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Speaking to a State Department conference on marine conservation Tuesday, Leonardo DiCaprio announced his foundation will donate $7 million to the cause, and President Barack Obama said he is setting in motion federal efforts to deter illegal fishing and to establish a massive new ocean preserve in the South Pacific.
Secretary of State John Kerry, whose presidential bid DiCaprio once supported, convened the “Our Ocean” conference in Washington, D.C., as a forum to advance the increasingly urgent need to preserve pristine areas of the world’s oceans and to protect commercial fishing stocks.
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DiCaprio said his foundation will contribute $7 million to a variety of marine conservation initiatives over the next 24 months. “I’m standing up here as a concerned citizen of this planet who believes that this is the most important issue of our time,” the actor told audience members at the State Department gathering. “My foundation recently announced a $3 million grant to the organization Oceana to support their efforts to protect sharks, marine mammals and key ocean habitat in the Eastern Pacific.
“Today, I’m here to commit even more of my foundation’s resources to this cause,” DiCaprio said, adding that his diving trips around the world had given him the opportunity to “witness environmental devastation firsthand.”
“This isn’t simply an exercise in wildlife conservation,” he said. “If we don’t do something to save the ocean now, it won’t be just the sharks and the dolphins that suffer. It will be our children and our grandchildren.”
Kerry, who personally introduced the actor, said DiCaprio’s effort is “a terrific example of how an artist, an actor, a person of celebrity can take that celebrity and make it meaningful in the context of things that matter to people’s lives on a day-to-day base, more than being entertained. And he has used it to capture the public’s attention on this particular issue about the oceans.”
Kerry added: “I was very, very struck during the course of our time together about his seriousness of purpose. He doesn’t just lend his name to this kind of an effort casually. He does his homework. He knows the issues. He invests time to visit places where he can learn more about those issues. And he understands how to make the case effectively and persuasively.”
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Immediately before DiCaprio’s remarks, Obama addressed the conference via video, promising to adopt new measures to control illegal fishing and pledging to begin the process of creating a new oceanic preserve in South Pacific waters controlled by the United States.
White House officials told the Associated Press that Obama is considering a massive expansion to the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument. The protected waters surround a group of mostly uninhabited islands, controlled by the U.S., that sit between Hawaii and American Samoa.
The White House’s Council on Environmental Quality told reporters the waters in the South-Central Pacific Ocean contain “some of the most pristine tropical marine environments in the world.”
The marine conservation advocacy group Oceana, which received $3 million from DiCaprio’s foundation, applauded the president’s initiative on fishing, noting that its research has revealed that more than 30 percent of the wild-caught seafood imported into the United States was caught illegally.
“President Obama’s announcement is a historic step forward in the fight against seafood fraud and illegal fishing worldwide,” said Beth Lowell, an Oceana campaign director. “This initiative is a practical solution to an ugly problem and will forever change the way we think about our seafood.”
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