Kerry: Ocean Protection Is 'Life and Death' National Security Issue

The secretary of state spoke at Georgetown's "Our Ocean, One Future" Summit.

He cited black carbon in the Arctic, rapidly increasing acidification in oceans that harms crustaceans, and illegal, unregulated fishing that is "strip mining the oceans and threatens to destroy an entire ecosystem."

If current patterns continue, there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050, she said.

Almost 50 percent of the planet is dependent on food from the ocean, and 12 percent of the world's workforce depends on the oceans for their livelihood, Kerry said.

The Obama administration has garnered recent praise for its environmental activism, including for the president's Aug. 26 creation of the largest marine reserve in the world. At a half-million square miles, or twice the size of Texas, the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in Hawaii protects marine life (some of which is thousands of years old) from commercial extraction activities, like fishing and deep-sea mining.

The 2004 presidential candidate referenced the 2016 campaign when a student asked a question about the most challenging issue he's dealt with in his environmental work. "Ignorance," he said. "We still have people who run for president of the United States who don't acknowledge that there's a problem."