Opinion: Saving Our Future By Saving Our Oceans

John Kerry calls for nations, businesses, and everyone worldwide to preserve the world's oceans.

A bluefin tuna swims past a diver in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, one of the largest estuaries in the world.

The ocean covers almost three-quarters of our planet and sustains life on Earth as we know it. But our ocean is at grave risk today—and we know the reason why.

Human activity threatens the world's ocean. Often illegal international fishing practices are decimating fisheries. A garbage patch twice the size of Texas floats in the Pacific Ocean, evidence of the trash we cast into our waterways. Rising carbon dioxide levels from emissions increase ocean acidity, endangering coral reefs and other marine life.

The warning could not be starker: Unless these trends are reversed, the effects across the planet will be profound. The damage will be felt whether you live on a coastline or hundreds of miles from the nearest ocean's edge. The ocean produces half the world's oxygen, creates the clouds that bring fresh water, and regulates our climate. More than a billion people eat fish as their primary source of protein. Fishing is a $500-billion global industry, and one in six jobs in the United States is marine related.

The good news is that we know what is behind the degradation of the ocean. We know the steps required to counter the dangers and restore the health of our ocean for this generation and those to come. We know the science to change the future for the ocean.

What we also know is that the global political will to address this urgent peril has yet to be summoned. We must change the equation. The plight of the ocean compels us to fight complacency and build consensus for action.

The United States has demonstrated that we can make progress. We have begun to restore fish stocks and sustain the livelihoods of our fishermen. We have reduced the flow of waste into the marine environment and launched intensive studies of the effects of rising acidity levels on sea life. Some other nations are also addressing the challenges in innovative ways.

But governments will not undertake this enormous campaign without prodding from the private sector—from businesses that depend on a healthy ocean, from nongovernmental organizations committed to saving the ocean, and from all of us who recognize that the ocean is a defining feature of life on our planet.

That's why we will hold the State Department's first ocean conference on June 16 and 17. Government leaders from around the world—heads of state and foreign ministers—will join scientists, environmentalists, and business leaders to discuss the threat to our ocean and the steps that should be taken to reverse the damage and restore the balance.

We intend to create a global movement to protect the ocean and its resources. We will debate real solutions and come up with concrete plans for implementing them. We also have sent out a call to action that lays out the crucial steps all of us can take to ensure that a healthy ocean allows us to continue to enjoy its bounty.

Because I come from Massachusetts, the sea has been a constant in my life. But stewardship of the ocean is more than just a personal passion for those of us who hail from coastal communities. Just as this issue was a priority for me as a senator, it is a priority for me now as Secretary of State, because it means jobs, health, industry, and the safety of our planet.

I've been around enough to know that governments can't solve all of these problems alone. Just as we share a common dependence on the ocean, we must join together in a common endeavor to save the ocean from the damage caused by humans.

In a few days, I will ask leaders from around the world to take action to save our ocean. I'm convinced the ocean conference will be an important catalyst, that governments and experts can lead the way. But I know it will take more to win this crucial struggle

What we do as individuals will ultimately make the difference. Some acts are simple. Don't throw trash into waterways. Buy sustainable seafood. Volunteer at least one day a year to clean beaches or waterways in your community. Other acts require a sustained commitment by people everywhere to make certain saving the ocean is a priority for their governments.

In observing World Oceans Day yesterday, we recognized that protecting our ocean is not a luxury. It is a necessity that contributes to our economy, our climate, and our way of life. Working together, we can change the current course and chart a sustainable future.

John Kerry is U.S. Secretary of State.