Last week in Koror, Palau, participants from around the world gathered at the seventh Our Ocean Conference, co-hosted by the United States and the Republic of Palau. Catalyzing innovative solutions to protect the ocean’s health for future generations was at the top of our agenda—and I’m pleased to say we made excellent progress!
This year’s Our Ocean Conference comes at an important time. The ocean is vital for sustaining life on this planet—it covers 70 percent of Earth’s surface, regulates our weather and climate, provides food and livelihoods for billions, generates half the planet’s oxygen, and is home to a significant share of the world’s biodiversity. Yet, this life-giving resource faces more threats than ever before. Due to the climate crisis, ocean temperatures are rising—endangering marine life, bleaching corals, and weakening entire ecosystems. Rising sea levels are putting the lives and livelihoods of those living in coastal regions at risk. Preventable, human-caused stressors exacerbate these impacts: more than eight million tons of plastic pollution enter the ocean each year, and illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing threatens the economic livelihoods of coastal communities and damages the health and biodiversity of our ocean.
Pacific islands like Palau are on the frontlines of these challenges, and it was an incredible experience to join with the Government of Palau (the first small island state to host an Our Ocean Conference) and so many other governments, civil society actors, and private sector participants committed to tackling these problems. Participants highlighted not only the threats facing the ocean but also the amazing work that’s being done to protect it—innovative financial mechanisms to encourage investment in the blue economy, indigenous conservation practices that support nature-based solutions to the ocean-climate crisis, artificial intelligence applications to track IUU fishing, and so much more.
And participants did more than just talk about potential solutions to the threats facing our ocean—they made over 400 new commitments worth $16.3 billion to protect the ocean. This brings the total number of commitments made over the course of seven Our Ocean conferences to over 1800, worth an incredible $107.7 billion. In Palau, the United States made over 100 commitments, highlighting our work to create two new marine protected areas, protect fish stocks, decarbonize the shipping sector, promote offshore renewable energy deployment, strengthen coastal resilience – including a new line of effort to develop a climate-based early warning system for dengue fever in Palau itself, combat marine pollution, and improve recycling infrastructure. The United States also launched an Ocean Conservation Pledge, inviting other nations to join the U.S. in a commitment to conserve, protect, and restore at least 30 percent of ocean waters under their jurisdictions by 2030. This work will contribute to protecting our ocean for generations to come.
We know the threats facing our ocean and we are determined to tackle them. Our work is just beginning. And when we work together, including at events like the Our Ocean Conference, we can make a profound difference in the health of our planet. Thank you to all who made Our Ocean 2022 such a success—and thank you to all who work every day to conserve, protect, and strengthen our ocean. The world needs you now more than ever.
About the Author: Monica Medina is the Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs at the Department of State.