Transcript of Acting Assistant Secretary Judith Garber's Interview with African Press on Our Ocean

Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs
October 7, 2015

MODERATOR: Hi, greetings to every from the U.S. Department of State. We are very fortunate to have with us Acting Assistant Secretary Judy Garber from the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs to speak about the Our Ocean conference that concluded yesterday in Valparaíso, Chile. Secretary Garber is still down in Chile, and I am hosting here from Washington, D.C. This call is on the record. We will first allow Secretary Garber to make some opening remarks and then we will move on to your questions. I know we’ve got the U.S. Consulate in Lagos, Nigeria, hosting journalists, and I just want to confirm that sound quality is okay. I know they were having some problems.


QUESTION: It’s okay.


MODERATOR: Okay, thank you very much. So a couple operational details. To join the question queue, please press *1 on your phone. We will be releasing a transcript of this call, as soon as it’s available, and a digitized playback will also be available, and I will give those details at the end of the call. So now I will hand it over to Assistant Secretary Garber for her opening remarks.


Acting Assistant Secretary Judy Garber: Well, thank you very much, and I just want to thank all the journalists that have turned out for this call. We just completed yesterday the second Our Ocean conference here in Valparaíso, Chile, and it was an enormous success. We now have over 80 new initiatives on marine conservation that are valued at more than 2.1 billion--let me repeat that, billion dollars—as well as new commitments on the protection of more than 1.9 million square kilometers of the ocean. So we really have come together from all around the world, including Africa, to try to make a difference to the health of our ocean. Some of you might ask why now we are so focused on the health of our ocean with so many other issues that are out there. The reason is really very simple.


The ocean is so essential for life here on the planet. More than half of the oxygen we breathe comes from the ocean. The ocean is key to regulating climate and it is the world’s single largest carbon sink. The ocean is a key transportation route for most of the commerce all around the world. And more than 3 billion people, including many in Africa, rely on the ocean for their main source of protein. So, the fact that the ocean is under severe threat is a critical, global challenge for all of us, and all of us need to come together to try and make a difference. What are some of these threats? Nearly 30 percent of the world’s fish stocks are now overfished. Losses from illegal, unreported, un-regulated fishing amount to billions of dollars annually, and that’s money that is being taken away from governments and from the pockets of different fishermen from around the world as their fish stocks that they rely on to feed their families are depleted. We are fastly approaching the reality in which there will be almost as much marine debris tonnage as that of fish. And the reason is in a report that was published in the Journal “Science.” It was estimated that in 2025, there will be one ton of plastic for every three tons of fish in the ocean. And, our world’s ocean is roughly now 26 percent more acidic than in pre-industrial times, and this is having an enormous impact that we still don’t really understand on the ocean and fish for food, and we are taking steps to be able to monitor and understand that better.


So, what are some of these types of initiatives that have come out? They range from actions to combat marine plastics to the establishment of new marine protected areas that will give us the ability to restock fisheries, as well as better understand what is happening in our ocean and keep it pristine. It also relates to many actions to promote sustainable fisheries and that can begin with illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing to also other conservation measures to help promote sustainability. And I’m very pleased to note that there were several initiatives that will take place in the African continent and in the ocean surrounding Africa, because we know how important the ocean is to the livelihood of so many. I’ll give you just a few examples which I think will help make some very general thoughts and issues that I’m putting out there much more concrete and visual for you. For example, Gabon, at the conference, reaffirmed its commitment to create over 46,000 square kilometers of marine protected areas. Oceans Five, an international funders’ collaborative dedicated to improving ocean health and vitality, announced it will provide $8 million in 2016 to support projects in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans to establish marine reserves and end overfishing. The United States announced the launch of a new initiative called Sea Scout that will seek to unite governments and other stakeholders worldwide to fight against illegal fishing by focusing global assets and partnerships together to share information so we can all work together against this challenge. And, as part of operation Sea Scout, the United States, Gabon and others are exploring the partnerships that will enhance the surveillance of illegal fishing, and we are very excited about that initiative taking off in the next year. Also, there were a number of other announcements in that area.


For example, the United States also announced it’s working to create new public-private partnerships that involve several foundations that will provide resources to enhance the ability of African coastal states to monitor and better understand ocean acidification. And, of course, the value of this is once we understand, we will be able to take actions to ensure that the health of the ocean surrounding Africa will be able to improve, rather than continue to deteriorate. So those are just a few of the concrete examples of the types of things that are taking place. And I just also note that last year, in 2014, Secretary Kerry hosted the first Our Ocean conference in which many, many countries came together to announce their deliverables. And we are committed in this process that people are not just going to come and announce, but that they are also going to actually implement what they are talking about. Many of the announcements that happened in 2014 are now, actually, underway, including many of those in Africa.


For instance, in 2014, the Foreign Minister of Togo announced a new agreement among Togo, Benin, Ghana and Nigeria to combat illegal fishing in the Gulf of Guinea, and in March, the Economic Community of West African States inaugurated a multi-national maritime coordination center to counter illegal fishing. So this is just one of many examples of how we are all working together to make sure that what we promised, we’re actually doing. And so many nations around the world, as well as the private sector and non-governmental organizations and international organizations, are pulling together to improve the health of our ocean and to fight illegal fishing and ensure sustainable fisheries, to better understand the impact of ocean acidification and take measures against it, and to establish marine protected areas going forward, as well as reduce marine pollution because marine pollution, particularly land-based marine pollution and plastics, is such a threat to the health of our ocean. So with that, I’ll stop with my initial comments and throw it open to any questions you may have.


MODERATOR: Great, thank you so much. We will now begin the question and answer portion of the call. Just a reminder, that if you would like to enter the question queue you press *1 on your phone. And why don’t we, since our Consulate in Lagos has been kind enough to host journalists today, why don’t we start with Consulate Lagos. Since I don’t have the individual list of people who are there, perhaps, you can just introduce yourself before asking your question. If we can open that line if there are any questions in Lagos.


QUESTION: My name is [inaudible]. I’m [inaudible] the Diplomatic Correspondent of [inaudible], Lagos. Looking at fishing around the coast of Guinea, like fishing in Africa, [inaudible] from the activity of pirates and other such [inaudible], along the coast of Guinea. What is the U.S. planning to do to ensure [inaudible] fishing along the coast of Guinea?


Acting Assistant Secretary Judy Garber: The Sea Scout initiative, which we have launched, will, I think, be a very important tool for many of the countries around Africa. The concept here is that we have many, many different entities that work to fight illegal fishing, but they often don’t talk to one another. And what we’re trying to do is pull together and share information, and use the best of new technologies that are out there to be able to bring countries together to rapidly be able to respond to threats of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. In the first instance, we’re going to be trying to establish the data to better understand what is happening. But then, in the second phase, once we have an understanding of all the data being pulled together from all these sources, we’re hoping we will be able to get different folks to respond as quickly as they can. We’re very excited about this initiative, and during the conference, numerous countries have stepped up, as well as international organizations to announce their support for it. So we are more confident than ever that this can make a transformative difference in the fight against IUU fishing. During the conference, support for Sea Scout was announced by the governments of Chile, Norway, New Zealand, Palau, the United Nations, different agricultural organizations, the International Monitoring, Control and Surveillance Network, Pew Charitable Trust, The World Wildlife Fund, Oceana and the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation. So we’ve got to roll up our sleeves and get to work on making Sea Scout implemented and implemented quickly, and I am confident that it will be an excellent new tool for countries like Nigeria in the fight against IUU fishing.


QUESTION: Yeah, and in talking about protected areas, you said so far you have some protected areas. What more areas are you likely to protect to ensure sustainable fishing?


Acting Assistant Secretary Judy Garber: That’s a great question. As part of the ocean action agenda, we are seeking to have 10 percent of the ocean designated as marine protected areas. And we were very excited that at the conference earlier this week, nearly two million square kilometers of ocean was announced as new marine protected areas, the most significant of which is that Chile is creating a marine protected area in the 720,000 square kilometer exclusive economic zone of the Island of Rapa Nui, I think known by many as Easter Island. This is a very significant announcement and it follows the announcement by the United States in 2014 of the largest single marine protected area in the world as the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument. This is gaining tremendous momentum, and we have the sense that the momentum is only growing, as in the 2030 agenda with the sustainable development goals, as part of goal 14 on the ocean, there is a goal for marine protected areas, as well.


MODERATOR: Great. I know we don’t have too much more time, but was there another question in Lagos? Sorry, I heard someone chime in there.


QUESTION: Good afternoon, Judy. My name is [inaudible], from [inaudible] Legal, Lagos. My question is, you talked about an action to conduct micro plastics. Can you explain more about this and how it’s going to be significant in addressing the issue of geographics in Africa?


Acting Assistant Secretary Judy Garber: Absolutely. As I was stating earlier, scientists estimate that by 2025, for every three tons of fish in the ocean there will be one ton of plastic. And the problem, particularly, is something called microplastics. As plastics break down, they don’t ever leave the ocean and are being consumed by fish and then being consumed by people, and we really need to be addressing this problem not only for the health of the ocean but for the health of ourselves, our children and the next generation. The United States has been working very hard on a number of initiatives in raising attention to the issue of plastics in the ocean. Together with Germany at this year’s G7 leaders’ summit, we announced new efforts against marine plastics and we are also seeking to do so in other forums. This is incredibly important, particularly for Africa, because, again, so many in Africa rely on fish as their main source of protein, and the impact of plastic in the food chain is something that I think is of concern to all.


MODERATOR: Great, thank you. Do you have time for one more?


QUESTION: My name is Dayo Ayeyemi from New Telegraph in Lagos. Mine has to do with pollutions. We discovered some of our water body here along Lagos’ coast is being polluted. I do not need a comment as of this, I want a solution provided by the conference.


Acting Assistant Secretary Judy Garber: The conference is definitely working on solutions to reduce marine pollution, and we would definitely welcome more enthusiasm, greater participation from Africa on some of those initiatives that were announced. I can give you a sense of what some of them are, but they are very focused this year in Latin America. But what I neglected to mention earlier was that Secretary Kerry announced the United States would host the next Our Ocean conference in the United States in 2015; and the European Union announced that they will host the following Our Ocean conference in Europe in 2017. So we’re going to be taking this work forward and we would definitely welcome greater participation and input and suggestions. A more robust African participation, including that of Nigeria, would only strengthen our efforts. Just to give you a sense of some of the initiatives that were announced that we hope will grow to include more participation in Africa: We announced a new pilot project on something called Waste to Worth, which tries to extract value from trash as a way to stimulate economic development. There is a pilot project that is going to be taking place in the Philippines and another one in Indonesia. But based on the success of those pilot projects, one would hope we could work with African countries to do something similar in Africa. In addition, the United States and China announced partnerships between coastal cities to share best practices related to waste management to reduce the flow of trash into the ocean. And we hope that the United States and China will be able to share the lessons learned in municipalities working together so other municipalities can learn from these best practices and work to use them, as well. Additionally, the European Commission announced that the European Union will be releasing an ambitious strategy at the end of this year to achieve a circular economy, including new legislative proposals on waste targets to address the issue of marine litter. And of course, given the proximity of portions of Africa to the European continent, this will have a positive impact on Africa, as well. So those are just a few examples of the types of things we are working on in the marine pollution area.


MODERATOR: Thank you so much. I believe that is all we have time for. Assistant Secretary Garber is running off to a beach cleanup event down in Chile. So I want to thank you for joining us today, Assistant Secretary Garber and to thank our callers for dialing in. A reminder that a transcript will be forthcoming and a digitized playback of this conference call will be available beginning at 10:15 a.m. Eastern time for the following 48 hours at 800-475-6701 with access code 370513. And if you are calling internationally, it’s +1 320-365-3844, and again, the access code is 370513.


Acting Assistant Secretary Judy Garber: May I just mention one more thing?


MODERATOR: Of course, absolutely.


Acting Assistant Secretary Judy Garber: I just want to announce to the journalists that are participating, you can find the information that I talked about today, as well as much more, at Let me repeat that, Thank you.


MODERATOR: Wonderful. Thank you so much. That concludes today’s call. Thanks everyone for participating.