I am so pleased to join you today at @america on your final day of the YSEALI Oceans workshop.
I love participating in YSEALI events and have been lucky to have met many YSEALI members like you throughout the region. It is one of the best parts of my job. Knowing that young leaders, like you, are committed to addressing some of the world’s greatest challenges, like the state of our oceans, fills me with hope. I am confident that the future of ASEAN is in good hands with young leaders like you.
I wish I could have joined you for the beach clean-up and mangrove planting on Friday but I was at a conference of all the Ambassadors in the United States. I got back last night, at 1:30am. So I admit that I am a little tired today. Last week my staff asked – are you SURE you can speak at YSEALI Oceans Workshop? I said – YSEALI and oceans, two of the things I care about most in South East Asia.
In one of my meetings last week in Washington, DC, President Obama surprised us and came to speak with the nearly 200 U.S. Ambassadors serving overseas about U.S. foreign policy and all the important work left to do. And guess what he mentioned? YSEALI!
He talked about how the United States needs to keep forging partnerships that empower young people, entrepreneurs, and students through programs like YSEALI. He talked about how young leaders like you are eager to learn and are great partner for the United States. He also said, and I quote, that “we have to not only focus on challenges and threats, but opportunities and hope. We have to feed what’s best in the world and not just try to address what’s worst.” And that, my friends, is you.
So I’m going to talk a bit about the challenges related to the oceans and also report on some progress.
As you know, Southeast Asia is home to a greater concentration of marine biodiversity than anywhere else in the world. The waters in this region support many thousands of species that are vital for maintaining healthy ecosystems, and for providing food and livelihoods for millions of people in Asia and around the world.
But we also know this marine bounty, and by extension, the food security of the people of the region, is under siege. There are many destructive forces at work,—climate change, illegal unreported and unregulated fishing, artificial island building on coral reefs, and ocean trash, to name a just a few.
About millions of people in SE Asia make a living through fishing, coastal tourism, and other ocean-related sectors. Ninety percent of all trade travels by sea, and 40 percent of the world’s population lives in coastal areas.
Thankfully there are many partners around the world – and I’m including you in this – that are working hard to improve the state of our oceans. Combatting illegal fishing has become a clear priority for the United States. President Obama and Secretary Kerry are both invested, as I am. I have made marine and maritime issues a top priority at the U.S. Mission to ASEAN.
About two weeks ago I was so excited when President Obama signed the Port State Measures Agreement which will help to combat IUU fishing by denying illegal fishing vessels access to ports. We’re hoping your governments will sign the agreement as well.
Here is how it works, though I am simplifying a bit. When port officials find a foreign ship that is engaged in illegal fishing, they are to deny it services like refueling. When enough countries join the treaty these boats will have no place to land their illegal catch.
Myanmar is ahead of the game, the first signatory in ASEAN. Take a bow, Myanmar YSEALI friends! Other ASEAN Member States are studying the treaty.
In September, Secretary Kerry will host the third Our Ocean conference in Washington, D.C. – which two of the teams at this workshop will attend. At the previous two Our Oceans conferences, nations, civil society, and industry came together and pledged almost $4 billion to conservation activities.
World leaders also committed to safeguard nearly 5 million square kilometers of ocean in marine protected areas. That’s larger than the combined land area of all ten ASEAN Member States. The United States is doing its part, in 2014 President Obama designated the world’s largest marine protected area in the U.S. Pacific Islands.
Now, here is where you come in. We have an international treaty effort and ASEAN States are working together regionally on things like the Catch Documentation System. What I have heard from a number of national leaders in Fishery Ministries is what really needs to happen to change the state of illegal fishing and protecting coral reefs is to hear from the people.
There needs to be grassroots demands from the bottom up and through media to tell your leaders that it has got to get better. And that is where you can play a role. It is not enough to just address it at the international, national and governments’ level. People have to be involved, otherwise the governments do not have enough incentives to try to change.
We need cooperation of all the ASEAN Member States and the world to do this right. That is difficult, but if leaders know that their people want it, that is when they will act. The Port State Measures Agreement would not be a bad place to start.
I urge you to take what you’ve learned this week to make a difference. Share your experience and ideas on how to improve the world with friends, family and colleagues – the more dedicated people we have, the better. These last few days are a great start, but the next steps, the harder part, the more important part of following through, those will be up to you.
What is hard to appreciate when you are young – and what I did not appreciate when I was your age– is that little changes really add up over the course of a lifetime. So use those cool YSEALI reusable plastic water bottles and reduce your use of plastic. Think of how many water bottles all of us in this room will collectively not use. One statistic said that in a year, we generate enough plastic bottles that if we laid them end to end they would go from here to the moon and back again, many, many times.
I want to end with a quote from the great South African Activist and former President Nelson Mandela. He said “It always seems impossible until it is done.” He should know. He was kept prisoner in a 3 meter by 3 meter cell for 27 years. And he became President of his country.
Keep going and good luck! I look forward to hearing about your accomplishments.