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US Secretary of State John Kerry Monday sounded the alarm on the perils facing the world's oceans, calling for a global strategy to save the planet's life-giving seas.
"Let's develop a plan" to combat over-fishing, climate change and pollution, Kerry urged as he opened a ground-breaking two-day conference of world leaders, scientists and industry captains.
"We as human beings share nothing so completely as the ocean that covers nearly three-quarters of our planet," the top US diplomat said, adding that "each of us shares the responsibility to protect it."
Heads of government and state as well as ministers from some 80 countries gathered with researchers and experts from the fishing, plastics and farming industries for the conference at the State Department.
In a major announcement, President Anote Tong of the low-lying Pacific nation of Kiribati said despite concerns about the economic fallout all commercial fishing would be banned from January 2015 in the Phoenix Islands protected area.
"Addressing the challenges of climate change, calls for very serious commitment and sacrifice," Tong told the conference.
"The projected loss of revenue weighed very significantly in our consideration but in the final analysis we made the decision to persist with effective sustainable strategies," he said to loud applause.
Environmentalists say the Phoenix Islands, studded with pristine atolls which are rich in marine life, provide shelter for such species as highly migratory tunas and turtles, as well as reef fishes and sharks.
Kiribati is also among a number of island states -- including Tuvalu, Tokelau and the Maldives -- that the UN Human Rights Commission is concerned could become "stateless" due to rising waters caused by climate change.
Setting out the dangers facing the oceans, Kerry, long a passionate defender of the environment, warned there were already 500 "dead zones" around the world where marine life can no longer be sustained.
A third of the world's fish stocks are also "overexploited" and "nearly all the rest are being fished at or near their absolute maximum sustainable level."
If things continue without check "a significant chunk of marine life may die out because it can no longer live... in the oceans water," Kerry warned.
- Vital security issue -
As he opened the conference, the top US diplomat warned: "No-one should mistake that the protection of our oceans is a vital security issue."
But he insisted that today's "ad-hoc approach... with each nation and community pursuing its own independent policy simply will not suffice. That is not how the ocean works.
"We're not going to meet this challenge unless the community of nations comes together around a single comprehensive, global ocean strategy."
Kerry sought to highlight the importance of the oceans to the billions of people on the planet.
"The ocean today supports the livelihoods of up to 12 percent of the world's population. It is also essential to maintaining the environment in which we all live," Kerry said.
Protecting the oceans was also essential for food security, Kerry stressed saying some three billion people "depend on fish as a significant source of protein."
He urged everyone to come together to develop concrete action plans and said US President Barack Obama would make an announcement on America's marine conservation areas.
Environmentalists have already identified three areas -- the remote northwestern Hawaiian islands, the Marianas and the Pacific atolls -- where existing marine parks could be vastly expanded.
Obama will address the conference by video on Tuesday, followed by Hollywood A-lister Leonardo DiCaprio whose foundation has pumped millions into efforts to protect the ocean habitat and marine species.
"These are concerns that we share and we want to see put on the international agenda," Prince Albert of Monaco said as he met separately with Kerry during the conference.
"These issues concerning our global ocean don't concern only a few activists anymore -- it's the concern of all of us."