This past week my deputy Marie Damour traveled to Nelson for a workshop on ocean acidification which our Embassy co-sponsored with the New Zealand government, the NZ seafood industry and the Gordon & Betty Moore foundation. The workshop, titled “Future Proofing New Zealand’s Shellfish Aquaculture:  Monitoring and Adaptation to Ocean Acidification,” was intended to respond to what Secretary of State John Kerry describes as the “economic, environmental, and policy concerns created by increasing levels of carbon dioxide and the resulting acidification of our oceans.”

The two-day conference brought together more than 60 shellfish experts to share their knowledge in order to help identify ways to protect New Zealand’s NZ$ 350 million (US$ 285 million) per year aquaculture industry from the effects of climate change. The agenda was organized around two topics identified as top priorities during the 2012 session of the N.Z.-U.S. Joint Commission on Science and Technology Cooperation – (1) Climate Change Monitoring, Research, and Services in the Pacific, and (2) Marine and Ocean Research.

Click for source.The Great Barrier Reef.

Coral reefs are particularly sensitive to acidification.

Just as climate change has evolved from a purely scientific discussion into a set of significant economic and security concerns, ocean acidification has quickly evolved from a theoretical exercise into a major economic threat. Just looking at the United States, for example, one of every six jobs is marine-related, and more than one-third of the Gross National Product originates in coastal areas.

In 2007, shellfish hatcheries in Oregon and Washington State lost nearly 80% of their production as a result of ocean acidification. The coastal waters in both States abruptly shifted from a life-sustaining habitat to a dead zone where certain marine life could not survive, leaving a US$ 300 million industry and more than 2,000 workers and their families grappling with disaster.

Click for source.Bill Dewy, one of the workshop’s presenters from Taylor Shellfish farms, examines oysters as the sun sets.

Bill Dewy of Taylor Shellfish, one of the presenters at the workshop.

The 2007 event was a wake-up call. Scientists and industry leaders from across the United States responded to the crisis by creating a new type of technology to allow shellfish nurseries to adapt to ocean acidification by tracking the degrees of and differences in acidity during tide cycles. The American experts were eager to share their observations and successes and to increase awareness about the challenge of ocean acidification.

Dr. Todd Capson from the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP) and Dr. John Guinotte from the Marine Conservation Institute (MCI) were aware of the importance of aquaculture in New Zealand and the similarity of the phenomena manifesting in American and Kiwi waters. They proposed the workshop as a way of seeding new networks and building scientific and industry partnerships to tackle the challenge of ocean acidification.

Click for source.An Oceanographer stands on the deck of research vessel, Wecoma, in 2007 off the Washington-Oregon coast. A winch is poised to lower a rosette of empty water canisters and sensors to be used to study how carbon dioxide is causing ocean acidification and jeopardizing the survival of oyster larvae.

A research vessel off the Washington-Oregon coast studying the impact of carbon dioxide on ocean acidification and oyster larvae survival.

Our Embassy’s sponsorship of the workshop is part of a larger push by the United States, working with partners like New Zealand, to enlist governments and industry leaders to take significant action to strengthen ocean conservation and science.

The issue is a priority for both President Obama and Secretary Kerry. They recognize the need to take tangible, immediate action to tackle climate change and to protect the seas, and they have launched a comprehensive effort to attempt to build the global consensus needed to address ocean health and sustainability in a serious manner.

Click for source.During one of my visits to Antarctica I saw numerous whales of four different species, including orcas and minkes that breached close by. This minke surfaced immediately behind me as I was taping a science interview, observed us for several minutes, and then glided away.

One of the many whales I saw in the Ross Sea during my most recent trip.

For example, for the past year the U.S. and New Zealand have led efforts to establish what would be the world’s largest marine protected area (MPA) in Antarctica’s Ross Sea. Although we were not able to build the necessary 100% consensus among the members of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), we remain optimistic that a way will be found to persuade the small pocket of opposition to protecting this largely pristine Ross Sea wilderness.

Among other efforts we partnered with Ireland and the European Union on Atlantic Ocean research … advocated on behalf of the proposal developed by Australia, the European Union, and France for protection of East Antarctica … and worked to keep ecosystem health at the center of the work of the Arctic Council despite intense exploitation pressures from other quarters. American NGOs such as the Pew Foundation and the National Geographic Society are also working closely with partners around the world to develop and implement oceans strategies.

Click for source.John Kerry convenes group of high level ocean experts for World Oceans Day June 6, 2013.

John Kerry with a group of ocean experts on World Oceans Day 2013.

Solving challenges such pollution, overfishing, and ocean acidification – and ensuring that healthy oceans are a legacy to future generations – will require both global cooperation and individual action. To advance those goals, Secretary Kerry will host an international Ocean’s Conference in Washington next year at which scientific, political, and NGO leaders from around the world will discuss strategy on the full range of ocean health, use, and sustainability issues.

To play our part, we at the Embassy are pleased to have co-sponsored the acidification workshop in Nelson and to have launched the series of climate change projects in Samoa that I’ve discussed in a few prior blog posts. We look forward to continuing to work with our New Zealand (and Samoan) partners on the issues that matter most in our shared Pacific neighborhood.

DH Sig

Because many of my readers are terrestrial (not star) trekkers, today I thought I would write about a very special outdoors topic, the Triple Crown of American long distance hiking – the Appalachian Trail, Continental Divide Trail, and Pacific Crest Trail. Together they run approximately 8,000 miles (12,800 km) across 22 States and through some of the most beautiful, diverse terrain on Earth. I have not gone the entire distance, but I have hiked portions of all three trails, which were exhilarating experiences.

The three great treks are part of America’s extensive National Trails System. Created by act of Congress in 1968, the system comprises 11 stunning National Scenic Trails (including the three in the Triple Crown), 19 significant National Historic Trails, and more than 1,200 National Recreation Trails. A trail can only be designated as Scenic or Historic by a specific act of Congress.

Doing the entire Triple Crown is a notable achievement, accomplished thus far by only 178 hikers (by the last count I was able to find). Each autumn the American Long Distance Hiking Association West holds an event at which folks who completed the last leg of the Triple Crown that year are awarded plaques and otherwise feted. Below I briefly discuss each of the three trails and give you a glimpse of what awaits you along the way.

Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail

More than 2,660 miles (4,300 km) long, the Pacific Crest Trail runs from the Canadian border to the Mexican border through breathtaking stretches of the States of Washington, Oregon, and California. Conceived in 1932, the trail passes through six of North America’s seven distinct eco-zones (including alpine, old-growth forest, high desert, and low desert), as well as more than 60 national parks, national monuments, national forests, and wilderness areas. kaleidoscope of natural wonders that greet you as you trek includes lava fields, glaciers, snow-capped mountains, deserts, dense forests, raging rivers, 19 major canyons, …

… majestic volcanoes such Rainier and Whitney, more than 1,000 lakes and tarns, large waterfalls, and geological marvels like the San Andreas Fault, Devils Postpile National Monument, and Vasquez Rocks.

The route takes you through beloved Yosemite National Park, iconic Crater Lake, Sequoia National Park, the remote Northern Cascades, Lassen Volcanic National Park, Glacier Wilderness, Columbia River Gorge, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, and Mt. Rainier National Park.

I’ve hiked on parts of the trail in each of the 3 States that it spans, and I recall each mile bringing something new and breathtaking. What struck me most was the extraordinary diversity of scenery, climate, and wildlife.

I am particularly partial to the vast, stark beauty and profusion of unexpected life of the Mojave Desert stretch of the trail as it passes through Southern California toward the Mexican border.

The majestic Mt. Rainier in Washington.

Oregon’s Crater Lake, a caldera lake approximately 2,000 feet (600 m) deep.

In the heart of Yosemite in California.

Passing through the other-worldly Vasquez Rocks.

On the Mojave Desert stretch of the trail.

Many of the most beautiful segments of the trail are within easy driving distance of San Diego, Los Angeles, Palm Springs, San Francisco, Sacramento, Portland, or Seattle, making them readily accessible for day trips or weekend adventures if you can’t devote the average of five months required to do the complete trail. (The fastest “thru hike” on record took a mere 59 days, 8 hours, and 14 minutes.)

For more information about the Pacific Crest Trail, advice re planning a trek, and additional photos, take a look at the websites of the Pacific Crest Trail Association and the U.S. Forest Service (which cares for this trail).

Continental Divide National Scenic Trail

Established in 1978, the Continental Divide Trail runs 3,100 miles (5,000 km) along the Rocky Mountains through five States – Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico — from the Canadian border on the north to the Mexican border on south, offering some of the most stunning scenery on Earth. As it passes through Colorado, the trail reaches an elevation of more than 14,000 feet (4,300 m). trek takes you through vast wilderness areas, pristine forests, flowering high deserts, and iconic natural preserves including Yellowstone National Park, Glacier National Park, and Rocky Mountain National Park.

Along the way you can ford streams, hunt (in season), fish in crystal blue lakes, ski across snow fields, stop to explore cultural treasures such as ancient Native American cliff dwellings, and enjoy the towering snow-capped peaks.

You will see iconic denizens of the American West such as buffalo, bald eagles, wild horses, grizzly bears, elk, and praire dogs as well as a profusion of other wildlife.

Particularly unique is Triple Divide Peak in Montana. Depending on where it hits, rain falling on the Peak can drain into the Pacific Ocean, Atlantic Ocean, or Arctic Ocean, all vast distances away.

The entire trek takes five or six months depending on your pace. You can go by foot or on horseback, and dogs are welcome. For folks who like to be first, I don’t believe that an equestrian has yet ridden the entire trail, and there is nothing quite like long-riding through the Rockies.

Grinnell Lake at Glacier National Park. Click for source.

Grinnell Lake, high in Glacier National Park.

Click for source.Bison crossing hot springs in Yellowstone National Park.

Bison cross hot springs in Yellowstone National Park.

Riding the trail in the Rocky Mountains.

Traversing an alpine valley in Colorado.

Ancient cliff dwellings along the trail in New Mexico.

For more information about the trail, what to see and do along the way, and how to plan your trek, check out the websites of the Continental Divide Trail Society, the National Park Service, and Paul Magnanti’s Quick and Dirty CDT Guide. There are also a variety of first-hand accounts of the trek online and in bookstores, including Jennifer Hanson’s Hiking the Continental Divide Trail.

Appalachian National Scenic Trail

The oldest of the jewels in the Triple Crown, the Appalachian Trail runs 2,190 miles (3,525 km) through pristine forests, misty mountains, wilderness areas, and a few small towns in 14 States, from Mount Katahdin in Maine to Springer Mountain in Georgia, within easy drive of some of the most densely populated urban areas in the United States. It passes through Pennsylvania not far from my hometown of Mahanoy City, and I remember first hiking a segment while in junior high school.

Conceived in 1921 by forester Benton MacKaye, constructed by private citizens, and completed in 1937, the Appalachian offers both grand vistas and intimate paths through dense forests. It takes you from high alpine to lowland terrain teaming with diverse wildlife including moose, elk, bears, coyotes, foxes, wolves, bobcats, wild boars, raccoons, porcupines, deer, hares, rabbits, squirrels, opposums, skunks, wild turkeys, and grouse.

Click for source. Appalachian autumn.

A typical Appalachian autumn.

McAfee Knob, overlooking Virginia’s Catawba Valley.

Cade’s Cover in the Great Smoky Mountains.

Cade’s Cove, deep in the Great Smoky Mountains.

Bears can be seen along various sections of the trail, but confrontations are very rare.

Azaleas bloom in profusion along the trail in North Carolina.

Perhaps because it was built by groups of local citizen volunteers, the Appalachian is designed to be hiked and enjoyed by anyone, whatever your skills or time availability. You can enter and leave from any point along the way, dogs are permitted on most of the trail, and there are more than 250 shelters and a large number of camp grounds for your use. Because of occasional proximity to or intersection with local roads, you can often hike into town for provisions.

For more information about things to see or how to plan a trek, check out the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and the Appalachian Trail pages on the National Park Service website. If you are interested in hiking the entire trail, keep in mind that the record time to beat is 46 days, 11 hours, and 20 minutes.

* * *

Source: I said at the outset, these three legendary treks are only part of a vast system of many hundreds of interesting, enjoyable, and often exhilarating trails in the United States. There really is something for everyone whatever your particular interests, hobbies, location, physical condition, or schedule. Browse the user-friendly website of the National Trails System to see for yourself the diversity of options available.

History buffs should consider the 19 National Historic Trails including the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail (a 175-mile cultural trek along the coast of the big island of Hawaii), Iditarod National Historical Trail (the 1,000-mile mail trail across Alaska), Alabama’s Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail (covering landmark civil rights sites), Trail of Tears National Historic Trail (which tracks the forcible relocation of the Cherokee people across nine States), and Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail (which follows the path the iconic explorers took to the Pacific Ocean).

Pick a trek or two, load your backpack, lace up your hiking boots, and come help us celebrate the “Decade for the National Trails,” a nationwide program of stewardship, capacity-building, and recreation leading up to the big 50th anniversary (in 2018) of the passage of the National Trails System Act of 1968.

DH Sig

Statement by the Secretary of State:
International Day of Persons with Disabilities
Office of the Spokesperson
December 3, 2013


It is my great pleasure to join the world’s one billion persons with disabilities in recognizing the 21st International Day of Persons with Disabilities

Here in the United States, we’ve been witness to enormous progress in empowering people with disabilities to participate fully in activities that most of us take for granted. I remember the early days of the fight to make our country more accessible, from my work as a Lieutenant Governor and Senator to help open the path for the Wheelchair Division of the Boston Marathon and to open up Little League opportunities to kids with disabilities. It continued through my early Senate partnership with a Republican Senator, Lowell Weicker, to help unleash technology that has produced assistive devices for disabled people.

But my years in the Senate also taught me how much work remains to export the American gold standard — the Americans with Disabilities Act – to the rest of the world. During my final weeks as a Senator, I worked alongside Republican Senators from John McCain to John Barrasso, to try and ratify the Disabilities Treaty, an international agreement that can help protect the rights of Americans with disabilities when they live, work, travel, or study overseas. The goal is simple: to help lift other countries up to meet the standard the United States set more than 20 years ago. We fell just six votes short last year of exporting our American ideal, and now is the time to finish the job.

The need is enormous, and the imperative is urgent. What we did here at home with the ADA hasn’t even been remotely realized in many places overseas. At least 80 percent of the world’s persons with disabilities live in the developing world, too often in deplorable conditions of neglect and second class citizenship. Too many people, in too many places around the globe are subjected to unacceptable horrors simply because they have a disability. Moreover, for the more than 50 million Americans with disabilities who want to travel, study, work, and serve abroad, including our 5.5 million veterans with disabilities, the protections that they have grown accustomed to under the ADA and other ground-breaking U.S. legislation simply do not exist in many countries. We can change that. We can help expand opportunities abroad for Americans with disabilities, create new markets for American companies, and be in the strongest possible position to push for critically needed improvements around the world.

On this International Day of Persons with Disabilities, we reaffirm our determination to ensure that our disabled brothers and sisters can travel abroad with the same dignity and respect that they enjoy here at home, and that disabled people around the world can at last share in the promises that Americans believe are a right, not a privilege.

- JK

During my trip to Samoa last week, I had the great pleasure of hosting a celebration to mark the 25th anniversary of the establishment of our Embassy in Apia, which opened its doors on November 15, 1988. I am a strong believer in commemorating shared history and important milestones, so I scheduled my final visit as Ambassador to coincide with the anniversary.

Guests begin to arrive at the anniversary reception.

Guests begin to arrive at the anniversary reception.

Of course, the relationship between our two societies stretches back much farther than a quarter century. American merchants and sailors began visiting Samoa more than two centuries ago, and the United States Government appointed its first commercial agent here in 1844. We established a diplomatic presence on May 17, 1856 when Jonathan Jenkins arrived in Apia as the first American Consul.

The United States immediately recognized the independence of Western Samoa (now known as the Independent State of Samoa) on January 1, 1962 after the United Nations voted to end the trusteeship administered by New Zealand. The Peace Corps came to Samoa in 1967, and approximately 2,000 volunteers have served here since then. Formal bilateral diplomatic relations were established between the United States and Samoa in 1971 when Ambassador Kenneth Franzheim arrived from Washington to present his credentials.

Briefly addressing the guests.

Briefly addressing the guests.

To celebrate the happy anniversary of the Embassy’s opening, we held a reception at our official Residence in Vailima with live music, food, drinks, and short speeches by the Prime Minister and me. Among the more than 200 guests in attendance were the Head of State Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, Minister of Justice Naomi Fiame Mataafa, Minister of Health Tuitama Leao Dr. Talalelei Tuitama, Zita Martell, Joe Annandale, NFL star Richard Brown, Sonya Hunter, and BlueSky’s Adolfo Montenegro, among others.

Conversation was spirited and continued for several hours, undampened by the driving rain that burst from the heavens as guests began to arrive. I enjoyed catching up with good friends and speaking about the many new projects launched over the past four years to build on the long, strong, warm relations between our two countries. I appreciated the generous remarks of the Prime Minister and was briefly flummoxed by a series of loud claps of thunder from the storm when I mentioned in my own remarks that this would be my last visit to Samoa as Ambassador.

Enjoying the party.

Enjoying the party.

All in all, the evening was a wonderful celebration of shared history and familial bonds between two close Pacific neighbors, and of the promising future that lies ahead for us.