John Kerry: For the protection of the oceans

© Tara Expéditions.

During a recent 2-day conference (June 16-17, 2014) the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called for action to protect the world’s oceans, echoing the campaign led by our schooner for the past 10 years.

In the same spirit that gives impetus to Tara’s expeditions, John Kerry spoke, not so much as a political figure, but as a passionate citizen in love with the sea. “I’ve always felt love and immense respect for what the ocean means to mankind.” The reasons he cites to justify the urgency of the situation are numerous. To deal with the environmental challenges facing the oceans, the U.S. State Department has a plan of action.

Immediately capturing the public’s attention, the Secretary of State began by referring to human and societal issues. Oceans play a vitally important role in the context of global food security. First, from a quantitative point of view: the ocean is a great source of protein upon which depends half the world’s population – three billion people. The question arises of proportionality between available food resources procured from the ocean, and the growing number of inhabitants on Earth. Taking this perspective is essential. Sadly, what we see is a dramatic imbalance that increases every day because of pollution and overfishing. From a qualitative point of view, the health of mankind depends on the health of the ocean. The presence of pollutants and chemicals affects the quality of water and thus the food resources we consume.

This first point introduces an environmental challenge that Mr. Kerry has been signaling since 1990 – overfishing. Fighting against the myth of inexhaustible resources, he emphasizes the need to reduce the amount of fish caught. Among the proposed solutions, the State Department recommends “use by fishermen of different equipment and techniques, stopping subsidies to fisheries, as well as the prohibition of marketing fish from illegal sources.” 

It’s not surprising that concerns about the ocean reported at these conferences showed the same priorities as Tara Expeditions. In tune with the Ocean Platform and Climate 2015 launched this year by UNESCO (to which our organization contributed), John Kerry wants to focus more attention on the threat of climate change, and also on the issue of the High Seas. 

Speeches earlier this week also warned the public about the vulnerability of marine ecosystems. The ocean’s capacity to provide essential ecosystem services to humans doesn’t depend on the amount of water, but on the diversity of marine life. In other words, decreasing the biodiversity of the ocean will undermine the sustainability of life on Earth.

Pollution is another major challenge. Dealing with this problem is especially complex because there are so many forms of pollution: nutrient pollution, pollution coming from land (runoff), and plastic pollution (currently being researched by the Tara Mediterranean expedition). According to Secretary of State John Kerry, of these different forms of pollution, carbon pollution is the most disturbing, since it is directly related to ocean acidification and climate change. His plan of action is to pressure the United Nations and other international organizations to agree upon an ambitious climate treaty that will allow us to effectively combat carbon pollution. 

Today the invisible world of the ocean is crying in silence, and we are responsible. John Kerry appealed to the conscience of every individual, adopting the prism of universality. Our efforts must continue, and Mr. Kerry pointed out that the process of increasing public awareness is already well under way. He referred to several specific examples of engagement in Latin America, Africa, and also in the Asia/Pacific region. 

Advocacy led by the American Secretary of State is just beginning: the goal is to encourage decision-making and develop a real plan of action. To achieve this objective, it’s important that our voices be heard in the places of power: governments, NGOs and various political arenas.

In keeping with the notion of universality that makes everyone feel responsible, and in accordance with the dream motivating Tara, John Kerry’s vision goes beyond American territory and proclaims the need to act globally. In fact, with 70% of the planet – the world’s oceans – in danger, we are obliged to think in terms of international policy: governments must come together to pool all kinds of resources.

In this context of deep and meaningful change, politicians wonder what type of application would be appropriate for these new measures. Developing international policies means putting them into practice on a global scale. The goals set by the US State Department are concrete – the same as the ones set by the Convention on Biological Diversity: to increase the total of Marine Protected Areas from 2% to 10% of the oceans.

Before concluding, the former senator from Massachusetts spoke of the importance of collaborating with scientists to ensure the effectiveness of this struggle. To have stronger force of conviction and greater knowledge, access to the best scientific data is essential. 

In fact the seeds sown by Mr. Kerry seem already to be bearing fruit: “In order to protect a greater number of marine habitats,” Barack Obama has announced the creation in the Pacific of the world’s largest marine sanctuary.


Estelle Cash