Our oceans are the greatest. They absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, impact our weather, provide sustenance to humans, supply much of the oxygen we breathe, and power our economies. Not to mention, they’re home to countless animals, a top destination for travelers, and a source of peace and tranquility for all.
Seriously, can our oceans do more for us and our planet?
Unfortunately, they’re facing some huge problems. If you’re an ocean lover, you know that the oceans are suffering some of the worst effects in the climate crisis, from coral bleaching to microplastic pollution. If we want a healthy planet, we need healthy oceans.
Use this guide to to learn more about how we can protect our oceans and take action to save our seas.
Why is it Important to Protect Our Oceans?
Our oceans cover around 70% of Earth’s surface and are a major player in everything from our weather to the amount of oxygen we breathe. We rely on our oceans in so many ways that a simple eco-guide can only scratch the surface of why the oceans are a powerhouse for our planet.
Climate change is affecting our oceans. Here are some of the major issues our oceans are facing:
Ocean Acidification. Our oceans are a big part of the carbon cycle. The ocean is a carbon sink, meaning it absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and acts as a “reservoir.” Unfortunately, as we’ve put more and more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere (since the Industrial Revolution), the ocean has been tasked with storing more and more of our CO2. So much so, that our ocean’s chemistry is changing and it’s already starting to have a negative impact on everything from coral reefs to shellfish. Learn more about ocean acidification via this video or article.
Stormwater Pollution. Anything the goes into our storm drains goes right out to our oceans or water bodies (rivers, lakes, etc). That means trash, cigarette butts, car oil runoff, fertilizers, dog poop, etc. When it rains, much of these litter items and chemicals get washed away into our storm drains and pollute our environment. Plastic pollution is a huge issue, but so is nutrient pollution — the EPA even names nutrient pollution (excess nitrogen and phosphorus in our air and water) one of the biggest environmental problems in the US. This type of pollution, caused by things like agriculture, industry, pet waste, and yard fertilizers, can severely impact our water ecosystems by causing algae blooms. It can also contaminate our ground water, causing unsafe levels of nutrients in our drinking water supplies.
Offshore Drilling. Offshore drilling keeps us dependent on oil and gas, two finite resources that only provide us energy, jobs, and economic power as long as they haven’t been tapped out (not to mention the huge greenhouse gas emissions!). With the huge risks from oil leaks and oil spills, offshore drilling is not safe for workers or for our environment. And with so many coastal economies relying on clean, healthy beaches and oceans, offshore drilling can negatively impact the strength of fishing, recreation, and tourism industries.
Harmful Fishing Practices. Overfishing is a major issue. It’s estimated that almost 90% of the world’s fish stocks are overfished. Bad fishing practices, like trawling, lead to major habitat destruction, and many marine animals are bycatch and killed as a result. With over one billion people depending on our oceans for their primary sources of protein, we need to make sustainable seafood the norm. Harmful fishing practices also violate human rights. Example: Bumble Bee Tuna has harmful practices from an environmental perspective and human rights perspective. If you care about people, animals, environment, or anything good, it’s important to care about this issue.
Plastic Pollution. Never mind diamonds; plastics are forever. Plastics don’t biodegrade, they photodegrade, meaning as they break down, they don’t go away: they just break down into smaller and smaller pieces. So any plastic that ends up in the ocean causes major havoc whether it breaks down into microplastics, accumulates on our shores, or in ocean gyres. And a lot ends up in the ocean! It’s estimated an equivalent of a truck load is dumped into the ocean every minute of every day of the year. Scientists estimate that nearly every seabird has eaten plastic at some point in their lives. When animals eat plastic, it can cause health issues and death, but it also causes issues to the entire food chain…of which, humans are at the top…let’s not forget how many people rely on our oceans for food.
Oil Spills. A result of offshore drilling, oil spills can be so destructive it’s important to highlight on its own. The BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill killed 11 workers, as well as over 1 million seabirds, more than 5,000 marine mammals, more than 1,000 sea turtles, and more (NDRC Report). And oil spills have a huge impact on our oceans beyond that initial damage: animals exposed to oil have negative health impacts and aren’t able to function in normal ways. This affects ocean life from being healthy, and it also affects us, since fish and shellfish can become unsafe to eat as a result.
Ballast Water. Ballast water is water taken in by cruise ships and cargo ships to help stabilize ships when they offload cargo. The water is taken in in one region and then discarded at the next port of call. The problem? This water usually contains biological material (animals, plants, bacteria, etc), which means when the ballast water is dumped into a new region, these ships are introducing invasive species to a new ecosystem. This can cause a lot of damage to the health and economy of the area. (BTW: This isn’t just an ocean health issue, but it’s also an issue for our lakes and rivers. According to the National Wildlife Federation invasive species is one of the Great Lakes biggest problems and ocean-going shipping is the top source of invasive species).
Other Issues Affecting Our Oceans. There are so many other issues affecting our oceans. Sound pollution from boats/military/oil exploration/etc, sea temperature rise, deep sea mining, tourism, even chemicals from sunscreen.
Ways to Protect Our Oceans
Learn. Learn about our oceans and the plight facing them. Utilize the resources below and follow organizations making a difference for our oceans.
Support Ocean Friendly Programs. There are so many great programs out there to help us consumers make ocean friendly choices. When buying sunscreen, think reef safe-sunscreen. When planting your yard, follow ocean friendly gardening guidelines. When eating at restaurants, support ocean friendly restaurants. When eating seafood, pick more sustainable seafood options. Monterey Bay Aquarium does a great job laying out why and how to support sustainable seafood with its Seafood Watch guide.
Be a Responsible Traveler. Tourism plays a major role in the health of our oceans. If you care about the environment, be aware of how harmful the cruise industry is for our oceans and the planet. Support local. Follow zero waste practices when traveling, and do not litter. More ideas here and here.
Reduce Single-Use Plastics. If you haven’t gotten the memo by now, single-use plastics are creating massive harm to the environment. Reduce your use by switching to reusable options. Start with reusable bags, reusable containers, reusable bottles or cups, and reusable silverware. More ideas here.
Advocate for the Ocean. Be a vocal supporter of our oceans. Sign petitions, contact your legislators, and talk to your community about the importance of saving our seas. Support plans and policies to protect our oceans. Example: Global Ocean Treaty is a rescue plan put together by top scientists and Greenpeace.
Volunteer. Take your advocacy even further by volunteering for a group or organization helping to protect our oceans. Check out some of the organizations mentioned below to get started.
Take Action to Protect Our Oceans
- Sign a petition. Some current petitions from Ocean Conservancy.
- Geek out with some ocean facts.
- Explore the ocean from home.
- Learn more about the Global Ocean Treaty.
- Support the Global Ocean Treaty by signing the petition.
- Learn about sustainable seafood and how to choose it.
- Donate to an ocean conservation organization.
- Set an eco-conscious resolution. Some ideas to spark your own.
- Follow and/or signup for the newsletter of 3 ocean conservation organizations to stay up to date on ways to support our ocean. Some examples: Surfrider, Oceana, Heal the Bay, Ocean Conservancy, Cousteau Divers, Plastic Pollution Coalition, 5 Gyres, Inland Ocean Coalition.
- Check out the lazy person’s guide to eating more sustainable sushi.
- Adopt a whale with Ocean Alliance.
- Pick one resource below to read and think of one way to take action.
- Become a citizen scientist with these ideas.
- Reduce your use of disposable plastics. Pick one item to start with, and make the switch to a reusable option. Set yourself up for success. If you switch to reusable shopping bags, put them in a place you will remember to take with you when you shop. If you switch to a reusable utensil, put in your purse or bag so you have it when you need it.
- Read the 30×30: A Blueprint for Ocean Protection.
- Read a kids book about the ocean.
- Learn about marine sanctuaries here and here.
- Eat at an ocean friendly restaurant.
- Participate in a cleanup. Find cleanup organizations in your area or DIY a cleanup event and pick up litter in your neighborhood (alone or with friends!).
- Do a fun activity/craft to learn about plastic pollution.
- Sign up for your local Adopt-A-Drain Program to take your volunteering to the next level.
- Visit the ocean or your local water system…we can only protect what we love and appreciate.
- Watch a documentary about the ocean. Some ideas: Chasing Coral, A Plastic Ocean, Disneynature Oceans.
- Volunteer with an organization helping our oceans.
- Talk about the ocean and your passion for climate advocacy with your community.
- Switch to non-chemical fertilizers.
- Become a 5 Gyres Ambassador.
- Take a course about the ocean. Here is an open online course or look for oceanography courses through online learning websites or community colleges.
- Plant your yard with your local waterways in mind.
More Resources to Protect Our Oceans
- 10 ways you can help save the oceans from Oceana.
- Protect our oceans from Greenpeace USA.
- More ways to help our oceans from NOAA.
- Lesson plans to learn more about ocean sustainability from Marine Stewardship Council.
- Learn more about the Clean Seas campaign.
- Pick up some blue habits from Oceanic Society.
- Explore ocean education resources from the Ocean Agency.
- NASA resources on oceanography.
- Learn more about sustainable seafood.
- Learn about sea turtles or dolphins with the World Wildlife Fund Toolkit.
- Learn from the 5 Gyres Trash Academy.