Ocean Issues Are Profoundly Important, Though Mostly Invisible

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The following is a speech I gave last week for Oceana's 16th annual Partner Award event honoring Arianna Huffington and Deepak Chopra


How many of you here tonight get at least five fundraiser invitations a month? How many get ten? Fifteen?

This is the stack of them that Keri and I have received in just the last ten days.

We try hard to prioritize the really urgent issues from the less critical, but frankly it's almost impossible to do.

Child abuse, domestic violence, human trafficking, Darfur, cancer research, hunger and homelessness. These issues are so tangible and moving, and the victims are so visible

So why does Oceana matter? Why are we here tonight given all the other crises and organizations competing for our attention and financial support? Why?

We're here because ocean issues are mostly invisible--and have always been so much harder to get people to care about even though they function as the primary battery for the planet's climate, generate hundreds of millions of jobs, and produce food for billions of people.

We're here because our beaches--and the magnificent Pacific Ocean--have been a magical playground we've shared with our friends and families, and an awesome spiritual escape from our increasingly industrial lives.

We're here because all of this is in tremendous jeopardy, and because in our lifetimes, we'll either get involved in saving these miraculous resources--or we'll watch them die.

Why? What's happened?

Well, for starters, there are six and a half billion people competing for the ocean's treasures, and we've become insanely efficient predators.

We're, using massive industrial vessels to hunt down and kill every known edible species. Faced with space-age tracking technology and the fishing industry's "weapons of mass destruction" like bottom trawling--and 30 mile long drift nets--the fish don't have a chance.

Over half a billion pounds of sea life is hauled out of the ocean every day. 25% of that--more than a hundred million pounds a day--whatever isn't being hunted--is just thrown overboard--turtles, dolphins, even whales--all of it dead.

90% of all the big fish are gone--the favorites of seafood lovers and recreational fisherman: tuna, swordfish, cod, marlin.

And then, there's the ferocious damage to marine habitat done by bottom trawling--unimaginably gigantic killing machines, scraping the ocean floor, destroying everything in their path--colossal weighted nets--half a mile from end to end---some large enough to fit 13- 747's inside.

But you're thinking, "C'mon, the ocean repairs itself eventually, right? Yes it does, and that only takes about 125,000 years, and only if it's left completely alone.

In addition to raping and pillaging almost everything out there, we've also been dumping every conceivable form of our garbage into it--sewage, plastic, pesticides, devastating agricultural pollution and toxic industrial waste

And now we're faced with the daunting reality that at least 30% of all global CO2 emissions falls into our oceans-- about 22 million tons a day!

Until now, it's been forgivingly absorbed. But like the junk we thought we could throw into the sea forever, we've come to the point where the ocean can no longer absorb our carbon "garbage"-- and other poisons--without eventually becoming a wasteland, in which ultimately almost nothing would survive.

Another exaggeration?


Scientists are predicting that the beneficiaries of this toxic stew-- already multiplying beyond our wildest imagination--will be billions upon billions of jelly fish--as far as the eye can see.

These problems aren't happening way out on the open seas. They're happening in our backyards--within US waters-- and within the territorial 200 miles off-shore all of the other coastal nations.

So, who owns these precious resources--the commercial fishing industry, the massive seafood restaurant chains, the giant seafood retailers?

NO THEY DON'T--They belong to US.

So what are we going to do? How can we really make a difference?

Support Oceana financially

Oceans cover 70% of the planet, but, shockingly, less than half a cent out of every dollar spent on environmental protection is dedicated to these critical ocean problems. And Oceana is the only international organization in the world that's exclusively devoted to ocean issues.

This is obviously why your financial support of Oceana is so important now while there's still time left to stop this madness.

I promise that we're out there in government offices here, around the country and around the world--every day-- pushing for better legislation and better enforcement of existing laws.

We're forging alliances with other NGO's. I see allies here tonight from NRDC, Conservation International, World Wild Life, Environmental Media and the Ocean Conservancy, to name only a few. Welcome.

We also have important partnerships with major companies that share our concerns and support our goals.

We're really glad to see some of those comrades here tonight--Mary Skinner from La Mer, Michael Rouse from Toyota Motor Sales, and Nina Flood from Nautica. Thank you.

Our board and staff are working all over the world to make sure there's more protected ocean bottom--more fish for the hundreds of millions of people whose livelihoods depend on fishing, more pristine coral reefs for essential marine-life-habitat, and for divers to enjoy, and more sustainably caught fish for seafood lovers everywhere.

Oceana is in the MORE business. And Oceana is RUN like a business. You are our investors, and we feel obligated to show you a concrete return on that investment--.every day

We get things done and we do it really efficiently. In fact, OCEANA recently received another prestigious four-star rating from Charity Navigator--its highest rating--as an acknowledgment of OCEANA'S outstanding management, transparency and performance.

We're excited about our accomplishments and the challenges ahead, but we don't have a chance to succeed without even more of your- help.

We need your ongoing financial support, and appreciate it even more given the challenging year we've all been through, because it's going to take even more organizational firepower, more scientists, more litigation and more muscle in more places to turn things around before it's just too late.

And there are other important ways that you can join the fight.

Please, visit our terrific newly re-designed website and learn about the issues.

Ask your local grocer and favorite restaurants where their fish comes from, how it was caught, if it's safe to eat and if it comes from a sustainable fishery.

If you don't get straight answers--and you probably won't--demand them.

Use a seafood guide to make smarter choices for your family at the market, and when you're out for dinner. You'll get one in your gift bag tonight. Keep it in your wallet.

Talk to the restaurants you go to about taking swordfish and tuna--both endangered species--off their menus, or at least warning their customers about their serious mercury and PCB health risks.

Pressure local, state, and national officials to do everything possible to reject any new off shore drilling, and to begin immediately to take all responsible steps to stop all of the other uncontrolled sources of greenhouse gasses, garbage and poisons that threaten to turn our majestic oceans into DEAD ACID SEAS.

Scientists all over the world agree that we don't have a lot of time to prevent these escalating crises from hitting a tipping point after which they will become irreversible.

They warn us that we may only have ten years, maybe less to turn this mess around. I believe that

If you're thinking that this can't be true--that the scientists are wrong or are exaggerating--that it can't possibly be this dire--I really hope you're right, but we just can't take that chance. There's way too much at stake.

So whether you're deeply religious, or an atheist, or somewhere in the middle-- or a Republican, a Democrat or an Independent--IT DOESN'T MATTER.

Don't we ALL believe that this amazing planet--our world--is a fantastic miracle?

And don't we all know, without any doubt whatsoever, that this miracle must be honored and defended for your children--for your grandchildren and for generations to come? Don't we?

Of course we do.

So come on!

Decide that you're going to join us--in addition to everything else you're already doing--to do whatever it takes to protect and preserve the life of these magnificent oceans--oceans that gave birth to life itself.

Isn't it our turn to give back now?