[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book I)]
[June 12, 1998]
[Pages 941-944]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks to the National Oceans Conference in Monterey, California
June 12, 1998

    Thank you. Please be seated. Thank you for the wonderful welcome. 
Let me begin by saying how great it was to see and hear the Watsonville 
Marching Band again and my good friends there. You're always welcome 
back at the White House. And I like those uniforms. I liked them then; I 
like them now.
    I want to thank Secretary Daley and 
Secretary Dalton for sponsoring this 
conference. I thank Secretary Slater and 
Secretary Babbitt, who was here; Administrator 
Browner, Dr. Baker, Katie McGinty. And I'd 
also like to say a special word of appreciation to the Commandant of the 
Coast Guard and all the Coast Guard personnel 
and the Vice Chief of Naval Operations and 
all the Navy personnel for what they have done to help this be a 
    I thank all the Members of Congress. The Vice President has introduced them, but I am delighted to see 
them here, and I'm very proud of them. I thank the mayor of 
Monterey and all the State and city and county 
officials who are here. And I also want to say, it's good to see our old 
friend, citizen Panetta here. [Laughter] 
Leon and Sylvia have earned the right to come 
home, and after spending the day here, I don't know why they ever left. 
[Laughter] But I'm very grateful that they did. He made us a better 
    Let me say a special word of appreciation to the award winners here 
today: My good friend Ted Danson, the president 
of American Oceans Campaign--[applause]--thank you. He has to go to a 
middle school graduation, but I think he may still be here. Dr. Sylvia 
Earle of National Geographic, Jean-Michel 
Cousteau, Bob Talbot, and Moss Landing Marine Lab, thank you all for your 
wonderful work and congratulations on your awards.
    I owe a lot of whatever good we have been able to do in this 
position on the environment to my wife, who has always cared about this and expanded my 
horizons, and to the Vice President. I was 
sitting there listening to him talk, and my mind wandered back--no 
offense, Mr. Vice President, I was gripped by your speech. [Laughter] 
But my mind wandered back to the conversation we had when I asked him if 
he would join me on the ticket in 1992.
    And I was remembering that, fittingly enough, when I called 
him to ask if he would come talk to me, he 
was at Rio, at the wonderful conference there on climate change, 
biodiversity. And I was thinking how influenced I had been already by 
his writings and his speeches. Even though we were neighbors, we didn't 
know each other particularly well. I knew him more through his work and 
the stands that he had taken. And I have to tell you, I was thinking 
again today as he stood up here, that's one of the two or three best 
decisions I ever made in my life.
    Sometimes I think Presidents like to pretend their jobs are more 
special and unique and their insights more impenetrable by others than 
they may be. But I'll tell you, there is one subject on which I think 
perhaps only Presidents can really know the truth. And I can tell you 
that the scope, the depth, and the quality of the influence in a 
positive way that Al Gore has exercised on 
this country in the last 5\1/2\ years literally dwarfs that of any other 
Vice President

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in the history of the United States. And I am very proud of what he has 
    Now, I thought Sylvia Earle made a 
very interesting presentation, and now I understand that why, when she 
was the chief scientist at NOAA, her friends called her the United 
States Sturgeon General. [Laughter] I had never thought about the idea 
that there are more fish than people in my domain. [Laughter] Now that I 
know it, I'm trying to figure out some way they can be represented in 
the Congress. [Laughter] That's no offense to those folks over there. 
They just need a little more help. [Laughter]
    I also want to say hello to Tony Coelho and 
all the people watching us from the United States Pavilion in the Expo 
'98 in Portugal. It is a remarkable coincidence and a wonderful thing 
that the World's Fair this year is dedicated to the preservation of the 
    I first came to Monterey in 1971 in the summertime. And again, I owe 
my introduction to Monterey indirectly to my wife because she was then 
working in Northern California, and I was home in Arkansas, and I drove 
out here to see her. And I drove across the desert, and it was hot. And 
believe me, when I got here, I was happy. [Laughter] But I had always 
been entranced by this community, ever since I first saw it.
    Monterey's favorite son, John Steinbeck, as all of you know, was a 
serious student of the seas. In his masterful account of the 4,000-mile 
marine expedition he launched just about a half mile from here, he 
summed up what for me is at the root of the work done at this 
conference, the understanding that man is related to the whole, 
inextricably related to all reality. Our abiding links to the world, to 
nature, and to the oceans, our mystic and mysterious seas, has led us to 
this historic conference.
    We come to Monterey, all of us, with an appreciation for the divine 
beauty of this patch of coast which Al and I had a chance to see a 
little more of today, with two bright young 
people who showed us the harbor seals and 
the sea otters and some of the smaller life there. That's good. But we 
have to leave with a renewed determination to maintain the living, 
thriving seas beyond, not only for Americans but for the whole world.
    When astronomers study the heavens for life, what do they look for? 
Water, the single nonnegotiable ingredient. Our planet is blessed with 
enormous sources of water. Our oceans are the key to the life support 
system for all creatures on this planet, from the giant tube worms in 
deep sea vents to cactuses in the most arid deserts.
    In our daily lives, the oceans play a crucial role. They can drive 
our climate and our weather. El Nino taught us all about that and made 
people in Northern California wonder if the sun would ever come back for 
a while. They allow us global mobility for our Armed Forces. The fish 
from the sea are among the most important staples in our diet. And as 
the Vice President has just said, through fishing, shipping, and 
tourism, the oceans sustain one in six American jobs.
    These oceans are so vast and powerful that I think most people still 
blithely assume that nothing we do can affect them very much. Indeed, 
that assumption has made its way into our common vernacular. How many 
times have you said in your life that something you did was a mere drop 
in the ocean? Well, now we know, and as many of you have highlighted 
over the last day and a half, something you do may be a mere drop in the 
ocean, but millions, even billions, of those drops in the oceans can 
have a profound effect on them and on us.
    Two-thirds of the world's people live within 50 miles of a coast. 
Too much pollution from the land runs straight to the sea. One large 
city can spew more than 9 million gallons of petroleum products into the 
ocean every year. That's roughly the amount spilled by the Exxon Valdez. 
Polluted runoff from watersheds has led to deadly red tides, brown 
tides, and pfiesteria. Runoff from thousands of miles up the Mississippi 
River has been so severe that now there is a dead zone the size of the 
State of New Jersey in the Gulf of Mexico. Ten percent of the world's 
coral reefs have been destroyed; another 30 percent will all but 
disappear within 20 years. We have not learned everywhere the lessons of 
``Cannery Row,'' for more than two-thirds of the world's fisheries are 
overexploited, more than a third in steady decline.
    As the Vice President highlighted at the White House earlier this 
week, we are also changing the temperature of the seas, something else 
the young people told me they had measured here. We've just learned that 
our oceans are the warmest they've been in 104 years. That's as long as 
we've been taking their temperature. It must be longer, since we now 

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that the 5 hottest years since 1400 have all occurred in the 1990's, and 
if the first 5 months are any indication, this will be the hottest year 
ever measured.
    We know that greenhouse gases are heating our planet and our oceans. 
Fortunately, we have learned that, along with the ability to harm, we 
also have the ability to heal. Through innovation and prudence, we've 
proved we can clean the water, the air, protect marine sanctuaries and 
wildlife refuges, phase out deadly pesticides and ozone-eating 
chemicals, and do it while still producing the world's strongest, most 
competitive economy.
    With partnerships and persistence, we must extend this record of 
success to our oceans. If we want our children to inherit the gift of 
living oceans, we must make the 21st century a great century of 
stewardship of our seas.
    Today I propose to intensify our efforts with a $224 million 
initiative to enhance the health of our oceans while expanding ocean 
opportunities in responsible ways for the environment.
    First, it is clear we must save these shores from oil drilling. Here 
in California, you know all too well how oilspills from offshore 
drilling can spoil our coasts, causing not just the death of marine life 
but the destruction of fragile ecosystems--also, economic devastation in 
tourism, recreation, and fishing. Even under the best of circumstances, 
is it really worth the risk? In a few moments, I will sign a directive 
to extend the Nation's moratorium on offshore leasing for an additional 
10 years, while protecting our marine sanctuaries from drilling forever. 
[Applause] Thank you.
    As I do this, I want to say a special word of thanks to Senator 
Barbara Boxer, who has lobbied me relentlessly 
for years--[laughter]--who tracks me down every chance she gets, who has 
even used her grandson, who is my nephew, as an emotional wedge to make 
sure I do the right thing on this issue. [Laughter] And I thank her for 
    I'd also like to thank Sam Farr for his 
leadership in this conference and on this issue; Congresswoman 
Capps and all the other members of the California 
delegation who have expressed their opinion so clearly; and my good 
friend Lieutenant Governor Davis, who has talked 
to me about this personally.
    Now, by standing firm against offshore oil drilling here in 
California and around the Nation, these people have helped to protect 
the most beautiful shores anywhere in the world, and we can continue to 
do that.
    Second, we must do more to restore precious marine resources. To 
help create sustainable fisheries, we will help to rebuild fish stocks 
within 10 years, work with industry to develop new technologies to net 
only targeted species of fish, ban the sale and import of undersized 
Atlantic swordfish, and protect essential fish habitats. To protect and 
restore coral reefs, I have signed an Executive order to speed our 
efforts to map and monitor our reefs, research causes of their 
degradation, revive damaged reefs, and promote worldwide efforts to do 
the same. To reduce land-based pollution--[applause]--thank you--to 
reduce land-based pollution that threatens marine life, which is a 
horrible problem, I have got to have some help from the Congress. So 
again, I ask the Congress to fund my $2.3 billion clean water action 
plan to reduce the diffused pollution that has been running into our 
streams and oceans unchecked. [Applause] Thank you.
    Third, we must deepen our understanding of the seas. As the Vice 
President announced yesterday and mentioned again today, the United 
States military will release previously classified data to help 
researchers track marine mammals, predict deadly storms, detect illegal 
fishing, and gain new insights into the complexities of climate change. 
By the year 2000, we will complete an advanced ocean monitoring system 
that will also provide data for climate change studies. And as Dr. Earle 
said, we must do more to explore the ocean depths. We propose to provide 
new submersibles and other advanced tools for mapping and exploring the 
world's last great frontier. I'd kind of like to go down there myself 
    Fourth, we must create sustainable ports for the 21st century. 
International trade will nearly triple over the next two decades, and 
more than 90 percent of this trade will move by ocean. I propose a new 
harbor services fund to help our ports and harbors remain competitive in 
the new century, by deepening them for the newest and largest ships and 
by providing state-of-the-art navigation tools for preventing marine 
accidents. We must do both.
    Just last week I released, or pledged, some extra money to the New 
York-New Jersey harbor project in the face of clear evidence that if we 
do not do it, the harbor will not remain competitive and thousands of 
American jobs could

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be lost. We can do this and make those harbors environmentally safer at 
the same time.
    Fifth, we must join the rest of the world in ratifying, at long 
last, the Convention on the Law of the Sea. [Applause] Thank you. The 
character of our country and, frankly, the nature of a lot of the 
economic and political success we have enjoyed around the world has 
rested in no small part on our continuous championing of the rule of law 
at home and abroad. The historic Convention on the Law of the Sea 
extends the rule of law to the world's oceans. There is not a scientist 
here in any discipline who seriously believes that we will ever turn the 
tide on these dangerous trends until we have a uniform legal system that 
can provide a framework necessary to give us a global approach to this 
problem. This convention assures the open seaways that our Armed Forces 
and our fishing, telecommunications, and shipping industries require. 
But it also, I will say again, gives us the framework to save the oceans 
while we grow as a people and while we grow economically.
    This year, during this legislative session, the United States Senate 
should and must confirm its leadership role by making America a part of 
the community of nations already party to the Convention on the Law of 
the Sea.
    Finally, we must continue the critical dialog that has begun at this 
conference and build together, across party, regional, economic, and 
other interests, a comprehensive oceans agenda for the 21st century. 
Like every other great leap forward in environmentalism in the last 35 
years, if we're going to do this right, we're going to have to do it 
together. We have to make this an American issue that transcends party 
and other philosophical differences, that is at the core of our own 
humanity and our obligation to our children and our grandchildren.
    Today I am directing my Cabinet to report back to me one year from 
today with recommendations for a coordinated, disciplined, long-term 
Federal oceans policy. And I want to work with the Congress to create an 
oceans commission so that all the interests that have been represented 
here will have a voice on a permanent, ongoing basis as we forge a new 
strategy to preserve the incomparable natural resources of our oceans 
and seas. And I hope you will help me get that done. [Applause] Thank 
    During the marine expedition in the Gulf of Mexico which I mentioned 
at the beginning of my remarks, John Steinbeck called hope, the idea 
that tomorrow can be better than today, the defining human trait. Now, 
just about every American knows that I believe that. And I've been 
reading Steinbeck for most of my life. I didn't know about that until I 
began to prepare for this conference. In spite of the fact that I agree 
with that, I think it's important to point out that we are also blessed 
as a species with two other crucial traits which make hope possible: 
creativity and imagination.
    All of these traits, hope, creativity, imagination, will be required 
to meet the challenges that we face with our oceans. But they are, after 
all, the traits that first enabled and inspired explorers to take to the 
sea. They are traits that allowed us to look at our inextricable ties to 
our environment and invent new ways to protect our natural wonders from 
harm in the last three decades.
    In the 21st century, these traits, hope, creativity, imagination, 
they must--they must--lead us to preserve our living oceans as a sacred 
legacy for all time to come. You can make it happen.
    Thank you, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 1:30 p.m. at San Carlos Park. In his 
remarks, he referred to Secretary of Commerce William M. Daley and 
Secretary of the Navy John H. Dalton, conference cochairs; Mayor Dan 
Albert of Monterey; former White House Chief of Staff Leon E. Panetta 
and his wife Sylvia; actor Ted president, American Oceans Campaign; Dr. 
Sylvia Alice Earle, explorer in residence, National Geographic Society, 
and chair, Deep Ocean Exploration and Research, Inc.; oceanographer 
Jean-Michel Cousteau; marine photographer Bob Talbot; Tony Coelho, U.S. 
Commissioner General, 1998 World Exposition in Lisbon, Portugal; Lt. 
Gov. Gray Davis of California; and graduate students Nancy Eufemia and 
Raphael Sagarin, researchers at Hopkins Marine Station. Dr. Earle, 
Messrs. Danson, Cousteau, and Talbot, and the staff, faculty, and 
graduate students of Moss Landing Marine Laboratories were recipients of 
the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Environmental Hero 
Awards. The Executive order of June 11 on coral reef protection is 
listed in Appendix D at the end of this volume.