Ocean vital to our lives: we must protect it

  • Mary Ellen Koenig, the US Consul General is shown a CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth) device by William Curry during her tour of BIOS this week (Photograph supplied)

    Mary Ellen Koenig, the US Consul General is shown a CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth) device by William Curry during her tour of BIOS this week (Photograph supplied)

On the afternoon we arrived in Bermuda one month ago, my husband and I peered eagerly out the aircraft’s window to catch sight of the entirety of Bermuda as we flew in over the beautiful turquoise waters.

We had never before lived on an island and, studying maps in anticipation, we were struck by Bermuda’s isolation in the vast waters of the Atlantic. Clearly, the ocean was going to be an important part of our new lives.

It is not an exaggeration to say that the world’s population depends upon the ocean for its very existence. This is crystal clear here in Bermuda, but it is also true for people everywhere around the world. The ocean regulates our climate and our weather. It generates half of the oxygen we breathe. It provides food and income for billions of people. Covering almost three quarters of the planet, the ocean is a natural resource like no other. Bermuda’s fate — and indeed, humankind’s fate — is inextricably tied to the ocean’s fate.

But, sadly, scientific studies indicate that the ocean is in trouble. The world’s fish stocks are increasingly depleted and, in most regions, continue to be overfished. Run-off and debris are choking parts of the ocean; a garbage patch twice the size of Texas floats in the Pacific Ocean. And the chemistry of the ocean is becoming more acidic because of the carbon that we are pumping into the air.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that experts know what is behind the degradation of the ocean. We know the steps needed to restore the health of our ocean, and we have the science to change the future for the ocean.

In June 2014, US Secretary of State John Kerry brought global leaders and international experts together at the first Our Ocean conference in Washington with the intention of creating a global movement to protect the ocean and its resources. On Monday and Tuesday, Chile will host the second Our Ocean conference in Valparaiso. Like its predecessor, this conference will focus on sustainable fisheries, marine debris, ocean acidification and marine protected areas, and will follow up on commitments made at the 2014 conference.

The first conference announced new partnerships and initiatives valued at more than $1.8 billion, as well as new commitments on the protection of more than three million square kilometres of the ocean — an area roughly the size of India. One year ago, in September 2014, Barack Obama expanded the US Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument to make it the largest marine protected area (MPA) in the world. With a global target of protecting 10 per cent of the world’s coastal and marine areas by 2020, other nations such as Gabon, Britain, Palau, and the Bahamas have also recently committed to establishing new MPAs. Norway announced this year that it will allocate more than $1 billion to climate change mitigation and adaptation assistance as part of the effort to prevent ocean acidification. In the context of the first Our Ocean conference, Togo, Benin, Ghana and Nigeria announced a new agreement among their countries to combat illegal fishing in their area of West Africa.

These are welcome steps from governments around the world. Individuals and non-profits are also making significant contributions. Leonardo DiCaprio, the actor, has pledged millions of dollars to ocean conservation projects. Entrepreneurs have joined forces in the Think Beyond Plastic Innovation Forum to inspire innovation to reduce global plastic pollution, which is harming both sea creatures and coral reefs. The Ocean Foundation is developing a global ocean acidification observing network.

Here in Bermuda, I look forward to meeting the individuals and institutions that are actively working to protect the oceans around us. I’ve had a good start with recent tours of the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS) and the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute (BUEI). The breadth and creativity of the research at BIOS is breathtaking; this research is clearly making huge contributions to our increased understanding of global warming.

When my husband and I toured the BUEI exhibits on a recent weekend, we were impressed with the docent’s presentation on the new lionfish exhibit, including her encouragement to ask local restaurants to serve lionfish on the menu so that consumers can help to combat this invasive species.

I know that there are other organisations that are active on both the educational and activist fronts, including the Bermuda Zoological Society and the Audubon Society. I read a recent story in this newspaper about an island-wide coastal clean-up day, which deployed volunteers to many Bermudian beaches. I am hopeful that next year I can lead a team from the US Consulate to help with this effort, which protects Bermuda’s natural beauty and the ocean around us.

As Mr Kerry has pointed out, “protecting our oceans is not a luxury. It is a necessity that contributes to our economy, our climate and our way of life. Working together, we can change the current course and chart a sustainable future”.

As a new resident of Bermuda, I will be watching the outcomes of the Our Ocean conference in Chile with great interest. We all have an important stake in international efforts to restore the health of our oceans.

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Published Oct 3, 2015 at 8:00 am (Updated Oct 3, 2015 at 8:08 am)

Ocean vital to our lives: we must protect it

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