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President Barack Obama and actor Leonardo DiCaprio have issued a call to arms: protect our oceans. And this Friday, there will be an opportunity for anyone and everyone to respond. In or around the coastal United States? Then be sure to head to the beaches at week’s end in celebration of Surfrider Foundation’s International Surfing Day. From the beaches, tens of thousands will be encouraged to paddle out in a show of strength, unity, and, above all, honor of one of our most (if not simply the most) important lifesource — the ocean.

It’s not that we need the likes of Obama and Leo to come together in this concerted effort, but their presence definitely resonates at a much larger level than even organizations or publications. And politics and film criticisms aside, the involvement of “celebrity” personalities exhibits the increasing emphasis on the need for more widespread awareness of the offshore problems we face. The United States Secretary of State John Kerry took the platform of an international summit for officials from 80 countries as an opportunity to urge global leaders to take more immediate and decisive action. For the diplomat, saving the world’s waterways is of the utmost importance, from an environmental perspective as well as a security standpoint; Kerry states that the “enormous damage” we’ve caused has effectively jeopardized the food security upwards of three billion people.

Obama followed up his Secretary of State’s opening remarks on the second day, by joining via video.

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Obama invoked his Hawaii upbringing and stressed the natural beauty at sake, but more aggressively focused the importance of the seas in the way food and economic growth, citing climate change, overfishing and pollution as major concerns. Employing his executive authority, he vowed to protect our oceans. While the entirety of his plans and the geographic extent to his involvement were not presented, it was reported by The Washington Post that he plans to expand the Pacific Remote Islands National Marine Monument, a grouping of seven islands and atolls in the south Pacific Ocean.

Also joined the State Department conference was Leonardo DiCaprio, who — having already donated $3 million to Oceana, an international advocacy group known for its work to protect threatened ocean habitat and keystone marine species — pledged an additional $7 million to ocean conservation.

Video Note: Leonardo DiCaprio’s speech begins at the 5:35 mark.

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The Hollywood icon lamented “the Wild West on the high seas,” calling for an end to the incessant “plundering [of] the ocean and its vital resources.” Alluding to dives in places like the Great Barrier Reef in Australia as well as the world’s largest shark sanctuaries in Costa Rica, Leo spoke about the illegal fishing he witnessed, specifically noting modern industrialized fishing. While the actor and diving enthusiast gave proper due to the Obama administration’s efforts, he made it clear that more, much more needed to be done.

Let’s hope that not only more gets done, but that more people get involved. After all, however brilliant the solutions we come up with are, awareness is the first and most important step.

Want more from the conference? Be sure to listen to Kerry’s opening remarks as well, in the video below.

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