Experts, ministers and philanthropists from around the world are meeting in Panama this Thursday and Friday in search of funding and new commitments to promote the “blue” economy, expand marine protected areas and confront the threats facing the ocean.

“We expect more than 300 new commitments” for the protection of marine resources “in the short, medium and long term,” said Panamanian Deputy Foreign Minister Yill Otero, during the presentation of the eighth annual Our Ocean conference.

At this annual meeting, 600 delegates from governments, companies and NGOs will discuss in Panama City initiatives to reduce pollution with plastics and other waste, combat illegal fishing and curb underwater mining.

In addition, “the mobilisation of economic resources”, both public and private, to carry out the measures adopted will also be announced, said Otero.

These “commitments are not only monetary, they are also public policies”, added the Panamanian official. “This is the most important meeting in the whole series of international meetings on marine protection” because it addresses all ocean issues as a whole, said Maximiliano Bello, of the NGO Mission Blue.

Each day there will be panels of experts on sustainable fishing, maritime safety and various topics of the “blue” economy, the marine equivalent of the “green” economy, that which seeks to protect nature.

So far, the participation of more than 200 NGOs, 60 academic and research centers, 14 philanthropists and nearly a hundred companies and international organisations has been confirmed.

Former U.S Secretary of State John Kerry, the main driving force behind the conference and current White House climate envoy, will also participate.

In addition to Kerry, also attending the Panama conclave will be renowned U.S oceanographer and explorer Sylvia Earle, founder of Mission Blue.

Kerry and Earle “have tried to change the concept that there are several oceans, because there is only one ocean that is shared by the entire planet,” Bello said.
“Also, the shark, the whale and a lot of other species move in that common ocean, because they don’t recognise the difference between several oceans,” the expert added.

“The Our Ocean conference is key to maintaining political will on ocean action,” said Courtney Farthing of the NGO Global Fishing Watch.

“One simple but powerful way governments can begin this effort is to take a transparent approach to ocean governance: publishing key data on human activity in the sea,” Farthing added.

The conference comes amid concern among environmentalists about the interest of multinational companies in extracting minerals from the seabed, an issue that the United Nations is currently debating as it seeks to approve an offshore treaty.

Among these minerals are manganese nodules, which contain metals sought after to make batteries, but their extraction threatens to cause irreparable damage to the marine ecosystem.

“There is not really a great deal of extraction today, but there is an important advance in technology and machinery to eventually be able to extract minerals, mainly rare minerals,” Bello maintained.

Delegates will not adopt agreements or take votes at the summit but will announce voluntary “commitments” their countries make to protect the ocean.

“We would like to witness the consolidation of governance in waters outside national jurisdictions,” said Juan Manuel Posada of the MarViva NGO, referring to the fact that much of the illegal fishing is done on the high seas.

In addition, “we would like to see declarations that countries have 30 percent of their marine surface as protected areas before the target date (2030),” agreed at COP15 on biodiversity, he added.

The single ocean covers three quarters of the Earth. For its protection and conservation, experts warn of the need for global measures.

One example is the historic agreement adopted in Panama in 2022 to protect sharks, during COP19 of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

“We have to talk less and do more, the time for talking is over and what we have to take are ever faster and more concrete actions if we want to save our planet,” declared the Panamanian Minister of Agricultural Development, Augusto Valderrama.