The Our Ocean Initiative

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Ten years ago, I stood with then US Secretary of State John Kerry in the spectacular Sant Ocean Hall at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC to discuss an issue that we both hold dear: the state of the world’s oceans. Before that week in 2014, no one had gathered world leaders, funders, non-profits, and academics together under one roof to dedicate time to solving some of the greatest threats facing our oceans. That all changed when Secretary Kerry created Our Ocean – an annual international conference that will meet this week, for the ninth time, in Athens, Greece.

International gatherings can be tricky and disappointing, often ending in stalemates on important decisions. There is no kicking the can down the road at Our Ocean. There is real progress, ending each annual meeting with a healthier path forward for the oceans. Since 2014, the Our Ocean conference has mobilized more than 2,160 commitments worth approximately $130 billion (€122.5bn) and protected more than 5 million square miles (13 million square kilometres) of ocean. Last year’s conference in Panama culminated in 360 commitments alone, including an announcement from the government of Panama that it would protect more than 54% of its ocean.

The Our Ocean Initiative

The Challenges Facing Our Oceans

The Challenges Facing Our Oceans

One of my favourite announcements was at the 2016 Our Ocean conference when Sec. Kerry helped Oceana, SkyTruth, and Google unveil Global Fishing Watch to the world — a first-of-its-kind technology platform that enables anyone to see and track the activity of commercial fishing vessels in near real-time — for free. Global Fishing Watch is now working to map all human activity at sea. What a powerful tool.

These commitments are essential because our oceans are up against many threats. Half of global fisheries are overfished and another 40% are fished to maximum levels. Illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing is also a dire threat that depletes ocean resources, destroys habitats, and has even been tied to forced labour and other human rights abuses. Nearly 33 billion pounds (15 billion kilogrammes) of plastic pollution enter the oceans every year — equivalent to dumping two garbage trucks full of plastic into the oceans every minute.

The Our Ocean Initiative

The oceans have also borne the brunt of climate change, absorbing over 90% of all the excess heat trapped on Earth, contributing to a slew of impacts like coral bleaching, warming ocean temperatures, and sea level rise. It’s safe to say we put the oceans through a lot. And it takes bold action to counteract these harsh effects. Fortunately, Our Ocean is where we can chart a course forward.

The content has been organized into two sections with appropriate subheadings.

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