The Environment

Sea Change

December 15, 2018  • Institute Staff

The ocean affects everyone no matter where we live: it produces half the oxygen we breathe. Unfortunately, the ocean also serves as a wastebasket for enormous amounts of plastic trash, and it absorbs about half of the planet’s carbon emissions. That’s why, last May, the Institute launched the Aspen High Seas Initiative, a program focused on protecting the planet’s last unregulated frontier. Individual countries control waters extending out 200 nautical miles from land; that leaves nearly two-thirds of the world’s oceans (roughly 40 percent of the Earth’s surface) beyond any one nation’s jurisdiction in an area known as the “High Seas.” “The ocean and its inhabitants don’t recognize arbitrary political boundaries,” Michael Conathan, the initiative’s new executive director, says. “A whale, tuna, or copepod doesn’t care whether it’s in water regulated by the United States, Canada, Palau, or no one at all.” The latest High Seas event took place in October in Nusa Dua, Indonesia, at the fifth annual Our Ocean Conference. There, the initiative joined forces with the Institute’s Energy and Environment Program to host a scoping meeting with global ocean leaders to discuss how to work together to design, establish, and manage marine protected areas. Sylvia Earle, an Institute lifetime trustee and National Geographic explorer-in-residence, will provide expertise as co-chair of the initiative. “Taking action to protect our ocean,” Earle says, “is still the best hope for maintaining the integrity of our human existence.”