The University of Queensland’s acclaimed marine biologist Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg has joined US President Barack Obama and actor Leonardo DiCaprio at an international conference on ways to protect the world’s oceans.
Professor Hoegh-Guldberg, Director of UQ’s Global Change Institute, presented the opening address at the Our Ocean Conference hosted by US Secretary of State John Kerry in Washington DC this week.
He outlined the potential impact of climate change on the world’s oceans to researchers, environmental advocates and government leaders from 80 countries.
“Given the importance of the ocean to humanity, understanding chemical changes in the ocean caused by human activity couldn’t be more important,” he said.
“There are three issues that concern biologists when it comes to these changes – the rate at which it’s occurring, the timeframe it will take to come back from this and the undeniable mountain of evidence that it will affect the health and distribution of organisms and ecosystems.”
His comments mirrored those of Secretary Kerry, who said that most people didn’t realise that if the world didn’t work together to protect oceans then it ran the risk of breaking entire ecosystems.
“The good news is that at this point we know what we need to do to address the threats facing the ocean,” Secretary Kerry said.
“It’s not a mystery. It’s not beyond our capacity.”
In a video address, President Obama reiterated the need for action and called on all countries to join forces to tackle ocean issues.
“Rising levels of carbon dioxide are causing our oceans to acidify, pollution endangers marine life, overfishing threatens whole species, as well as the people who depend on them for food and their livelihoods,” he said.
“If we ignore these problems, if we drain our oceans of their resources … we’ll be cutting off one of the world’s major sources of food and economic growth … and we cannot afford to let that happen.”
Professor Hoegh-Guldberg was Contributing Lead Author on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s first chapter on oceans, and chaired the Blue Ribbon Panel for the World Bank’s Global Partnership for Oceans.
“It was a true honour to share the stage with President Barack Obama and Leonardo DiCaprio, and a privilege to be asked to provide insight into the best ways to protect our oceans for future generations,” he said.
“It will take 10,000 years to undo the effects of ocean acidification but it only took 100 years to cause it – this is a long time to pass on a broken ocean to future generations.” Professor Hoegh-Guldberg said.