Kerry calls for concerted global action to protect oceans

WASHINGTON, June 16 Mon Jun 16, 2014 12:58pm EDT

WASHINGTON, June 16 (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday called for a global regime to protect the oceans, which he said were under threat from too much fishing, acidification from climate change, and marine pollution.

Kerry opened the two-day "Our Ocean" conference at the State Department with a call for all nations to move beyond talks and studies to taking specific steps toward a global agreement to protect the oceans.

"We are not going to meet this challenge unless the community of nations comes together around a single comprehensive global ocean strategy," Kerry said.

Kerry, a longtime advocate of measures to address climate change when he was in the U.S. Senate, said current piecemeal national policies to protect the world's oceans failed to address problems that will affect the entire planet.

"If we are going to be able to honor our shared responsibility to protect the ocean, the ad hoc approach we have today, with each nation and community pursuing its own independent policy, simply will not suffice," Kerry said. "That is not how the ocean works."

Only 2 percent of the world's oceans are protected areas that limit human activity and protect marine life, and countries should strive to raise that to 10 percent, he said.

Kerry added that any global effort to protect the ocean should include ways to enforce those policies on a global scale.

Joining Kerry was Kiribati President Anote Tong, who said the small Pacific nation would ban commercial fishing from its Phoenix Islands Protected Area by Jan. 1

The low-lying state, consisting of 33 islands, is highly vulnerable to rising sea levels, one of the most severe impacts of climate change. Most of Kiribati's land is less than 2 meters (79 inches) above sea level.

Tong called climate change "the greatest moral challenge of our time" and said that "our hope of addressing climate change lies in the oceans."

"This is about the survival of our people," Tong said. "This is not about economics - not anymore. It is now about what we must do as responsible global citizens." (Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Ros Krasny and Lisa Von Ahn)