What a Year! Symbolic Steps Towards a Healthy Blue Planet

Today was the start of the Our Ocean Conference in Chile.  400 leaders in government, academia, and the private sector gathered in the coastal city of Valparaiso to discuss environmental issues related to sustainable fisheries, ocean acidification, and marine pollution.

Last year’s Our Ocean Conference in Washington D.C. concluded with commitments from the United States, Kiribati, Palau, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom to protect more than three million kilometers of ocean areas (not to mention $800 million in commitments from private organizations for ocean conservation initiatives and projects).

What did this year bring?

Chile just committed to blocking off more than 200,000 square miles of the Pacific Ocean near the world-famous Easter Island from commercial fishing and oil and gas exploration. And President Obama just announced two new marine sanctuaries: one in Lake Michigan and the other along the tidal waves in Maryland.

2015 has been a big year for our ocean.

Just last year, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) met in New York City to address climate change, but left out the ocean as part of these timely discussions.  Yet the past few weeks alone, we have seen major steps from world leaders to address issues to protect our ocean. We are finally beginning to turn words into actions.

In addition to the commitments just made in Chile, the UNGA—just a few weeks ago—added the ocean as part of its Sustainable Development Goals, an ambitious vision mirroring the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) from 2000. The Sustainable Development Goals address a sustainable world agenda consisting of 17 target goals to be accomplished by 2030. Goal number 14 on the list? To “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources” (and even more remarkable: unlike the MDGs, the Sustainable Development Goals are meant for every country, not just the developing world).

While current leaders are beginning to see the urgency of addressing ocean related issues, we need the public—especially the next generation of world leaders—to see the value in conserving our blue planet.  The Packard Foundation, in partnership with Edge Research, recently released a survey which found that while more than half of Millennial Americans are involved in activism and causes, environmental and wildlife conservation ranks only fifth on the list of causes they care about.  Human and civil rights, climate change, the economy, and education are top issues of concern for Millennials, but oceans are not part of the current conversation.

Educating and engaging the public is key to pushing for sustainable goals and bigger commitments from our leaders.

Follow #OurOcean2015 to stay up to date on all major announcements.