When it comes to conservation, especially ocean conservation, we keep hoping that we will keep making progress in recognizing the ocean as our global life support system, in the pursuit of global willingness to take action to protect her role in producing the air we breathe and other services. With our colleagues, The Ocean Foundation community strives to celebrate small steps and large towards that goal. When the global UN (SDG14) Ocean Conference was hosted in 2017, nations made commitments to improve their relationship with the ocean and were expected to report back on their progress at the next conference—even as they made additional commitments to ocean health. Not every commitment was ambitious. Not every commitment was kept. But overall it seemed that more and more nations formally embraced the need to act, not just talk about the value of the ocean to their well-being. And further, that the structure of public accountability was actually helping the ocean. Today, as more than 500 people gathered in New York for the second day of planning the next UN Ocean Conference which will be held in Portugal in June under the joint sponsorship of the governments of Kenya and Portugal—the governments of United States and Russia took a giant step backwards. These two nations have chosen to walk away from formal involvement in future UN ocean conferences, despite having over 100,000 miles of coastline between them, ocean economies worth billions of dollars, and a shared stake in the disposition of the Arctic and Antarctic.

Our ocean is both our common heritage and our legacy—our global responsibility is to ensure that it can continue to provide the air we breathe, temper weather extremes, and feed coastal communities. While the UN Ocean Conference is not the only platform for ocean conservation internationally, it was one forum for helping all nations do more good for the ocean, and of course, less harm. We can hope that the remainder of the countries who have worked so hard to meet their commitments will continue to do so—and that when the next ocean conference is scheduled—all coastal nations will be there.