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US Secretary of State John Kerry warned royalty, corporate kings and environmental warriors Tuesday that governments won't save the seas without "significant impetus" from every sphere of society.
Kerry's comments came via video link to a large gathering at the scenic Half Moon Bay, California that has brought together countries big and small to find ways to prevent oceans and seas being destroyed by a rapacious global appetite for food and resources.
"We don't yet have the political consensus or the urgency translated into political action," Kerry said during a video chat that kicked off the World Ocean Summit, organized by The Economist.
"And we know that there's no way that governments are going to tackle this enormous challenge, frankly, without significant impetus from the private sector, the NGO community, academia, media and others."
A note struck time and again at the meeting, which continues through Wednesday, was the need to translate the destruction of seas and sea life into economic values that everyone, from world leaders to lone fishermen, can take to heart.
"Every human on Earth depends on the oceans for the food we eat and the air we breath," Kerry said.
"The environmental reasons for protecting the planet's oceans should be leaping out at people."
Monaco's Prince Albert II, who took part in a panel discussion, said that "preservation of the environment can not be accomplished against human wishes.
"It can only work with a sustainable model recognizing the goals of humanity and the requirements of nature."
Those attending the summit are well versed in disastrous threats facing the seas, from overfishing to dead zones where pollution makes any form of life impossible.
However, a casual poll showed participants were broadly optimistic these problems could be beaten.
"The facts are still extremely worrying," cautioned United Nations under-secretary-general Achim Steiner, head of the UN environment program.
"At the same time, we are seeing an enormous groundswell in activity to try to address this phenomenon."
Overarching themes included sustainability when it comes to fisheries and other gifts from the sea, and the inescapable need for nations to work together.
Threats include illegal fishing practices smashing food chains and wiping out species; pollution, including fertilizer, run-off from in-land farms, and climate change.