Kerry to host conference on overfishing, pollution and other threats to oceans

Secretary of State John F. Kerry said Monday that he will host a global conference in mid-June focused on addressing three major threats to the sea — overfishing, marine pollution and ocean acidification.

The “Our Ocean” meeting — which will bring together a mix of senior government officials, scientists, industry representatives, environmentalists and foundations from more than 80 countries to Washington on June 16 and 17 — aims to heighten the importance of marine issues in formulating foreign policy.

In a video, Kerry said he has had a deep attachment to the sea from the time he was a toddler exploring the Atlantic Ocean off the Massachusetts coast, and he came to appreciate its value to humanity as he grew older.

“The ocean fuels our trade. It provides much of the food we eat, the air we breathe. It is home to vast, extraordinary ecosystems from the coral reefs to the kelp forests,” he said. “But today, this incredible resource is threatened. It’s threatened by unsustainable fishing, by pollution, by climate change. Indeed, how we respond to these challenges is literally going to help determine the future of our planet.”

Kerry, who worked to curb drift net fishing and shark finning during his time in the Senate, had hoped to hold the meeting in October, but it was canceled because of the government shutdown.

“The time is right to elevate these issues,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters Monday, adding that Kerry “is personally committed to building global stewardship for our oceans in the face of unsustainable fishing practices, record pollution and the devastating effects of climate change.”

While the summit will not produce the kind of consensus document that comes out of most U.N. environmental meetings, State Department officials said it would include different “calls to action,” including one to individuals and one that would reflect the policy goals countries are willing to adopt for the future. The United States will announce new funding initiatives and policy targets as part of the event, they added.

The initiative is the latest sign of how the Obama administration is pursuing a more assertive environmental agenda in the second term, especially since White House senior counselor John Podesta has joined the staff this year.

Senators such as Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) have urged the White House to highlight ocean acidification as one of the clearest effects of climate change, since human-generated carbon emissions are making the world’s seas more acidic.

The conference will explore two different types of ocean pollution — nutrient runoff from farming that has created “dead zones,” and plastic debris that collects in parts of the ocean such as the Pacific gyre, a massive garbage patch that has killed large numbers of birds and other creatures that accidentally ingest its debris.

Some heads of state will attend the meeting, State officials said, although the event will also target young people across the globe by featuring international celebrities as well as interactive elements through social media and webcasting.

Juliet Eilperin, The Washington Post, 21 April 2014. Article.

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