Remarks With YSEALI Alumni on Marine Conservation

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Manila, Philippines
July 27, 2016

MS OPOSA: According to the Secretary John Kerry, the ocean is sort of in his DNA. He grew up with an affinity for the sea, first as a young boy in Massachusetts fishing and clamming, and then as an officer in the U.S. Navy. This passion for the blue world was evident when he was a U.S. senator. As chairman of the Senate Oceans and Fisheries Subcommittee, he oversaw the rewriting of fishery laws, the creation of the Stellwagen Bank Sanctuary, the passing of the Coastal Zone Management Act, and more.

Since becoming Secretary of State in 2013, Secretary Kerry has elevated ocean conservation, climate change, energy, and other environmental issues into core matters of U.S. foreign policy. As a result, the U.S. Department of State and the United States Agency of International Development have increased support for ocean conservation and environmental projects all over the world, including the Sea and Earth Advocates Camp, or SEA Camps, here in the Philippines. Since 2015, six SEA Camps have empowered 127 young Filipino emerging leaders to make sustainable waves of change in their communities, showing the Philippines and the world that we are never too young to lead.

Secretary Kerry, all the SEA Campers are here today because we recognize that our ocean faces enormous challenges. But because of you, we have a cause for optimism and inspiration. The YSEALI SEA Camp experience has led us to believe that our solutions, idealism and our hope can turn the tide towards a better ocean future, and for that we thank you.

Ladies, gentlemen, and SEA-tizens, the 68th U.S. Secretary of State, Secretary John Kerry. (Applause.)

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you. Anna, thank you very much. (In Filipino.) (Laughter.) Happy to see you all. You look so comfortable in those chairs, I got to tell you. (Laughter.) You better not fall asleep on me. Is that a deal? Okay. We’ll wake you up and shake you and throw you in the ocean, that’s what we’ll do. (Laughter.) I am really happy to be here with all of you. I want you to relax. Oh, are you planning to do something? Is he calling on people? Okay, later, we’ll --

MS OPOSA: (Off-mike.)

SECRETARY KERRY: Give me a couple minutes. Anyway, this is a great pleasure for me. I am really happy to be able to be here to share some thoughts with you, and I don’t want to just talk at you, okay? I want you to ask questions. I want you to share your thoughts. And I’m really grateful that you have chosen to be SEA Campers within the YSEALI program, which is one of the best things we do, and it’s a great idea President Obama put in place. I think it’s going to be one of the great things that he will continue to work on when he finishes being President, is working with you and other young people around the world to try to help make a difference.

But – and I love your shirt. Look at that: “Never too young to lead.” Do you believe that? Okay, you better believe that. (Laughter.) Because it happens to be true. Young people historically have always made amazing differences in the life of countries everywhere. I know in my country when I was in high school is when I actually first became involved in politics, and then in college, many of our friends, my friends, me, others became involved in civil rights efforts in America, became involved in the environment movement, in women’s effort trying to get an equal rights amendment, other things. And we’re still breaking barriers, obviously, in America. I’m not allowed to be involved in partisan politics, but I don’t think it’s partisan for me to say how significant it is that the United States has nominated a woman to lead one of its major parties to be president of the United States. It’s a huge step forward in terms of – whether you’re for her or against her, it’s a big moment in the United States of America. And I think other countries have been ahead of us in that, obviously. Great Britain has its second woman prime minister, and other countries have been – so – and here, Cory Aquino. I worked very, very closely in the election process here in the Philippines a number of years ago, and during the time when Cory Aquino was running for president, and NAMFREL, the national movement for free elections in the Philippines, was working – excuse me – and I remember working very, very closely with them in an effort to make sure the elections were what everybody in the Philippines expected them to be.

But here this morning, we’re here to talk about your ability to lead with respect to a challenge that a lot of people don’t tune into and don’t understand. A lot of people look out at the ocean and they see this vast expanse of water and everybody says, wow, it’s the ocean, and it’s bigger than any of us, and there’s no way any of us have an ability to be able to hurt the ocean. But you know that’s wrong, right? It’s very wrong. The oceans are critical to life on the planet, because 50 percent of the oxygen that we breathe comes through the cycling process of the oceans. But people don’t treat it that way. Increasingly now, the oceans are threatened. One-third of the fisheries of the world are overfished – significantly overfished. And if you overfish, if you kill any species of anything that is essential to a cycle – food supply cycle or otherwise, the life cycle – because it eats other insects or it is a predator that keeps the population of a particular herd of something at the right level – it’s all a cycle. It’s all worked for millions of years, been developing – there are changes. But three-quarters of this planet is the ocean. It could be called Ocean rather than Earth, because more of it is ocean.

But the fact is that the oceans, with the fishing that’s taking place – fishing has to be done sustainably, and if you don’t fish sustainably, if you fish out a stock, particularly during a time of the year in the reproductive time of the year, you are depriving yourself – ourselves – of the future stocks of fish. And then all of a sudden food begins to disappear. Work begins to disappear. Once upon a time in my home state of Massachusetts, while I was still a United States senator, we had to stop all fishing completely for the striped bass because it was being fished so much it was disappearing. For 10 years, people were not allowed to fish striped bass at all. And guess what? The stock came back, and now people are able to fish. There’s a limit on the size of the fish you can take and so forth, and the result is that we have a sustainable cycle of fishing taking place.

Well, the same thing is true anywhere out in the ocean. Too many sharks are being killed. Sharks are a critical predator with respect to the cycle of the ocean, but people kill sharks in some – many places just for the fin, just for the shark fin, for the soup. And in many, many parts of the world, two-thirds of the fish that are caught in any particular catch are thrown overboard. It’s called bycatch, and the bycatch gets thrown away and not used for one purpose or another.

Now, there have to be ways for us to implement some better rules on fisheries, and that’s what we’re trying to do right now. I am hosting in Washington, in September, on the 15th and 16th of September, foreign ministers, environment ministers, and people will come from all around the world to Washington to join us in a two-day conference called Our Ocean – the Our Ocean Conference. It’s the third one that we’ve done. We did the first one the year after I came in as Secretary. The next one Chile agreed to do; we went to Chile and did that. This one we’re doing, the last one while I’m Secretary. Next year the Europeans, the EU, have accepted to do it. The year after that Indonesia has asked to do it. And I think there’s one other country – oh, Norway wants to do it. So we have three years in the future that we will be continuing to focus on what you’re working on right now.

Now, fishing is one aspect of what’s happening to the oceans that is dangerous. There is illegal, unreported, unregulated fishing taking place in the world. And on the high seas, it’s very difficult to be able to enforce because you don’t have ships out there, you don’t have police out there, you don’t have people who are making sure people are living by the rules. And so, regrettably, because it’s worth money – a lot of money – people send people out there and they wind up scooping up a lot of fish – a whole lot of fish. And we have these long monofilament lines out fishing, driftnet fishing. It’s supposed to be not allowed but some people still do it, and the result is that they are just strip-mining the ocean. I mean, literally, it just sweeps it out. There are worse things that happen.

The second really big danger is pollution itself – plastic, all kinds of plastic. Eight million tons of plastic is dumped into the ocean every single year. A year ago or so, we had a group of people who went out and did a cleanup – young people just like yourselves. They did it – maybe some of you were part of that here. Did a huge cleanup along the shoreline and they collected 18 million tons of plastic in one day. That’s enough for one hundred – the weight of that would be the equivalent of one hundred 737s, Boeing 737s airplanes. It’s incredible. In a few years, if we keep going the way we’re going, by 2050, which is not so far away, there’ll be more plastic in the ocean than there will be fish. And the fish – what happens is the plastic breaks down and marine mammals ingest it and they die, and birds and so forth. So I mean, it’s a serious problem.

The final challenge to the oceans that I’ll just talk about today quickly is climate change. Climate change is warming the ocean, changing ocean current patterns, changing the capacity of certain things to live in certain places. The acidification that comes from the carbon dioxide that we put up into the sky, into the atmosphere, from the burning of coal and fossil fuels, that CO2 comes back and dumps into the ocean and it raises the acidity of the ocean. Now, ask anybody who does agriculture and they’ll tell you that if you’re trying to grow a plant in your garden, you’re trying to grow a tree or flowers, it depends on the level of acidity in the earth as to what can prosper and what doesn’t prosper. Some things like a lot of acidity; some things don’t. But in the ocean, the acidity, the carbon dioxide breaks down and becomes carbonic acid, and that gets into the systems of crustaceans – clams, lobsters, different kinds of hard-shell animals, et cetera, marine mammals. And what happens to them is they break down. And we’re beginning to see mutations. We see clams that, depending on the level of acidity, it goes from a big clam with a little acidity to a very, very small clam with lots of acidity, and that’s going to affect the food cycle.

So I’m going to end and get you involved in this conversation. I just want to tell every one of you, you see, it’s much more complicated than people think. It’s a great big ocean. It’s wonderful to tip your toes in it and swim in it and go to the beach and enjoy it, but it needs to be protected. And that’s why all of you at the SEA Camp are really doing – such an important way to spend your time, and I really appreciate what you’re up to.

The final thing I’ll just mention to you, We are announcing a program called 1000 Actions for our Ocean, which you’re aware of, I think. It’s ordered to help people choose to do the kind of thing that did that cleanup before, when people got all of that garbage out of the oceans. And I hope every single one of you is going to come up with a really good idea for some kind of action and some way for you to be able to make a difference.

So on that note, I see you’re all still awake so let me throw it open. Let’s have a discussion, let me answer any questions, or just share with me some observation that you have about what you’re learning here at the camp and what we need to be thinking about. Who wants to go first?

Anna, are you going to run this, or are you going to – do you want me to just call on someone?

MS OPOSA: We’ll start with recent YSEALI SEA Camp. We granted a few projects --


QUESTION: Good morning, Mr. Secretary. My name (inaudible) and this is my friend (inaudible). Mr. Secretary, sir.


QUESTION: Currently, we’re working on a project Expo-Sea, exposure and educational --

SECRETARY KERRY: What’s it called?



QUESTION: Yes, it’s (inaudible.)

MS OPOSA: Yes, it’s a blend of the words exposure and sea.

QUESTION: So it’s exposure and education activity for school children (inaudible). It’s a exposure and education activity for the local school children in (inaudible).

MS OPOSA: So contrary to popular belief, it’s not always the locals of such sites who truly benefit from the Thai tourism industry. So what we want to do through project Expo-Sea is we want to hold a snorkeling workshop, games, and basic lectures that aim to develop and (inaudible) the attitude, skills, and knowledge necessary for becoming effective future marine leaders.

SECRETARY KERRY: That’s cool, that’s great. So you’re going to get lots of local folks. Are you going to focus on young people or you’re going to focus on everybody?

MS OPOSA: Our target group is 13 to 17 years old.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thirteen to 17.


SECRETARY KERRY: And how are you going to reach people? Through schools or –

MS OPOSA: Yes, the local public --


MS OPOSA: -- elementary schools.

SECRETARY KERRY: Will you do this year-round or summertime?

MS OPOSA: We’re targeting August 27th, this August 27th.

SECRETARY KERRY: And you’ll go through the year?

MS OPOSA: We’re going to start with a one-day workshop (inaudible).

SECRETARY KERRY: Okay, and see how you can build out from there. Well, congratulations. That’s a great idea. Thank you. That’s wonderful. Good for you. (Applause.)

Hi there, how are you?

QUESTION: Hi, good morning, sir. My name is Pan Nibir (ph). I am a YSEALI SEA Camper participant from (inaudible) Manila. And the name of my project is called – it’s called Screen Your Sunscreen.


QUESTION: -- Your Sunscreen.

SECRETARY KERRY: Oh, Screen your Sunscreen. I love that. I know what’s coming here. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: So Screen Your Sunscreen is a social media-led digital initiative which aims to raise awareness on the negative effects of oxybenzone, the chemical found in most commercial sunscreens, on our coral reefs and marine life. So after the project, what we want to happen is that we want consumers to screen and read the labels first and be more conscious of what they purchase, and hopefully they support our locally made, reef-friendly products.

SECRETARY KERRY: I love it. It’s great. And let me tell you something, everybody. The largest organ in your body – largest organ in your body? Skin, correct? And it’s porous. And whatever you put on it goes through your system. So a lot of people aren’t aware of that, but they’ve got to think. So your idea of awareness about screening sunscreens is really important. My wife made me do that. I’m telling you. I’m serious. I didn’t know anything about it. My wife said, “You’re putting poison on yourself,” and I finally – so now I only use the right stuff.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you. (Applause.)

QUESTION: Hello, Secretary.

SECRETARY KERRY: What did you do, stack the front seat here? Is it only the front seat? (Laughter.) Go ahead.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

SECRETARY KERRY: Put the mike really close and talk a little bit slower so everybody can hear you and understand you.

QUESTION: Hello, sir. Yes. So my name is Patrick Guyen (ph), and I’m from (inaudible), and I’m a YSEALI SEA Camp participant. And my project is entitled Junior Coal-laboration. So this project is composed of classroom discussions and workshops that aim to empower and inform young students on the effects of coal dust on the environment, specifically the marine life in Manila. So this community is important because it’s the only (inaudible) Manila, and (inaudible) Manila. So (inaudible) inform and empower the children on the effects of coal dust and (inaudible).

SECRETARY KERRY: So how are you – and how are you – this is great. You’ve got a project to show people the effect of coal dust in Manila Bay, and to educate people about that. How do you do that? What do you – where do you get your data from?

QUESTION: It’s from the (inaudible).

SECRETARY KERRY: From where? I’m sorry, I didn’t hear that.

QUESTION: From the government.

SECRETARY KERRY: The data of the government service.

QUESTION: There are many studies that show that coal dust has (inaudible). So we (inaudible).

SECRETARY KERRY: That’s so great. Good for you. That’s a huge service to people, and very important. Is the government taking notice of those levels and are they trying to do something about it?

QUESTION: So far, sir, it’s in the process of (inaudible), so there are many NGOs as a part of the (inaudible).

SECRETARY KERRY: NGOs are working on this?

QUESTION: But the focus of the project is young students.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, keep working for it. Keep working on this thing and make sure you make your voice heard on that because it’s really important. Thank you.

MS OPOSA: Secretary Kerry, we’d like to thank you for the time that you’ve spent with us this morning.

SECRETARY KERRY: Are you kicking me out of here already? (Laughter.)

MS OPOSA: I’ve been instructed to --

SECRETARY KERRY: You’ve been instructed? All right. Well, I’m sorry it’s so short. I love being here. I really love being here.

MS OPOSA: We know you have a busy day ahead, so we --

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I have a good day ahead. I’m going to meet with your foreign minister. I’m going to meet with your president. And unfortunately, it’s a slightly tight visit because of schedules – a little bit crazy now. But can I leave you with just one thought, not more than a minute? You really can make a difference, and everybody needs you. Your country needs you. We need you. We need young people to be part of the political process and make sure it’s transparent and accountable and that people hear your voices and that political people respond to the needs of people (inaudible). That’s what’s so important, and you have a lot of power as young people, and the future is yours.

So thank you all for being here and being part of this.

MS OPOSA: Thank you so much.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you. Bye-bye. (Applause.)