US secretary of state John Kerry has called for international cooperation to protect oceans that are “under siege” from overfishing, pollution and acidification.
On Monday, the State Department will host a two-day summit bringing together policymakers, scientists, businesses and activists to discuss the many threats currently facing marine life.
It is hoped the event will mobilise global action to reduce the pressure on fish stocks, to cut the contamination of the seas with manmade pollutants, and to tackle climate change, which is driving the acidification of the oceans at an alarming rate.
“Increasingly, the ocean is threatened,” Kerry said on Wednesday.
“The reason for this conference is very simple. The world’s oceans, as vast as they are, as much as they elicit a sense of awe for size and power, they are under siege.”
Many recent studies support Kerry’s claims. Earlier this week, one paper warned that many fisheries in the Tropics are being overexploited by fishermen and are close to collapse.
Another found that the acidification of the oceans, occurring today because of carbon emissions, is happening 10 times faster than it did 56 million years ago, when many species were wiped out as a result.
Marine ecologists say that acidification is already having an impact on marine life, with coral reefs – which provide an essential habitat for many other species – thought to be particularly at risk.
Kerry explained that such threats concern all species, not just those that live in the seas.
“The ocean is the essential ingredient of life itself on the planet,” he said.
“We depend on the oceans not just for oxygen and nutrients and protein, fish; there are – maybe 13% of the world’s population is completely dependent on the ocean for its input. But it also is essential to regulating climate around the planet, as well as major ecosystems.”
He added that the summit will end with an “action agenda […] a set of principles, declarations if you will, coming out of the Washington conference that can guide and impact choices on a global basis and build as we go into other conferences.”