How to Save the Oceans:
A Guide to Protecting Our Greatest
The ocean (to borrow a quote from Ron Burgundy) is kind of a big deal. Big enough that scientists point out “Earth” is a misnomer. For a planet covered almost 3/4 by water, and marine plants supplying a whopping 50-plus percent of the oxygen we breathe, “Water” may be a more appropriate name. With all that being said, it’s high time (high tide?) we all join together to rescue the resource that has quite literally kept us alive for 4 billion years.
You may think “Save the ocean” sounds like quite the undertaking, where do you start? Let’s unpack that with a bit more context and 7 tips we think will make it easier for you to begin doing your part today.
The State of the World’s Oceans Is…Not Good
The bad news is that human activity is really messing things up. The good news is that there are a number of things we can do to help stop (and even reverse!) those harmful actions, which is why this is a story built on hope and empowerment, and not doom and gloom.
The first part of a call to action is understanding the problem.
Here are some fundamentals to know:
Plastic Pollution is a Very Big Problem
Ocean-defending nonprofit Oceana estimates 17.6 billion pounds of plastic leak into the marine environment from land-based sources every year. That’s about a garbage truck full of plastic being dumped into our waters every 60 seconds. Arguably the most famous (and largest) garbage dump in the world is in the ocean.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch covers 1.6 million square kilometers with an estimated 80,000 metric tons of plastic, totaling 1.8 trillion pieces. It’s estimated that over 1 million sea animals die each year due to plastic debris in the ocean—from sea turtles to sharks to coral reef (yes, coral reef is an animal!).
At our current pace, studies reveal that by 2050, plastics in the ocean will outweigh fish in the ocean (!?)—and 99 percent of seabirds will have plastics in their GI tract. Yuck.
Acidification, Temperature Increase, Deoxygenation, and Sea Level Rise Are Messy, Too!
The increasing amount of acid in our ocean is the result of carbon dioxide emissions absorbed by the oceans over decades, changing its fundamental chemistry. Acidification creates subtle downticks in shell density in eency-weency organisms that, despite their humble scale, support whole ecosystems.
As waters of the world heat up, species are migrating en masse to new places and creating new challenges, or simply not developing like they might normally, while millions of humans depend on fish as their primary source of sustenance. It’s also helping kill off the Great Barrier Reef. Combined with the devastating effects of climate change, the coral reefs need all the protection we can give them.
Sea-level rise may be the most famous of these threats because it has the potential to create the most visible and immediate human suffering. The endangerment of low-lying places like Miami and South Pacific islands is becoming more and more apparent; 10 percent of the world’s population lives on the low-lying coast.
Deoxygenation, meanwhile—most commonly caused by algae blooms fed by nutrient-rich fertilizer run-off—is creating massive dead zones and further choking off marine life.
Overfishing Is Triggering Extinctions
Illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing practices are rampant. Humans have already fished species including the mighty grouper, several skates and rays, and a dozen-plus other sturgeon to the teetering brink of extinction. Bluefin tuna are among the fish populations that may never recover from unsustainable fishing practices. Other apex predators (like sharks) are some of the most at-risk.
Marine Sanctuaries Bring Recovery and Hope
Good news! Places like Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary have shown how impactful policy changes can be in helping species rebound. Not long ago, foundational species like sardines and sea otters were cratering because human activity was throwing everything out of whack. Thanks to protections preserving habitats and fragile species, the area is now booming in ecotourism, and fishing stocks are healthier than they have been in a long time.
Why Save The Oceans? Well…Oceans Matter…a Lot
Ocean conservation isn’t only an issue of interest for the typical sea lover. Maybe you’re not a scuba diver, or a fisherman, or a coastal resident. Maybe you are allergic to all seafood and hate surfers! Even so, it’s safe to bet you still breathe air and like it when life involves less human suffering.
If any of that applies to you, you may want to join Team “protect our oceans.”
The World’s Oceans Are a Primary Source of Oxygen
Trees and plants are oxygen-generating superstars. But wait till you get a load of what oceanic greens do! (Hint: a lot more than trees. But we still love you, trees!) Marine plants produce more than half of the planet’s oxygen.
The Sea Is a Huge Economic Driver, From Tourism to Food Harvesting
The stats are simply eye-opening, from how many communities/cities/states/countries depend on the ocean for revenue, to how much protein we pull from the sea. More than 1 billion people rely on the world’s oceans for food.
The Ol’ Balance of Life: Probably Not a Good Idea to Break It
Ego check: Life started in the ocean. Reality check: One great way to screw up life is to mess with what created it. Like pioneering ocean explorer Sylvia Earle reminds us: “No water, no life. No blue, no green.”
Marine conservation is no joke. Two billion marine species call the ocean home. This is their world; we’re just livin’ in it.
It’s Outright Inspiring for Poets and Presidents and Pop Stars
Here’s a good place to pause and bask in a small splash of the wisdom the ocean inspires, from diverse voices.
Jacques Cousteau: “The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.”
Beyoncé Knowles: “I’m always happy when I’m surrounded by water, I think I’m a mermaid or I was a mermaid. The ocean makes me feel really small and it makes me put my whole life into perspective… it humbles you and makes you feel almost like you’ve been baptized. I feel born again when I get out of the ocean.”
William Wordsworth: “The ocean is a mighty harmonist.”
John F. Kennedy: “We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch, we are going back from whence we came.”
7 Ways to Help Save the Oceans
Breaking news: The world’s oceans are massive. But there is likewise infinite opportunity to be an ambassador in ways that are frequently quite small—but quite meaningful.
1. Educate Yourself
Step 1: Land and sea are much more deeply connected than many realize, and actions (even in the middle of a landlocked area) have real impacts in the ocean. Good news is there are a wealth of resources to tap into—Pinterest has a whole cache of different ocean-saving categories—including some of our favorites.
Here are three:
- SeaLegacy: “Our mission is to create healthy and abundant oceans, for us and for the planet.”
- Monterey Bay Aquarium: “The mission of the nonprofit is to inspire conservation of the ocean. And we couldn’t do it without you.”
- Oceana: “Dedicated to achieving measurable change by conducting specific, science-based policy campaigns with fixed deadlines and articulated goals.”
We know that education creates action. For example, when you learn how many mattresses are piling up in landfills (spoiler alert: 50,000 per day), that tips you off that there are better disposal methods, and maybe it’s better to invest in an eco-friendly mattress when you’re making the purchase. The more we learn about the things affecting the oceans, the more we will discover what actions we can take to protect them.
2. Opt for Ocean and Earth-Friendly Products
Monitoring single-use plastics is a great place to start. In its list of “10 Ways You Can Help Save Oceans,” Oceana’s #1 is to demand plastic-free alternatives to items such as plastic water bottles, straws, plastic cutlery, coffee cups, bags, balloons, plastic-wrapped produce, and take-out food containers.
An easy political and environmental act is choosing where you spend your money—think of every vote as a dollar. Vote for sustainability by opting for reusable water bottles, products that ditch plastic microbeads, and cleaning products with reusable containers and nontoxic ingredients.
If you feel like a friend or family member could use a little nudge to get them on the bandwagon, use the next celebration as an opportunity to gift them something that will reduce their impact to get them started!
Supporting companies like certified B Corp, 1% for the Planet member, and planet protector Pela who makes compostable phone cases is a great way to start casting your vote. Pela’s goal is to remove 1 billion pounds of plastic from the waste stream in 5 years, and they are well on their way to doing that.
Look for these kinds of companies for all of your purchases—they are everywhere!
Did you Know? More than 8 million tons of plastic is dumped into our oceans every year (and in the U.S., only 23% of the plastics manufactured are recycled)
3. Keep an Eye on Your Carbon Footprint
Investing more in wind and solar is a big way to slow down climate change and ocean acidification. So is using public transportation, carpool options, and bicycles. That helps combat contributors to climate change that warm the world’s oceans and make it more acidic.
At home, nix plastic bags, invest in some energy-efficient light bulbs around the house, and adjust the thermostat when you don’t need it. We each impact the oceans based on our own energy use—let’s make sure that impact is a positive one.
Always make sure you clean up after yourself (and your pet if you’re a pet owner) at beaches and in any natural setting. Better yet, put one of your reusable bags to use and collect what trash you may encounter on the beach, or join a local beach cleanup. Leave it better than you found it is always a good policy!
4. Eat With the Ocean in Mind
Meat and dairy production create vast amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. So making cheeseburgers a treat is wise, and it will make them more enjoyable!
When eating seafood, opt for sustainable seafood. Look for the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) labels at grocery stores. Their blue and green logos indicate the seafood is sourced from sustainably-managed fisheries and farms. Also: Downloading the Seafood Watch app makes it really easy to make good sustainability choices when ordering seafood.
5. Advocate! Big Picture Solutions Can Happen With Minor Advocacy
Legislation is a key piece of a comprehensive ocean rescue plan. Citizens play a fundamental role in that by voting for public officials who support marine health, and encouraging their network to do so across social media.
While it’s unlikely you can individually stop the drilling for fossil fuels in the Arctic on your own, you can definitely join existing efforts to do so, and pressure representatives who have power to take a stand on your (our) behalf. Writing a letter to your local, regional, state, and national representatives helps amplify the effect.
6. Enjoy the Ocean in Person
To get to know something—anything—in greater depth tends to lead to greater understanding and appreciation. And the ocean is a deep soul to get to know.
Body-surfing, snorkeling, and long walks on the beach aren’t just good habits to have on your dating profile, they’re great for your soul, and easy on the bottom line.
If a coastal vacation is in the pipeline, look for a destination like Bodhi Surf & Yoga (another B Corporation), whose creator, Adrianne Chandra-Huff, came on the podcast to discuss how her passion for ecotourism led to an uber-awarding career in Costa Rica. Or Tim Lara, owner of Hawaiian Paddle Sports and five eco-tourism companies on the Island of Maui, also talked about the power of B Corporations on the pod.
7. Embrace the Ocean from Anywhere
You don’t have to live on the Caribbean coast to make friends with the world’s oceans and marine life in meaningful ways. A range of amazing resources brings all of the wow with plenty of education and empowering insight, too.
Conservation International has a social virtual reality experience called “Drop in the Ocean” which promises to “immerse you in the astounding beauty of the ocean and inspire you to protect it.”
Oceana’s Ocean Animal Encyclopedia flows a tidal wave of fun and interesting facts about all kinds of marine animals, from sharks and seals to whales and clownfish.
Each individual effort makes a big difference to preserving our oceans. And if you’ve made it this far, you’re taking the first step—or already well on your way—toward being an ambassador for our world’s beautiful waters. Welcome to Team Ocean, which, as you know, is another way of saying Team Earth.
Mark C. Anderson
Grow Ensemble Contributor, Author, Explorer
Mark C. Anderson has been a professional writer, editor and photographer for 15 years, from Malaysia to Morocco to Mexico City. His nomadic base is Seaside, CA, but he finds home anywhere with a decent WiFi signal, access to good people, and avenues into the great outdoors, particularly the ocean.
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