U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s “Our Oceans” Summit in Review

Farah Mustafa

The establishment of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) was a pivotal step in United Nations history towards establishing a convention on the High Seas. Since the conception of the UNCLOS, an oscillating discussion within the international arena has actively sought even greater regulations of the High Seas and protection for marine life in historically-unregulated areas. United States Secretary of State John Kerry has spearheaded one such discussion. He and his officials launched an annual Our Oceans conference in 2014. The third meeting has just concluded in Washington, DC. Prior to this year’s conference, over $US4 billion has been pledged for the protection of about six million square kilometers of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) by participating government leaders and nongovernmental organizations. This year’s conference welcomed an additional 136 new initiatives worth US 5.24 billion, and commitments protecting an additional four million square kilometers of ocean.

The commitments announced at this September’s ‘Our Oceans’ Conference strive to: protect select ocean areas, support coastal communities, support sustainable fisheries, reduce marine pollution, address issues of climate change, and better monitor and understand life and activity in the ocean. Of the 136 new initiatives and new commitments, the following is a list of highlights and notable efforts:

  • The Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument on the Hawaiian coast will be expanded by approximately 1.15 million square kilometers, protecting additional marine life, making it the world’s largest MPA.
  • The Atlantic Ocean’s first ever marine monument was announced, at a size of approximately 12 800 square kilometers near the New England coast.
  • The European Union pledged USD 1.126 million to launch MPAs in Europe, Africa, North America, and South America between now and the end of 2017
  • The European Union announced its duty to prevent illegal fishing, thereby committing USD 6.75 million to improve fishing regulations and capacity building
  • The United Kingdom announced a sustainable use MPA throughout a 445 000 square kilometer zone around St. Helena’s and other MPAs, contributing over USD 22 million towards the maintenance of these MPAs.
  • Canada maintained the goal of protecting 5% of its marine and coastal areas by 2017, and 10% of marine and coastal areas by 2020.
  • Senegal pledged USD 120 million towards the restoration of degraded marine areas in the country.
  • USD 847 million was pledged by Panama to expand its clean-up project primarily through the development of a wastewater treatment plant.
  • Germany announced a USD 112 million action plan for the expansion of MPAs in the country, and announced that the country will be modifying the G7 Action Plan to Combat Marine Litter to include developing and industrializing countries during its upcoming G20 presidency.
  • UN Environment is putting USD 6 million towards worldwide marine litter work.
  • The United States is putting USD 2 billion towards two NASA oceanic satellite systems to better understand the carbon cycle, changes in ocean circulation and climate patterns.
  • These initiatives amongst the others announced during the Our Oceans Conference will be followed up on during next year’s Our Oceans conference. This next Conference will be hosted by the European Union in Malta. And at the next G20 Summit in Germany in July, and next year’s Our Oceans conference updates on commitments will be reviewed and any new initiates arising for the better care and protection of Oceans will be announced.

    All these efforts have been initiated with the aim of creating a first of a kind UN Treaty designed to regulate the previously unregulated regions of the High Seas, most particularly marine biodiversity beyond the Exclusive Economic Zones 200 miles away from the shores of participating countries.


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