UQ researcher, Obama, Kerry and DiCaprio talk ocean health

9 Jul 2014

A leading University of Queensland (UQ) marine biologist says he’s encouraged by a series of announcements to increase ocean protection made at an international conference this week.

Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Director of UQ’s Global Change Institute, shared the stage with United States (US) President Barack Obama, US Secretary of State John Kerry and actor Leonardo DiCaprio at the 'Our Ocean' conference in Washington DC, US.

Speaking at the conference, Professor Hoegh-Guldberg outlined the potential impacts of climate change to researchers, environmental advocates and government leaders from 80 countries.

“Given the importance of the ocean to humanity, understanding chemical changes in the ocean caused by human activity couldn’t be more important,” Professor Hoegh-Guldberg said.

“There are three issues that concern biologists when it comes to these changes – the rate at which it’s occurring, the timeframe it will take to come back from this and the undeniable mountain of evidence that it will affect the health and distribution of organisms and ecosystems.”

His comments mirrored those of Secretary Kerry, who said: “The bottom line is that most people don’t realise that if the entire world doesn’t come together … then we run the risk of fundamentally breaking entire ecosystems.”

“The good news is that at this point we know what we need to do to address the threats facing the ocean. It’s not a mystery. It’s not beyond our capacity.”

The conference resulted in commitments of over $1.8B for new conservation initiatives globally, and over three million square kilometres of new marine protected areas, an area nearly the size of India.

In a video address President Obama reiterated the need for action and urged countries to join forces to tackle ocean issues.

“Rising levels of carbon dioxide are causing our oceans to acidify, pollution endangers marine life, overfishing threatens whole species, as well as the people who depend on them for food and their livelihoods.

“If we ignore these problems, if we drain our oceans of their resources… we’ll be cutting off one of the world’s major sources of food and economic growth… and we cannot afford to let that happen,” said President Obama.

Professor Hoegh-Guldberg was invited to speak at the conference following his roles as the Contributing Lead Author on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s first chapter on oceans and as Chair of the Blue Ribbon Panel for the World Bank’s Global Partnership for Oceans.

“It is heartening to see many countries and individuals stepping up and announcing significant new measures to protect the world’s oceans.”

“It was a true honour to share the stage with President Barack Obama and Leonardo DiCaprio, and a privilege to be asked to provide insight into the best ways to protect our oceans for future generations,” Professor Hoegh-Guldberg said.