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Red Fan Coral on shallow ocean floor

Marine scientists tout ocean protection progress, give road map for more

By Steve Lundeberg
Red fan coral (Melithaea ochracea) in Green Island, Taiwan.

Corvallis, Ore. — World governments and other leadership bodies are taking vital steps to protect the ocean but more progress is urgently needed, Oregon State University scientists reported today at the Our Ocean Conference.

An OSU analysis, led by marine ecologists Kirsten Grorud-Colvert and Jane Lubchenco, shows that more than one-third of the ocean area currently under protected status is the result of the annual, high-profile meeting.

The Our Ocean Conference was established in 2014 under the leadership of then U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. The meeting brings together global leaders of governments, industry, youth and civil society to tackle problems that threaten the health of the ocean. The goal is to commit to action that protects and restores ocean ecosystems and allows them to be used sustainably.

One topic the conference focuses on is marine protected areas — parts of the ocean set aside to protect ecosystems and support a healthy ocean. As a result of the conference, more than 180 new or expanded protected areas covering 6 million square kilometers, or 1.7% of the ocean, are actively protected from extractive activities such as fishing, mining and drilling.

World map of protected ocean areas

Grorud-Colvert, Lubchenco, post-doctoral scholars Katherine Dziedzic and Jenna Sullivan-Stack, and graduate student Vanessa Constant, all from the Department of Integrative Biology, presented their findings today at the sixth annual Our Ocean Conference taking place in Oslo, Norway. The presentation included a road map for sustaining the momentum of ocean protection.

“The Our Ocean Conferences’ very public focus on accountability seems to be paying off,” said Grorud-Colvert, assistant professor of integrative biology and the analysis’ lead author. “Fifty-seven percent of marine protected area commitments from the conference have been completed, and 40% of the rest show some progress. Now is the time to support the completion of every commitment.”

Over the last five years of the Our Ocean Conference, participating bodies have made more than 1,000 conservation promises in total. These span efforts to reduce ocean pollution, tackle illegal fishing, support sustainable food from the sea and protect livelihoods.

“We founded the Our Oceans Conference as a forcing mechanism to drive meaningful oceans protection on a more aggressive timeline, and to create new urgency that lasts throughout the year,” Kerry said. “The findings in this report tell us this conference is driving meaningful action but we know our work is not done.”

Nearly 200 of the conservation pledges are to establish, fund or enhance marine protected areas. They include promises to create more than 13 million square kilometers of protected areas and financial commitments to ocean actions in excess of $17 billion.

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