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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Reception Remarks at Our Ocean Conference

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Wayne Clough, Secretary, Smithsonian Institution; Murray McCully, Minister of Foreign Affairs, New Zealand
Sant Ocean Hall, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
Washington, DC
June 16, 2014


SECRETARY CLOUGH: Good evening, and welcome to the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. On behalf of the Smithsonian, it is my honor to host this reception for the first State Department event dedicated to the world's ocean. As you saw in Sant Ocean Hall this evening, this is certainly the appropriate place for it. Thanks to Secretary Kerry for his leadership on this critical issue. We are very grateful, Secretary, for that. And thanks to Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Cathy Novelli, and the entire dedicated State Department staff, who brought together the program for today and tomorrow with a stellar cast of participants, each of whom share a passion for saving our oceans for future generations. Welcome to distinguished members of Congress, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Representative Chellie Pingree of Maine. And allow me to welcome His Highness Serene Prince Albert II of Monaco, a world leader in protecting Earth's environment. Prince Albert. (applause) His Excellency, Tommy Remengesau, the President of the Republic of Palau. (applause) And all members of the diplomatic corps. Let me also acknowledge the chair of the Smithsonian's Board of Regents, John McCarter. John? (applause) And many thanks to all of my colleagues, especially interim Under Secretary of Science, John Chris, and director of the National Museum of Natural History, Kirk Johnson, for making this event happen tonight. (applause)

Arthur C. Clarke once noted how inappropriate to call this planet Earth, when it is quite clearly Ocean. Clearly, the ocean is intertwined with the fate of our species, and at the Smithsonian, much of our focus is on the ocean's rich biodiversity. Our exhibitions, research and scholarship bring this life-sustaining water out of the darkness for millions of people to understand. Scientific research and discovery have been at the heart of the Smithsonian's mission to increase and diffuse knowledge, since the founding in 1846. And Smithsonian research into the ocean is wide ranging and significant.

For example, our Deep Reef Ocean Observation Project explores Curaçao's ecologically-vital deep reefs. The Marine Invasions Lab of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center examines invasive marine species and how they change our ecosystem. The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute has pioneered the techniques for freezing and preserving reproductive tissues of coral species, so they can be reinstated when the environmental conditions allow. And Secretary Kerry, I couldn't agree with you more, with what you said to the New York Times the other day. We can do better science and we can do better monitoring. And that's why we've created the new Tennenbaum Marine Observatories Network initiative, which is directed towards a comprehensive long-term approach to long-term monitoring of the ocean's coastal ecosystem. We're pleased to partner with NOAA and NASA, and other marine organizations in this great research. We know the planet and the ocean face immense issues, and at the Smithsonian, we appreciate the urgency of taking action now. At the newly-renovated Sant Ocean Hall, we believe the next generations of ocean stewards are inspired by the wonders of the sea. The companion ocean portal website supports our efforts to engage people in a conversation and encourages them to make a difference now. Secretary Kerry, if I can again borrow a quote from you, "Values spoken without actions are merely slogans." With this important conference, you are taking action, and that action will help preserve the ocean for generations to come. The Smithsonian will be right there beside you. Please welcome a distinguished public servant, diplomat to the world and advocate for the ocean, and friend to the Smithsonian, Secretary of State, John Kerry. (applause)

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much. I remind all of you that Winston Churchill said the only reason people give a standing ovation is they desperately need an excuse to shift their underwear. (laughter) He really – he said that, I promise you. But I know you had a much more noble cause in mind. (laughter)

Anyway, I was really baffled standing up here for a moment. I’m staring at this elephant. I kept looking around for the donkey. I can’t find the donkey in here. (laughter) Let’s rectify that, don’t you think? (applause) I’m an equal stuffed animal opportunity guy. (laughter)

I walked into the hold room back here where I had a chance to say hi to Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen and His Serene Highness and others, and at least they had the goodness to put us in a room where the sign above it said “mammals,” so I felt right at home.

Wayne, thank you very much for not just your kind introduction, but thank you for making this extraordinary national asset of ours, this museum, available to this group, which has come together to fight for the preservation, if not survival, of our oceans. And we are deeply, deeply grateful – very grateful to you, to Kirk Johnson, the director of the Natural History Museum, for hosting us here tonight in this remarkable place.

I also – thank you. (applause) I also want to say a special thank you in absentia to Roger and Vicki Sant. So many of you know Roger and Vicki. They have been truly our patrons of all of our initiatives with respect to the ocean. And they couldn’t be here tonight, but their daughter Shari is here, and I wish everybody would say thank you for what they have done to contribute so much to this museum’s ability to be able to give millions of visitors a year a better understanding of our relationship with the ocean. Shari, please take back to your parents our gratitude. I don’t know where she is, somewhere here. (applause) Thank you.

We’re in for a great treat tonight. I’m not going to give a speech about the oceans, et cetera, but we are going to do a few special things. And one of them is master chef Barton Seaver has developed a terrific menu of entirely sustainable seafood for all of us to devour. And I understand that he first became interested in sustainable seafood years ago when he spent time in a small village on the coast of Morocco. And he learned about generations-old fishing methods that the locals were using, and he saw firsthand how they linked the local economy of that entire region to the ocean. This is what made him realize that sustainability is not only an ecological imperative, but it’s a humanitarian one. And he will tell you a little bit more about that and the food that we will be eating tonight in a few moments.

We’re also going to hear from Ted Danson. Ted reminded me a few minutes ago we met 25 years ago, I think he said. I thought it was slightly less. (laughter) But that’s okay. I’ll accept it. And we were talking about the oceans way back then. It was when he was beginning his efforts on the oceans, and he’s a long-termer, long-timer at this effort.

We also got to know each other because Cheers was not too many blocks away from where I hung out in Boston. And on one occasion, I was walking by at night heading home. And the producers, they were shooting this scene outside, and I think Norm and someone were out there. I can’t remember who else – Cliff. I think Norm and Cliff were in the thing or something. But anyway, they stopped me on the way and they said, Senator, we got to put you in this thing. So we literally ad-libbed this thing on the spur of the moment. And they were hanging out outside and they had me walk up and they said, 'Hey, can we get your autograph?' And I started to sign the autograph very proud and peacocked because I was being asked for an autograph. And then they start talking to each other and say, 'God, we really liked that weather report you did the other day on the news. It was so terrific.' (laughter) And then I said, 'Who do you think I am?' And they said, 'You’re so-and-so, the local weatherman.' And I said, 'No, I’m Senator Kerry.' And they both shrug and walk away. (laughter) So it was a great lesson in humility, and the residuals have gone to a charity for years. But thank you, Ted, for helping me to support the charity. I’m very appreciative. (applause)

Ted has had, as everybody here knows, an extraordinary career. And he started out with his work to create the Oceans Campaign in 1987, and has provided consistent leadership. He provides leadership in Oceana to this day, and his deep interest in what has brought all of us together has made an impact, and we’re grateful to him.

Right now, though, it’s my privilege – let me just say one quick word. I really want to thank again – I said it earlier, but I think Cathy Novelli and our team have done an absolutely superb job of putting this together. (applause) And tomorrow we will not only have more vibrant discussion and I think the kind of interactivity and visual presentations that have been made have really sort of excited people and given us a reminder of what this is all about, and I wish every person in the nation could stop cold and see and hear all of it. But our job is to continue to do that over the course of these next months and years. But tomorrow it’s important we really come together to do the action agenda. If we don’t leave here with a sense of a plan and direction, shame on us, and I think we can do that.

I want to welcome someone who has been a friend and partner in the State Department’s effort to champion ocean conservation at the international level, and that is the Foreign Minister of New Zealand Murray McCully. (applause) Murray and I have done a duet here in Washington before. We’ve had a chance to see each other along the way here and there, but I called him because I knew that as the steward of an island nation in the Pacific, he really has as good an understanding about this as anybody around. And like other island nations, New Zealand is obviously on the frontlines of climate change and the other challenges that are facing the marine world.

Murray has spent a career pushing for safeguards to preserve the ocean and to preserve the many species that are really unique to New Zealand’s waters. And he and I have worked closely on the environmental priorities that we share, including our efforts to move forward a proposal that would establish the world’s largest marine protected area in Antarctica’s Ross Sea. And we will continue to do that. (applause) I am really delighted that he made the long trek here to Washington so he could be with us tonight. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome with me my colleague, my counterpart, the Foreign Minister of New Zealand Murray McCully. (applause)

FOREIGN MINISTER MCCULLY: Thank you, Mr. Secretary of State, John Kerry, distinguished guests, Excellencies. I'm delighted to be with you tonight. John Kerry, thank you for inviting me. I can well recall our first telephone conversation soon after your confirmation when you spoke to me of the urgent need to focus the debate and galvanize actions to combat the rapid decline in global fish stocks, sea level rise, ocean acidification, and the loss of biodiversity. So we thank you for your clear and energetic leadership in organizing this conference, the results of which I hope, from my part of the world, we will also see shape the debate at the UN Small Island Developing States Conference in Samoa in September of this year.

For my country, New Zealand, these efforts have added urgency. We are an island nation. In New Zealand, you can never be more than about 75 miles from the coast. And New Zealanders identify strongly with the ocean. Our exclusive economic zone is roughly 15 times larger than our land area, and while we might be better known in most places for our agriculture, fisheries are our fourth largest export. Our economy relies heavily on the oceans through fisheries, aquaculture and tourism. And New Zealanders place a high value on recreational access to the ocean. My country pioneered a rights-based fisheries management system that is heavily grounded in fisheries science, and has ensured that our fisheries are both sustainable and profitable. We recognize the vital importance of marine protected areas, if we are to achieve both national and international conservation goals. Our first no-take reserve was established back in 1975, and now we have 30 reserves to help protect the marine environment. New Zealand's own neighborhood is defined by the Pacific Ocean. It connects us to the many small island states that make up our region, for whom the ocean is their major economic resource, as well as being central to their culture and their heritage. Over 7.4 percent of New Zealanders identify as being Pacificer in descent, and over 60 percent of our aid budget is spent within our own region, giving priority to projects tied in economic and environmental sustainability, like our current drive to convert the region to renewable energy. The western and central Pacific Ocean is home to the world's last relatively healthy tuna stocks. And the bulk of the fishing takes place in the zones of the Pacific island states. These resources are increasingly under pressure, as tuna stocks elsewhere become harder to access. That presents both a challenge and an opportunity for Pacific nations. The challenge is that the fleets of Asia, the Americas and Europe are now focused on these resources, and fishing activity is already at levels where sustainability of some stocks is seriously under threat. Last year, between four billion and five billion dollars U.S. of tuna was harvested from the Pacific borders, yet less than 10% of that value made its way back to Pacific nations, the owners of the resource. That can only mean that some of the wealthiest countries on the planet are profiting at the expense of some of the poorest. The challenge and the opportunity for Pacific nations is to leverage the competition for this resource in a way that maximizes their long-term futures and returns, without compromising the long-term sustainability of the resource. That means building and strengthening fisheries management systems, tackling the problems of overfishing, illegal unreported and unregulated fishing, and improving monitoring and surveillance. But it also means that distant water fishing nations need to confront the entrenched interests, weak policymaking, and shear bureaucracy that allows the continuation of subsidies that promote overcapacity and overfishing, and which in turn, promote illegal and unreported fishing.

Finally, a brief commercial for a joint venture project between my country, New Zealand and Secretary Kerry's country, the United States, to create a very large MPA in the Ross Sea off Antarctica, which will include about 1.34 million square kilometers of marine protected area, and about 1.25 million square kilometers of no-take area, on the last version of the proposal that's been submitted to the CCAMLR partners. Twice, our two countries have promoted our case for the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, otherwise known as CCAMLR, using a great deal of research and scientific data, into the Ross Sea ecosystem. We have received the support of many nations, and we have modified the proposal to take account of the concerns of others. In October of this year, in Hobart, we will try again. To achieve success, we need a consensus of the 25 nations that make up the CCAMLR treaty, encompassing the full spectrum of fishing, conservation, and scientific interests. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the harsh reality of the great challenge confronting our oceans. Progress that is real, sustainable, and comprehensive can only be made if the affected nations and interests, with all of their different motivations, sit together, face facts, talk constructively and make hard decisions, which is why this conference and your leadership, John Kerry, are so important. Thank you. (applause)

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