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A Coalition of Global Participants Pledge to Protect Five Million Square Miles of Ocean

The Our Ocean Conference generated 287 pledges in bilateral and multilateral agreements between governments, the private sector, civil society organizations, and philanthropic foundations that are valued at more than $10 billion.

Global participants in the fifth Our Ocean Conference have pledged the highest amount of funding yet for new initiatives and commitments on the protection of a combined expanse of ocean eight times the size of Alaska.

The event, hosted by the Indonesian government on the island of Bali, generated 287 pledges in bilateral and multilateral agreements between governments, the private sector, civil society organizations, and philanthropic foundations. The pledges were valued at more than $10 billion to protect some 5.4 million square miles of the world's oceans, according to Luhut Pandjaitan, Indonesia's coordinating minister for maritime affairs.

To date, the Our Ocean Conference has raked in commitments totaling $28 billion and covering 10.2 million square miles of ocean.

"These numbers are beyond our expectations," Luhut said in his closing remarks on October 30th. "We are thankful for your collective contributions and making our ocean healthier and (more) sustainable."

The impacts of illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing and climate change on the world's oceans were the key focuses during the two-day conference. Data from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization showed that the value of fish captured illegally was about 26 million tons, or up to $23 billion annually. The world's maritime resources are valued at around $24 trillion.

"Illegal fishing globally still decimates fisheries at an unsustainable pace," said former United States Secretary of State John Kerry in his speech on October 29th.

"Illegal fishing continues on an unmitigated, unsustainable pace and almost one-third of the world's fisheries are still overexploited," he said. He added that the remainder of fisheries "are either at peak or nearly at peak with more and more people in the middle class, more and more people with money, more and more people demanding fresh fish on their table in their restaurants in their country."

Kerry said a billion people worldwide depended on fish as their primary source of protein. If the world fails to do more to protect the oceans, there would be "an unrecognizable fishing industry which will pit country against country and promote even more money-driven decision-making than we face today," he said.

"Protecting the ocean doesn't hurt jobs, it is jobs," he added.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo called for a "mental revolution," a concept recycled from his 2014 election campaign, to address the challenges facing the world's seas and to manage them in a sustainable manner.

"The ocean's health is very concerning," he said in his speech on October 29th. "We are aware of plastic waste, water pollution, destruction of coral reefs, warming of sea temperature, the rise of sea levels, and so forth." He also warned of increases in maritime piracy, human trafficking, drug smuggling, and slavery.

"The OOC must be the driving engine behind a global mental revolution to nurture our oceans," Widodo said.

Both Kerry and Widodo also called on other world leaders to step up the fight against climate change to protect the oceans. Kerry said cooperation between governments to address climate change impacts would require the same kind of efforts it took to prevent nuclear clashes during the Cold War.

"In the 1950s and '60s, what brought me into public life was the nuclear freeze and arms control, the issues of peace," Kerry said. "But now, folks, we need to face up to the fact that we've got to treat the issue of the oceans, and the protection of the oceans, and the protection of the planet, with the same urgency that we treated arms control and nuclear weapons.

"We need a non-proliferation treaty for pollution in the oceans, we need a global agreement where everybody is agreeing on how we're going to enforce in the high seas, how we contribute. We had to do it in the United Nations, and we do through separate entities, but we need to do that," Kerry added.

He said rising temperatures had changed the basic chemistry of the oceans faster than in the last 50 million years, threatening marine life. Kerry said the damage had reached such extreme levels that there could soon be more plastic than fish in the oceans, short of governments addressing the pressing issues.

"You can't protect the ocean without solving climate change. And you can't solve climate change without protecting the ocean," Kerry said.

Citing last month's report by the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which warned of a mass die-off of coral reefs as soon as 2040, Kerry said he remained optimistic that countries would act to solve the problems.

"Twelve years is the target for the governments to become responsible. For leaders to lead," he said.

He urged better collaboration to achieve goals in marine conservation and protection.

"It's a shared responsibility that affects the $500 billion global economy and the livelihoods of 12 percent of the world's population," he said. "It's about the next generation being able to count on the oceans the same way our generation took it for granted until sometimes pushing it to the brink of breaking."

However, Kerry said there were still more than 400 unresolved maritime boundary disputes that had unfortunately compounded the problem of ungoverned spaces.

"This is not the time to rest on laurels, not when all over the globe there's too much money still chasing too few fish, not when [on] the high seas there's still too little enforcement," he said.

To improve global cooperation, Widodo also called for the enforcement of international law to resolve territorial disputes between countries.

"Overlapping maritime claims that, if not resolved through negotiations and based on international law, may pose a threat to stability," he said. "International law must be the guidance in the settlement of maritime claims."

More than 90 percent of world trade by volume, and 40 percent by value, goes through the ocean. Similarly, 61 percent of the world's crude oil production is distributed through the ocean.

"No single country can resolve the challenges that we face alone," Widodo said. "No single country can optimize the benefits of the oceans for the benefit of the entire world alone. Not even the government can solve everything."

This story originally appeared at the website of global conservation news service Get updates on their stories delivered to your inbox, or follow @Mongabay on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.