Oceans TED Prize

Obama pledges support for massive new Pacific Ocean “hope spots,” echoing a TED Prize wish

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Image captured during a snorkel during Mission Blue Voyage, 2010. Credit: James Duncan Davidson

Image captured during a snorkel during Mission Blue Voyage, 2010. Credit: James Duncan Davidson


Closing out the weeklong Our Ocean conference at the State Department, on Tuesday US president Barack Obama pledged support for a proposal to create almost 700,000 square miles of newly protected ocean — no-fishing, no-drilling zones around US island territories. The protections would allow the ocean to rejuvenate, and perhaps replenish world fishing stocks too.

This type of no-fish, no-drill protected space has been dubbed a “hope spot” by Sylvia Earle, the 2009 TED Prize winner. With the prize, the ocean scientist founded the Mission Blue project. Her wish:

I wish that you would use all means at your disposal — films, expeditions, the web, new submarines — and campaign to ignite public support for a global network of marine protected areas — hope spots large enough to save and restore the ocean, the blue heart of the planet. How much? Some say 10 percent, some say 30 percent. You decide: how much of your heart do you want to protect?

The Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument would be expanded from almost 87,000 square miles to nearly 782,000 square miles, according to a Washington Post analysis — all of it adjacent to seven islands and atolls controlled by the United States.

The new protections will be opened up for a public comment period, after which President Obama plans to use his executive authority to create the protected zones.

The Our Ocean conference was convened by US Secretary of State John Kerry, bringing together policy-makers, scientists and activists from nearly 90 countries to discuss three big challenges facing our oceans: marine pollution, acidification and overfishing. Along with Obama’s announcement, several other countries made important commitments. Among them, President Tong of Kiribati announced the decision of his government to ban commercial fishing in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area. Watch Greg Stone’s TED Talk to understand how vital this ban could be; the Kiribati island chain is a rich breeding ground for marine life, as well as one of the most threatened places on earth from rising oceans.

Meanwhile, earlier on Tuesday at the conference, longtime ocean activist Leonardo DiCaprio—who was aboard Earle’s Mission Blue voyage to the Galapagos in 2010—announced a pledge of $7 million through his foundation to support “meaningful ocean conservation projects” over the next two years. Watch DiCaprio’s remarks on YouTube.

In other Mission Blue news, a documentary about Sylvia Earle’s life and work, titled Mission Blue and filmed in the Galapagos and at the Deepwater Horizon spill, will premiere August 15 on Netflix. Watch a preview: