Earlier this month, I found myself in a sea of sleepy-eyed millennials in a Georgetown University auditorium waiting for the first annual Sustainable Oceans Summit to begin.
The Sustainable Oceans Alliance (SOA), founded by Georgetown student and Case Foundation intern Daniela Fernandez, hosted the summit. SOA is one of the first student-led initiatives started in direct response to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s call to action at the State Department’s 2014 Our Ocean Conference. In his speech, Kerry laid out the crucial steps each of us must take to ensure the health and sustainability of our oceans.
The opening announcement quickly set the tone for the event – we were going to learn exactly how we, as individuals, could change the tide. After seven hours of remarkable speeches and panel discussions from world leaders in ocean conservation, environmental policy and earth and biological sciences, the 400 in-person and hundreds more webcast attendees were indeed invested in keeping our planet blue.
Speakers like the legendary Sylvia Earle from Mission Blue and Maria Damanaki of The Nature Conservancy eloquently illustrated the interplay between the health of our oceans and the health of humankind. “We must protect our oceans as if our life depends on it – because it does,” said Earle. “Eighty five percent of corals are already lost; eighty five percent of fish are endangered, threatened or already gone,” stated Damanaki. After a long pause to let those statistics sink in she went on, “But there is hope in this hopeless situation. Human activity is ocean’s biggest threat and biggest hope. We have the power to change the fate our planet’s lifeline.”
An important focus of the summit, and a reflection of Fernandez’s interest in identifying multi-sector solutions, was the role of three vital industries: science and technology; corporations; and local and national governments. The summit proposed that by exploring the interconnectedness of ocean health and human behavior and wellbeing, these three sectors could realize a range of opportunities for innovative collaboration. The summit provided a new platform for champions of ocean conservation to highlight these opportunities: better business practices, effective legislation and cutting edge technology. The speakers emphasized how multi-sector approaches catalyze solutions to issues such as the global fisheries crisis.
The summit attendees were asked to do more than listen, and 7,500 signatures later the audience and social media activists had successfully made their voices heard. Together, we petitioned the United Nations to include ocean sustainability as a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG). SDGs are a comprehensive collection of actionable, social development goals designed to build upon the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). SDGs should holistically address social inequalities, issues of poverty and environmental concerns, and it is essential that responsible ocean management does not get left out.
Palauan Ambassador, Stuart Beck, will deliver this very petition directly to the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon prior to the September 2015 vote to confirm the SDGs. We made our mark; but if the speakers made anything clear, it was that our mission doesn’t stop here.
As the summit came to a close, I found myself in a new environment – in a sea of wide-eyed millennials in a Georgetown University auditorium. We knew that it was our responsibility to take action now. Our naturally innovative and motivated spirit must be directed toward ocean sustainability to ensure a healthy and stable environment, economy and global community for future generations to come.