The United Nations' Ocean Conference



June 2017

Martina Stiasny attended the Ocean Conference at the United Nations in New York City representing the research project BIOAcid and spoke about her research on acidification effects on fish and fisheries. She is a doctoral candidate in the working groups of Prof. Thorsten Reusch and Prof. Martin Quaas, and works on climate change effects on Atlantic cod fisheries.

 

I have to admit that, when I was asked to attend the conference and speak on behalf of ocean acidification and BIOAcid, I was not only super thrilled, but also slightly intimidated by the prospect. It caused a couple of sleepless nights until I had my speech written. However, as soon as I arrived at the UN in Manhatten, I got swept away by the excitement of the buzzing Headquarters filled with about 6000 delegates, all prepared to speak out and fight for the protection of the ocean.
Nevertheless, if you cannot get past the painful irony of a room full of delegates from nations, NGOs, IGOs and the scientific community discussing the problem of plastics in the oceans, while sipping iced lattes from a plastic Starbucks cup with a plastic straw (since the Café in the UN Headquarters actually serves Starbucks coffee), you would have been pulling your hair out for a week.
Additionally this week happened under the strange circumstances of the international community gathering for the first time to put the Ocean on the international political agenda, while President Trump decided to pull out of the Paris Agreement. The atmosphere at the conference was surprisingly positive and optimistic and it appeared like there was widespread agreement on the fact that we have for certain reached the point of 'now or it might be too late'. But when Robert Mugabe makes a statement to support whatever might be necessary to reach the sustainability goal, but the president of the United States prefers to steer in the opposite direction, it certainly feels like the world has gone slightly mad.
I am nevertheless very proud to have had the chance to make my statement and to get the feedback from some delegations that this was the first time they truly understood and believed the threat that acidification might pose.
Of course nobody is pretending that the Ocean will be saved in a week, but hopefully we will look back one day and see this as a turning point. Sometimes all it takes is for the rudder to be turned just a few degrees...
Seeing some of my own professional heroes, like Dr. Sylvia Earle, speak in the General Assembly Hall of the United Nations during the Celebrations for World Ocean Day was just an added bonus, but one that I will treasure for a long time.