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Blog: Our ocean, our life support system

By Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, NOAA Administrator
September 2, 2016 Our ocean regulates global climate and weather, provides us with more than half the air we breathe, delivers a fifth of the animal protein we eat, and produces medicines that keep us alive and healthy. Covering more than 70 percent of the planet, the world ocean is the life support system for humankind.
Bluestripe snapper, Ta’ape, Threespot damselfish, and Oval Chromis damselfish are seen swimming around Lobe coral, Pohaku puna, and Table coral at French Frigate Shoals in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. (NOAA)

As infinite as it may seem when wetting our toes at the beach, the ocean is not infinite in its bounty. Scientific data, plenty of observations, and anecdotal reports make it clear: Our ocean is in trouble. And because it is so vital to life on Earth, the ocean has never been a higher priority on the domestic and international agenda.

Last week, President Obama made one of the biggest conservation announcements in history when he expanded the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, making it the largest marine protected area in the world. Many of us will never visit this remote ecosystem, but its designation ensures the preservation of some of the most unique and diverse communities of coral, fish, birds, and marine mammals on the planet, including the endangered Hawaiian monk seal, endangered whale species, and endangered leatherback and hawksbill sea turtles.

Map showing the expanded area of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. The new boundary extends out to the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (shown in purple). The monument’s original area is shown in blue. (NOAA)
Expansion of Papahānaumokuākea
Map showing the expanded area of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. The new boundary extends out to the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (shown in purple). The monument’s original area is shown in blue. (NOAA) (NOAA)

The U.S. has moved forward with several other measures this year to protect the ocean, which will yield environmental benefits for decades to come. For instance:

  • We are combating illegal fishing in U.S. and international waters. The U.S. has proposed new legislation and taken other steps to address seafood fraud in U.S. markets and to curb illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. One of many actions NOAA is taking to combat these activities is by working closely with international partners on training and joint enforcement efforts.
  • We are investing in the next generation of ocean observing technologies.Ensuring a healthy, vibrant ocean depends on our understanding of the marine environment and its diverse ecosystems. To this end, we have worked with more than 90 partners domestically and internationally to implement over 63 percent of an initial sustained Global Ocean Observing Systemoffsite link, which helps provide the data and information that underpin our ocean management and stewardship efforts.
  • We have opened relations with Cuban marine science agencies. During an historic Presidential visit in March, NOAA’s National Ocean Service was the first U.S. government agency to sign agreements with Cuba in many decades. Our two nations — separated only by 90 miles of water — will collaborate on efforts concerning science, stewardship, and management related to marine protected areas, as well as hydrography, oceanography, and geodesy to improve maritime navigation safety.
Teenagers swimming near Moro Castle, Havana, Cuba
Teenagers swimming near Moro Castle, Havana, Cuba (iStock)

This week, I joined with the President and hundreds of global leaders from around the world for the IUCN World Conservation Congressoffsite link on the Hawaiian island of O’ahu. It’s the largest event of its kind in the world that brings together leaders from governments, civil societies and businesses to discuss pressing conservation issues. For NOAA, this conference is an opportunity to showcase our latest efforts to protect marine species, conserve ocean environments, and explore Atlantic and Pacific ecosystems using cutting-edge science and technology.

For live updates during the conference, follow NOAA on Facebook and Twitter (@sanctuaries), and join the discussion using the #IUCNcongress hashtag. If you are attending the conference in person, see a listing of eventsoffsite link for which NOAA speakers will be participating, and be sure to stop by the NOAA booth.

No matter where we come from, what we eat or how we make a living, our ocean connects us to one another. Our ocean needs us, and now than ever we need to think globally and develop solutions that will ensure human health, prosperity and well-being can be sustained for generations to come.

Dr. Kathryn Sullivan is the NOAA Administrator. She is a featured speaker at the IUCN conference this week.