The Our Ocean Panama 2023 conference sought to create a space to highlight the importance of protecting international waters, creating marine protected areas, growing sustainable blue economies, strengthening sustainable fishing and maritime security, and analyzing climate change and marine pollution.
Authorities and delegates from more than 190 countries adopted 341 agreements to protect the oceans during the March 4-5 conference in Panama.
“The conference was a success, with more than $19 billion committed for the protection of the sea, with commitments that demonstrate most countries’ interest for the creation of real activities to ensure the health and balance of the great ocean ecosystem,” the Directorate of Coasts and Seas of Panama’s Ministry of Environment told Diálogo in an April 18 statement. “This ecosystem not only contributes great biological diversity and helps with food security for a large part of the world’s population, but it is also the regulator of global climate, so our very survival is linked to the responsible use we make of all its components.”
The conference featured panels, bilateral meetings, and side events, with the participation of more than 600 delegates. Panamanian President Laurentino Cortizo hosted the conference, with White House Special Envoy and former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry as the main driving force behind the meeting, Panama’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated.
The conference highlighted the importance of ocean-based climate solutions, including maritime decarbonization, marine environment, and renewable energy to improve global climate resilience.
“Our Ocean is incredibly important, because it’s a conference focused on action and not talk. It’s about real commitments and real solutions,” Kerry said according to the U.S. Embassy in Panama. “For our part the United States is highlighting 77 announcements from eight agencies and offices valued at nearly $6 billion, more than double the commitments that stood out last year.”
Kerry noted that those funds will go to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, for ocean resource management and coastal resilience; to the Environmental Protection Agency, to reduce plastic debris entering the marine environment; and to the National Science Foundation and NASA, to develop programs for climate science. In addition, funds will go to the U.S. Agency for International Development for biodiversity conservation and improvements in marine protected area management, and to the U.S. Coast Guard to improve maritime security and counter illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing.
“The fight against environmental crimes in the ocean must be a strategy that is executed across borders, as countries in the region share highly migratory species. Our protection plans must be complementary and multinational, so that the effort to protect resources is effective,” Panama’s National Authority of Aquatic Resources (ARAP) told Diálogo. “John Kerry’s participation demonstrates his country’s interest in supporting actions to ensure the effective care of the ocean.”
Also discussed at Our Ocean was the depredation of the oceans, driven by China through a fishing fleet that numbers 12,000 to 17,000 vessels worldwide, U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Michael Studeman, commander of the Office of Naval Intelligence, said in one of the panels.
“We are all affected by the Chinese-sponsored deep-sea and distant-water fishing fleet, and the entire world should not suffer or pay for that country’s growth,” Rear Adm. Studeman said. “It’s a fact that China is preying on marine resources, and if they continue on that path we are all going to lose.”
“If there is a large group of countries holding China accountable then we will have hope, but if there is silence it will amount to acquiescence and China will continue to get away with it,” Rear Adm. Studeman added. “We have to make them act like a responsible world power in all respects, not just some.”
“If we want to get out of a hole we have to stop digging that hole. One important area has to do with IUU fishing,” Maxine Burkett, deputy assistant secretary for Oceans, Fisheries, and Polar Affairs of the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, told Panamanian daily La Estrella. “We have to work together as countries, so we can address the damage and impact on the high seas and ecosystems.”