The Our Ocean Movement: Turning the World’s Attention to Our Ocean

The statistics on the current health of our ocean and projections for its future are alarming. Right now, 30 percent of our fisheries are overfished. At our current rate of pollution our ocean is projected to have more plastic than fish by 2050. Our sea level may rise by up to six feet by the end of the century. There is no question that the health of our ocean is threatened. The only question is what we will do about it.

Our ocean needs more champions who will fight for the resources needed to protect it, and this year we saw many of them step forward.

Last week, 450 leaders in government, civil society, and the private sector came together at the U.S. Department of State to make commitments to protect our ocean. Their pledges addressed four main challenges facing our ocean: illegal and unsustainable fishing practices, marine pollution, climate change, and the need for more marine protected areas. 

When Secretary Kerry started the Our Ocean movement back in 2014, the number of international representatives at the Foreign Minister or Head of State-level who attended the conference was in the single digits. This year, nearly 40 countries were represented at the Foreign Minister-level or above, and more than 90 countries participated in the conference. In addition, ocean leaders from industry, civil society, the philanthropic community, and academia participated in the conference. 

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks at the 2016 Our Ocean Conference at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C. on September 15, 2016. [State Department Photo]

The Our Ocean conferences have always been about bold action and big commitments. This year alone, we had over 130 commitments totaling over $5.24 billion for new ocean initiatives and pledges to protect almost four million square kilometers of ocean. That brings the three year totals of the Our Ocean movement to $9.2 billion dollars in initiatives and commitments to protect 9.9 million square kilometers of ocean -– that’s the size of the United States.

The best thing about the Our Ocean movement? It will keep going, and we can expect to see more global initiatives and actions to protect our ocean in the coming years. The European Union will host the conference in October 2017, followed by Indonesia in 2018, and Norway in 2019.

The Our Ocean movement and commitments support the UN Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 14, through concrete actions to protect and conserve our ocean. The ocean covers more than two thirds of our planet, and together we recognize the need to protect it and our planet for our children and grandchildren.

As Secretary Kerry said last week “With every positive step that we take, with the marine protected areas that we create, with the networks that we create and the safeguards that we enforce to protect against illegal fishing, with the cooperation we pursue to combat climate change and to deepen scientific research –- with each of these steps, we drop a pebble on the side of restoring and preserving the health of the ocean. And in doing so, we will create a current fueled by the energy of literally millions of advocates and activists, a current that can correct the course of history, that can preserve our coastal communities and ecosystems, that can strengthen fisheries, and feed the billions who will inhabit this planet, and that will allow us to keep for future generations the majesty of the ocean that covers three quarters of our planet and sustains life around the equator from pole to pole.”

You don’t have to be a President, or a Secretary of State, or a millionaire or a celebrity to help protect our ocean. Every person can make a difference.

Each plastic bag that doesn’t end up in the ocean counts, every sustainable seafood choice you make in a restaurant or the grocery store counts, and everyone can get involved in a local beach or river clean-up and work to make our ocean cleaner, healthier, and more beautiful.

Together we have the power to change our ocean and environment. Let us all remember that we can use that power any way we choose and that every choice matters.

About the Author: Catherine Novelli serves as Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment.

Editor's Note: This entry also appears on

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Our Ocean sign at the front entrance of the U.S. State Department during the 2016 Our Ocean Conference. [State Department Photo]
September 19, 2016


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