U.S. meeting on ocean conservation nets $5.3 billion in pledges

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - International participants at a high-level conference on the world’s oceans pledged more than $5.3 billion for conservation and designated vast areas as protected waters, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Friday.

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the Our Ocean Conference at the State Department in Washington, D.C., U.S., September 15, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

More than 90 countries took part in the two-day conference, the third of its kind, in an effort to galvanize attention to the dangers that pollution, climate change and over-fishing may pose to the world’s oceans.

“This ocean conference, in order to protect marine eco-systems, to prevent pollution, to address the crippling impacts of climate change, has committed over $5.3 billion of money and initiatives in order to achieve those goals,” Kerry said at the meeting’s closing session.

Earlier, U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said that more than 1.3 million square miles (3.4 million square km) gained protected designation.

The United States and more than 20 countries joined on Thursday at the conference to create 40 marine sanctuaries around the world to protect the oceans from the threat of climate change and pollution. They limit commercial fishing, oil exploration and other activities that affect ocean ecosystems.

President Barack Obama also designated the first U.S. marine reserve in the Atlantic Ocean: 4,913 square miles (12,724 square km) known for underwater mountains and canyons off the coast of New England.

The announcement was part of more than 136 new initiatives unveiled during the event by countries such as Britain, Canada, Cambodia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, France, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malaysia, Malta, Morocco, Norway, Palau, Panama, Seychelles, Sri Lanka and Thailand, as well as private charities and foundations.

Kerry, speaking to a Georgetown University audience on Friday as part of the conference, stressed the health of the world’s oceans for national security and global stability.

“This is life and death. This is national security. It is international security,” he said, saying nearly 50 percent of the world depends on food from the ocean and 12 percent of the world’s work force relies on the ocean for their livelihood.

The European Union has committed to hold a similar conference next year, followed by Indonesia in 2018 and Norway in 2019, Kerry said.

Reporting by Arshad Mohammed; Writing by David Alexander and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Andrew Hay