry of our ocean is changing rapidly. Why? Because nearly a third of greenhouse gasses that are coming out of tailpipes of cars and smokestacks of power plants end up getting absorbed by the ocean. And that may seem helpful, but when carbon dioxide dissolves into saltwater, it forms an acid—carbonic acid. And as a result, the sea is acidifying 10 times faster than at any point in history, stunting the growth of shellfish, degrading coral reefs, and putting the entire marine food web at risk.

The U.S. will host the summit in 2016. For more information on Our Ocean Conference 2015, go to the U.S. Department of State website here.

Photo: A boat on a Chilean waterway, [ROBZ] / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

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