By Ivan Cazares
State Department representative Judith G. Garber spoke with student journalists from across the country on Thursday about marine pollution and the upcoming Our Ocean Conference.
The third annual conference will be hosted by Secretary Kerry in D.C. Sept. 15-16.
“The United States along with other attendees will be announcing a number of new commitments and initiatives to protect the ocean,” Garber said.
She also said that one of the key issues being discussed is marine pollution and the amount of plastic that makes it into the ocean.
Garber said The Bureau of Oceans, International Environmental and Scientific Affairs is reaching out to younger generations. She said younger generations have more at stake because they will inherit the issue of pollution.
OES, Georgetown University and the Sustainable Oceans Alliance are co-hosting a parallel event to OOC.
High level ocean preservation leaders and 150 university students will discuss action strategies and work on developing solutions.
OOC was started by Secretary of State John Kerry as a way to spread awareness on marine pollution, help reduce pollution levels and protect ocean resources.
“In many parts of the harbor (Long Beach Harbor) if you test for chemical contamination you’re going to get hits. The harbor is actually getting better, but there are still ways to go,” oceanography professor Randy Adsit said.
He said that mud samples from where the Queen Mary is anchored reveal all the trash that gets washed ashore from the Los Angeles river.
Garber said individuals can play significant roles in protecting the ocean by spreading awareness, buying fish that’s sourced from a sustainable fishery and by recycling plastic.
She emphasised a need for communities and government at all levels to cooperate.
Garber also said that OES is actively reaching out to other countries, states, communities and members of industry to help find solutions and alternatives to plastic.
The Our Ocean website reports that an estimated 80 percent of marine pollution originates on land.
In 2014, plos.org reported that more than 5 trillion plastic pieces weighing over 250,000 pounds are afloat in the ocean based on 24 expedetions conducted from 2007-2013.
Plastic and other pollutants affect the economy of fishing communities, many of which also rely on the ocean as their main source of protein.
In 2014, the Food and Agriculture Organization reported that an estimated 29 percent of the world’s fish stocks are overexploited, and another 61 percent cannot support an increase in fishing.
Another factor in this problem is excess fishing.
“We are catching fish much faster than they can reproduce. One species I know about is Bocaccio, because I know someone who studies them. In stores it was sold as Red Snapper. We (oceanographers) believe the number we have today is less than 5 percent what it used to be,” Adsit said.
Adist explained that while the fish is reproducing, the majority are juvenile and don’t produce as many offspring as a full grown Bocaccio.
Adist also talked about Los Angeles’ waning fishing and canning industry. Fish Harbor and Terminal Island used to be part of L.A’s thriving fishing and canning industries. There is, however, hardly any visible evidence of this industry or the community that thrived there.
The decline of L.A’s fishing and canning industries is largely due to overfishing and pollution.
Since 2014, contributors, including government leaders and business leaders, have committed to more than $4 billion in new maritime sustainability initiatives.
Another source of pollution is agricultural runoff and wastewater, which causes algae to grow at an accelerated rate.
This algae consumes oxygen when it dies and decomposes. The OES reports that this has created over 500 known dead zones in the ocean where marine life can not thrive due to lack of oxygen.
“There’s a study that shows that we can be successful (at reducing pollution) if we take certain steps by 2035. It is going to have to be an ongoing effort for a period of time,” Garber said.
She said that individuals, schools and small communities can make a difference by recycling plastics, practicing sustainable agricultural practices and making sure the fish they consume comes from sustainable sources.
Websites such as nrdc.org provide guides and tips to buying fish from sustainable fisheries. They also provide information on pollution levels among populations of fish.
For more information and updates on OOC and the youth conference visit ourocean2016.org. OOC will be live-streamed from the same website Sept. 15-16.