Open Letter on the Occasion of the “Our Ocean” Conference

image001We thank Secretary Kerry and the US Department of State for their leadership in getting the US public and world community to focus on the importance of the ocean in addressing the challenges of Climate Change in general, and ocean acidification in particular.

At the same time as “Our Ocean” conference, the UN Working Group on Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) is meeting at the UN in NYC.   Those areas beyond national jurisdiction, beyond any nation’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), represent 64% of our global ocean.  There are no doubt a number of reasons why the US delegation questions the need for a new binding international agreement for conservation of biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction, but it is encouraging to see the DOS and the Administration continuing leadership on ocean issues on measures that can be accomplished under existing law, orders and policies.

Its commendable that the DOS is joining in the international collaborative efforts to conserve the Sargasso Sea, that special place defined by currents, that Sylvia Earle describes as “as the floating, golden rain forest of the sea, populated by small, medium, and large animals.”  We hope that the US will help to support that MPA and perhaps others in the high seas.

One way the US could demonstrate leadership is to revisit the Executive Order on NEPA abroad to update it to be consistent with obligations under customary international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention so that all federal agencies are doing an EA or EIS for federal activities in the high seas that may have an adverse effect on that marine environment.

Another way is to revisit the Executive Order on MPAs to encourage federal agencies to cooperate with other nations and existing institutions to further the conservation of biodiversity in the high seas through the use of MPAs.

Encouraging the development of MPAs need not be limited to the high seas and may include areas beyond the coastal State jurisdiction of the US but of mutual interest, such as a Guantanamo Bay Peace Park Agreement with Cuba along the lines of the Jordan Peace Park established in the Middle East.

Photo 48: Bow of the RMS Titanic. (NOAA Photo Library)
Photo 48: Bow of the RMS Titanic. (NOAA Photo Library)

Finally, the establishment of MPAs in the high seas should not be limited to natural heritage but should also include cultural heritage, such as the RMS Titanic.  In the role of Secretary of State, Kerry can build upon the leadership demonstrated in the Senate in putting a bill on the table and getting it through Committee around the 100th Anniversary of its sinking.

So much is at stake in our oceans, in the Arctic, the Antarctic, and in the high seas.  It is our collective heritage and our legacy—and under Kerry’s leadership and that of the Administration, the US can help frame and lay the groundwork for the protection of the biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction on which we all depend.