Office of the Vice President

For Immediate Release: Friday, June 12, 1998


Five hundred years ago, the great Portugese explorer Vasco de Gama drew distant lands a little closer when he began the very first ocean voyage, around the Cape of Good Hope. Today, we can communicate across that great distance instantly, and cross it in a matter of hours. Yet the great ocean depths remain largely unexplored -- their natural wonders barely glimpsed, their potential bounty unknown.

That is why this historic Oceans Conference is so long overdue. And it is why President Clinton's commitment to protect, harvest, and explore our oceans is so important.

Oceans are critical not just to our economy, not just to our food supply, not just to America's trade and security -- but also to the fabric of life itself. They are perhaps the greatest natural treasure on God's Earth. We have a profound obligation to protect our oceans -- so that all generations can reap their benefits, and marvel at their deep blue majesty.

We call our planet the "Earth," but in truth, it holds a lot more saltwater than soil. Oceans cover 71 percent of the Earth's surface -- and contain 99 percent of all its living space.

If those statistics seem surprising, here are a few that hit even closer to home: Oceans sustain one out of every six American jobs, and coastal areas produce 85 percent of all our tourism dollars. In fact, beaches are the leading tourist destination in America. That may be why almost half of all construction in the United States during the 1970's and 1980's took place in coastal areas.

Fish and marine life are increasingly used for path-breaking medicines, including new cancer treatments and anti-inflammatory drugs.

Then there is the simple matter of quality of life. It is estimated that within thirty years, a billion more people will be living along the coasts than are alive today.

Given those statistics, it is surprising that we know so little about our oceans. Until recently, we knew more about the surface of the moon than about the ocean floor.

Here is what we do know: more and more, we are polluting coastal waters, exhausting important fisheries, and threatening the rich coral reefs that are the rain forests of the sea. Poor stewardship of the oceans is bad for the environment -- but it is also bad for our future, because it contaminates our beaches, compromises our food supply, and robs us of a precious resource that depend upon.

For 5 1/2 years, I have been proud to serve with President Clinton, who is not just one of the greatest environmentalists in modern times; he also understands the need for balanced, sustainable development -- the need to protect our natural resources so we can continue to use them and enjoy them.

President Clinton's record on these issues is clear: thanks to his leadership, we have formed creative new partnerships to protect water quality in the Florida Keys and in the San Francisco Bay Delta -- and a bold new plan to restore the glorious Florida Everglades. Thanks to his concern for fisherman and their families, we took emergency action save New England's cod, haddock, and yellowtail flounder from near-extinction. Because of his commitment to marine science and exploration, we're working to protect and restore large sections of damaged coral reef off the coast of Florida. And because he knows that our environment and our economy must go hand in hand, we are helping states dredge important ports and harbors in ways that are good for both the environment and the economy.

Mr. President, history will record that you are the very first President to chart a clear course for our oceans and waters -- to expand exploration and research; to protect fisheries and fishermen; to promote marine-based commerce; and to expand trade and security by preserving freedom of the seas. To use the language of the sea, America is proud to have you at the helm. This is the day we move full speed ahead.

In yesterday's plenary sessions, we learned a great deal about the challenges we face in protecting our oceans for the 21st Century. Today, we look forward to hearing President Clinton's vision for how we meet those challenges. I know he is determined to help us seize the opportunities our oceans offer, so that their glistening waters can keep inspiring all Americans -- in this year of the ocean, and every year. President Bill Clinton...

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