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The World is Ready For the Our Ocean Conference, and the Conference is Ready For You

Posted On June 12, 2014 by

Photo: Alexis Valauri-Orton

On June 16-17th, Secretary of State John Kerry and the Department of State will bring together scientists, stakeholders and leaders from around the world for the Our Ocean Conference. This international event will focus on three pressing ocean issues: sustainable fisheries, marine pollution, and ocean acidification. I am honored to be speaking on the ocean acidification panel at this conference.

I will be sharing stories I gathered from my year-long Watson Fellowship, studying how ocean acidification might affect human communities around the world. Over that year, I saw just how far-reaching ocean acidification’s impacts could be. We already know, from our experience in the US, that it hurts shellfish growers and the communities that depend on them. But around the world, there are whole countries and communities that depend on threatened species, such as coral for tourism, and fish for food and livelihoods. The stories I heard convinced me that we need to raise awareness and take action against ocean acidification at the international level. Here are some of those stories:

Photo: Alexis Valauri-Orton

Ocean acidification threatens shellfish, coral, and other marine species, and these resources can have tremendous impacts on human populations. Ko Jaob, an oyster farmer in Surat Thani, Thailand, home to Ban Don Bay and its famous oysters, told me, “If we lose the oysters of Ban Don Bay, we will lose one of the greatest things in the world.” These oysters are a source of pride and income for the region and, in the eyes of many, cannot be replaced.

Photo: Alexis Valauri-Orton

In some places, entire islands are at risk. Teina Bishop, Minister of Marine Resources in the Cook Islands, told me, “Tourism is our industry, and the pillars of tourism are our environment and our culture. If the coral goes away, we lose tourism. If we lose tourism, we lose income, and people will leave.”

Photo: Alexis Valauri-Orton

As we have learned from the Pacific Northwest, hatcheries provide shellfish growers with the opportunity to respond to changing ocean chemistry. But in most parts of the world, shellfish growers depend on ever-dwindling natural stocks. Pedro, a man I met in Paracas, in Peru, has been working in the sea for 50 years. He told me, “I have a dream that someday we will have a hatchery here.”

Photo: Alexis Valauri-Orton

Peter, a cod fisherman from the island of Værøy, in northern Norway, can trace cod fishing in his family back to the middle ages. He told me, “If the fish are not coming here, because there is too much CO2 in the ocean, what do we live off of? Then we have to move from this island.” He called the world to action, saying, “The whole world has to know. Not only in this small place, but the whole world has to know what is happening.”

At this conference, the global community will come together to learn about ocean acidification and other marine issues, and to make commitments and strides towards halting these threats. These commitments to research and collaboration will help us save the oysters Ko Jaob loves so much, ensure the people of the Cook Islands can thrive at home, allow Pedro to see his dream come true, and most importantly, as Peter in Værøy told me, make sure the whole world knows this is happening.

This conference needs your voice to be successful, and there are many ways to get involved. Read about the conference, join the Thunderclap, and stream it live to watch and participate as we work together to protect #OurOcean2014.