WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama announced the creation of a new marine reserve in the Atlantic on Thursday as Washington hosted a major world summit on protecting the planet’s oceans.
Obama addressed the first day of the Our Ocean conference, where ministers and envoys from some 90 countries met with environmental experts to announce conservation measures.
Building on two previous annual meetings, delegates brought plans to protect the marine environment from pollution, overfishing and the effects of climate change.
And they heard Obama’s announcement of the 4,913-square-mile (12,725-square-kilometer) Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument.
This is an area in the Atlantic off the coast of New England with three deep undersea canyons and five submerged mountains, home to rare deep-sea coral and whales.
Commercial fishing will be restricted in the area, where scientists have warned that warming ocean temperatures are a threat to stocks of salmon, lobster and scallops.
“I grew up in Hawaii. The ocean’s really nice there,” Obama said.
“If we’re going to leave our children with oceans like the ones that were left to us, then we’re going to have to act, and we’re going to have to act boldly.”
The new reserve follows Obama’s recent expansion of the huge Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument off Hawaii, and 20 other countries are to declare new areas.
“These are problems we can solve. And part of the power of conferences like this is to insist on human agency, to not give in to hopelessness,” Obama said.
“Nature’s actually resilient if we take care to just stop actively destroying it. It’ll come back.”
Britain was one of the first to show its hand, announcing a plan to double the area of protected ocean around its far-flung overseas territories.
Fully protected marine reserves are to be set up around the Pitcairn Islands in the South Pacific and St Helena, Tristan da Cunha and Ascension in the South Atlantic.
The plans impose a permanent ban on commercial fishing in an additional one million square kilometers (386,100 square miles) of ocean, according to Britain’s Foreign Office.
Meanwhile, the Global Environment Facility, the Wildlife Conservation Society, the Blue Moon Fund and the Waitt Foundation announced $48 million to help developing countries create and expand tropical marine reserves.
Delegates hope that by 2020, 10 percent of the world’s oceans will become protected reserves, with fishing and oil exploration banned or tightly restricted.
And American movie star Leonardo DiCaprio unveiled a new crowd-sourced technology, Global Fishing Watch, to help concerned people track illegal fishing by satellite.
The conference was hosted by US Secretary of State John Kerry, who hopes the Our Ocean summits that he pioneered will continue after he leaves office next year.
The first Our Ocean summit was held in Washington in 2014, followed by Valparaiso in Chile last year. Next year’s meeting will be hosted by the European Union.
“I think Kerry will continue to be a champion of the oceans because this is his strong passion,” UN Environment Program executive director Erik Solheim told Agence France-Presse.
“But they have also institutionalized it, the EU and Malta will host it next time … This is gaining speed in so many different ways now.”
Kerry recalled that at the previous summits, nations from across the world committed to designate over six million square kilometers (2.3 million square miles) of ocean.
Kerry said over two days the delegates would announce 120 preservation projects and $2 billion in new funding to protect more than two million square kilometers of sea. AFP