Leonardo addresses key issues at Our Ocean Conference

Leo addresses audience at Our Ocean Conference. Courtesy of State Department.

Leonardo DiCaprio spoke about the issues facing oceans at the 2016 Our Ocean Conference in Washington, D.C. hosted by Secretary of State John Kerry. The Our Ocean conference focuses on key ocean issues – marine protected areas, sustainable fisheries, marine pollution, and climate-related impacts on the ocean. Leonardo DiCaprio spoke about his experience witnessing the detrimental affects of climate change while filming his documentary Before The Flood.

He also spoke about several new innovative and collaborative solutions that have been developed to address the problems facing our oceans. These include the recent launch of Global Fishing Watch as well as a new initiative to protect sharks and rays called Global Partnership for Sharks and Rays.

Watch his full speech, courtesy of the U.S. Department of State:

Leonardo’s Speech transcript:

Thank you, Secretary Kerry for that kind introduction.

I was with you for the very first “Our Oceans” conference two years ago – and since then, this group, with your visionary leadership, has accomplished so much. This conference has become a true platform for action.

As a group we have galvanized unprecedented action for our oceans, protecting millions of square kilometers, an area more than twice the size of India, we’ve elevated these issues to a global stage, and we’ve educated our leaders and the public on how much our climate, food security, economic security, and ultimately our future on this planet depends on the health of our oceans.

It’s critical that we keep up this momentum because the future of our oceans continues to be challenged by an astonishing long list of threats. Warming waters, acidification, plastic pollution, methane releases, drilling, overfishing, and the destruction of marine ecosystems like coral reefs are pushing our oceans to the brink.

This year, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef suffered what is thought to be the largest bleaching event ever recorded. Over 600 miles of reef, previously teeming with life, is devastated. We are seeing this level of impact to coral reefs around the world: from Hawaii to the Florida Keys, from Madagascar to Indonesia.

I saw this with my own eyes while filming my new documentary “Before the Flood” which chronicles the impacts of climate change. Marine scientist Jeremy Jackson led me underwater in a submersible to observe the reefs off the coast of the Bahamas. What I saw took my breath away – not a fish in sight, colorless, ghost-like coral, a graveyard.

This is the state of the majority of the world’s coral reefs and it is a sobering reality. We’ve destroyed irreplaceable ecosystems, reversing half a billion years of evolution.

I also recently visited Palau and met with the leaders of Kirabas, two island nations in the South Pacific that are feeling the impacts of a warming climate right now. Houses are abandoned because of the rising tides and whole communities face an uncertain future as their islands shrink, waters closing in around them. The nation of Kirabas is already preparing for the unprecedented relocation of their people, having purchased land in Fiji to accommodate an almost certain migration from their home.

These nations are also dependent on the health of the seas for their economic survival. Tuna is the number one source of income for Kiribas. To prevent a collapse of this fishery, Kiribas created a marine protected area the size of California. They understand that protecting nature, giving it a chance to rebound and replenish, is the key to protecting the future of their nation, their culture, and their people.

We need more leaders and communities to take bold actions like this. As a global community we must protect and value vital marine ecosystems, rather than treating the oceans as an endless resource to be exploited and as a dumping ground for our waste.

Oceans absorb about a third of the carbon that we pump into the atmosphere but we’ve pushed too far, the ocean can no longer keep up with our rampant rate of carbon dioxide emissions. Today our seas are warmer and far more acidic, weakening the shells of marine creatures and destroying coral reefs that we all depend on for life.

The only way we can avert disaster is by innovating, implementing, and scaling up the solutions to these problems as quickly as possible.

One solution that is poised to address global overfishing and illegal fishing is the new platform Global Fishing Watch. This innovative technology is the result of a powerful partnership that leverages the unique skills of each participating organization: Google’s ability to organize big data and information and make it universally accessible, SkyTruth’s ability to use satellites to monitor threats to the planet, and Oceana’s ability to execute winning campaigns to bring back fishery abundance.

Today, this unprecedented technology is available to everyone in the world. I encourage you to check it out, here in the Watch Room and on your own devices as soon as you can at globalfishingwatch.org.

This platform will empower citizens across the globe to become powerful advocates for our oceans. With the data Global Fishing Watch provides, governments, fishery management organizations, researchers and the fishing industry can work together to rebuild fisheries and protect critical marine habitats. We encourage all of you to take advantage of this new technology and work together to effectively monitor and protect our seas.

Another critical issue is the global crisis facing sharks and rays. In recent years, markets for shark fin, liver oil, cartilage, leather, meat, and ray gill plates have surged, while conservation efforts have failed to keep pace. As a result it is estimated that 100 million sharks are killed annually, with over 90% population declines for some species, and nearly a quarter of all species are now facing extinction.

The Global Partnership for Sharks and Rays is a coalition working to halt the overexploitation of these species, reverse their decline, restore populations, and prevent extinctions. This collaborative effort which is close to me personally is also supported by the Paul M. Angel Foundation, the Helmsley Charitable Trust, Oceans 5, and the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. We joined together to develop a global strategy to stop the slaughter of sharks and rays and to ramp-up resources to change the tide for these incredible species.

These initiatives are great examples of what can be achieved when the right partners come together to solve challenging problems.

There are many other exciting solutions and game changing commitments that will be shared over the next two days. Among them are President Obama’s incredible announcement just a few weeks ago to create the largest protected area on the planet in and around the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. And then again today the President announced the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, an important marine ecosystem off the coast of Cape Cod.

This is exactly the kind of bold leadership we need more of.

I am truly inspired by this group and all that you have collectively done to protect our oceans since the first conference two years ago but my hope is that this is just the beginning.

The great ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau said, “The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its’ net of wonder forever.” That is true for me. I suspect it is true for each of you. But there will be no wonders for our children and grandchildren to behold unless we step up and push ourselves to go bigger, to be bolder, to take action now to protect our oceans before it’s too late.

Thank you.

Last updated April 27, 2017

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