Marine conservation activism

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Animated map of the world's oceanic waters.

Marine Conservation Activism refers to the efforts of non-governmental organizations and individuals to bring about social and political change in the area of marine conservation. Marine conservation is properly conceived as a set of management strategies for the protection and preservation of ecosystems in oceans and seas. Activists raise public awareness and support for conservation, while pushing governments and corporations to practice sound ocean management, create conservation policy, and enforce existing laws and policy through effective regulation. There are many different kinds of organizations and agencies that work toward these common goals. They all are a part of the growing movement that is ocean conservation. These organizations fight for many causes including stopping pollution, overfishing, whaling, by-catching, and Marine Protected Areas.


United States[edit]

Though the environmental movement began in the United States during the 1960s, the idea of marine conservation really did not take off in the country until the 1972 Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA) passed, beginning the movement. The act allowed the regulation by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over dumping in the seas. Though the act was later amended, it was one of several key events to bring marine issues towards the front of environmental issues in the United States.

International Issues[edit]


Main article: Marine debris
Marine debris on the Hawaiian coast

Debris along coastlines and underwater is a concern for many environmental activist organizations.[citation needed] It poses a major threat to marine life, as many animals confuse debris for prey or accidentally become entangled in it, many times suffocating to death.[1] 267 kinds of organisms are known to have been injured or killed from ingestion or entanglement.[2] The Ocean Conservancy, previously known as the Center of Marine Conservation, is an organization that fights for improvement and conservation of marine life. Among other marine issues, the group fights for the reduction of debris along coastlines and underwater. In the same year when the Coastal Zone Management, Clean Water, Marine Mammal Protection Acts passed, the Ocean Conservancy was created with the intention of promoting healthy ocean ecosystems through education and science-based activism.[3]

Established in 1986 in Texas, the International Coastal Cleanup (ICC) is a major effort[according to whom?] put forth annually by the group. The event is supported by the government-run Environmental Protection Agency, along with other shareholders. It takes place on the third Saturday of September each year. The largest of all environmental cleanups, the event has grown tremendously since the first cleanup in Texas. Beginning with only 2,800 people, picking up 124 tons of debris along 122 miles of coastline, in 2005 it drew over 158,000 people in the U.S. alone, picking up 2,000 tons of trash. Since 1989 the event has gone international and in 2005 over 300,000 volunteers showed up in 88 different countries, collecting 4,000 tons of litter.[4] The event itself both cleans up the coastline and oceans and provides detailed information on the types of debris. The results are used for reports on the state of the marine life. It is also used for education of the public about debris issues and to influence positive changes on all scales, both local and international.[5]


Main article: Whaling
See also: Anti-whaling
Whaling in the Faroe Islands.

International Whaling Commission[edit]

Whaling is the hunting of free roaming whales. It has become a high-profile issue in marine conservation activism as it has led to the endangerment of 5 out of the 13 kinds of whales. The International Whaling Commission (IWC) had instituted a whaling moratorium in order to give whales time to recover. According to environmental groups, however, blue whales have not recovered.[6] Other whale populations have been drastically depleted.

Since the moratorium was put in place in 1986, more than 50,000 whales have been hunted and killed; there are three nations that are still able to hunt whales because of loopholes in the ban. Norway is able to hunt because of an “objection” to the ban; Iceland is able to hunt because of a “reservation” and Japan is able to hunt because they claim it is for “research purposes”. If combined these nations kill around 2,000 whales each year; these whales include humpback, minke, sperm, fin, Bryde’s, and sei. The IWC ban does allow for some Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling (ASW) in certain countries.[7]

Pro-whaling nations argue that basing their views on moral judgement and not scientific fact violates the international rule of law.[8] Japan and Norway, two pro-whaling nations maintain they limit catches to sustainable levels. Japan also believes the whaling ban is no longer needed and wants the IWC to stop protecting whales and start regulating the recovering whale stocks.[9] Both countries are unhappy with the way the United States and its allies apply sanctions against them in attempts to stop whaling. They argue that other nations and organizations need to recognize the difference in culture and its relation to the whaling industry.[8]


Greenpeace, an international environmental organization founded in 1971 in British Columbia, fights against whaling. Their campaigns are nonviolent and many times involve one or more of the five Greenpeace ships which first made the organization famous in the 1970s. In late December 2005, Japanese whaling fleets experienced heavy opposition from Greenpeace, who protested that the Japanese were continuing their commercial whaling under the guise of research,[10] and even worse, they were doing so in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. They sent volunteer workers in inflatable boats to get in the line of fire in order to stop the whaling.[11]

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society[edit]

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is a non-profit, marine wildlife conservation organization that works internationally on numerous campaigns to protect the world’s oceans. Their mission is to conserve and protect the world’s ecosystems and species; they work to end the destruction of habitat and slaughter of the ocean’s wildlife. Unlike many other non-profit environmental groups, Sea Shepherd uses direct-action tactics to expose and challenge illegal activities at sea; they strive to ensure that the ocean can survive for future generations.[12] In doing so, they refer to the United Nations World Charter for Nature that calls on individuals to "safeguard and conserve nature in areas beyond national jurisdiction". [13]

Sea Shepherd was founded in 1977 by Captain Paul Watson in Vancouver BC, Canada; it wasn’t until 1981 that it was formally incorporated in the United States. Throughout the years their campaigns have ranged from stopping the annual killing of baby harp seals in Eastern Canada to preventing Japanese whalers from killing endangered whale species.[14] They only work to uphold international conservation law and to protect the endangered ocean habitats and species; they do this without prejudice against race, nationality, color, or religious belief. Their crews are made up of volunteers from all over the world, some of which are from countries that Sea Shepherd has campaigns against; they describe themselves as “pro-ocean” instead of “anti-any nationality or culture”.[15]

Shark Fining[edit]

Main article: Shark finning

See also: Shark fin soup

Shark fining is a worldwide issue that involves cutting off the fins of sharks. This is done while the shark is still alive followed by the rest of the body being thrown back into the ocean, leaving it to die days after.[16] Used in countries like China and Japan, shark fins are a key ingredient in the world-renowned meal, shark fin soup. The high demand for this particular type of soup has sky rocketed in the last few decades and sells for around $100 on average and is often catered at special occasions such as weddings and banquets. Due to the increased want for these shark fins, traders seek out the fins in order to make a profit. However, the fins are the only part of the shark that fishermen seek out to retrieve due to the low economical value of the actual shark meet.[16] This recently exposed issue along with other overfishing issues has brought upon roughly 80 percent of the shark population decline. It has become prominent concern in marine conservation activism for millions of sharks are killed yearly at an often-unregulated expense. Current campaigns such as Project AWARE and a WildAid program called Shark Savers are working globally to advocate solutions for long-term protection for these animals.[17] Through the use of community motivation, the project encourages the public to stop eating sharks and shark fin soup. By also working to improve global regulations and creating sanctuaries for sharks, the project aims to take action and get results.[18]


Main article: Overfishing

Overfishing occurs when fish stocks are over-exploited to below acceptable levels; eventually the fish populations will no longer be able to sustain themselves . This can lead to resource depletion, reduced biological growth, and low biomass levels.[19]

Global Fishing Watch[edit]

In September 2016, a partnership of Google and Oceana and Skytruth introduced Global Fishing Watch, a website designed to assist citizens of the globe in monitoring fishing activities.[20][21][22]


Marine protected areas[edit]

Main article: Marine protected area

Even though the idea of Marine Protected Areas is an internationally known concept, there is no one term used internationally. Rather, each country has its own name for the areas. Marine Reserves, Specially Protected Areas, Marine Park all relate to this concept, though differ slightly. Some of the most famous Marine Protected Areas are the Ligurian Sea Cetacean Sanctuary along the coasts of Spain, Monaco, and Italy, and Australia's Great Barrier Reef. The largest sanctuary in the world is the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands National Monument. The purpose of these sanctuaries is to provide protection for the living and non- living resources of the oceans and seas. They are created to save species, nursing resources and to help sustain the fish population.

The activists at the Ocean Conservancy fight for this cause. They believe that the United States should put forth a consistent and firm commitment in using Marine Protected Areas as a management strategy. Currently, the argument in the United States is whether or not they are necessary, when it should be how can they work the most efficiently.[23] Activists at the Ocean Conservancy have been working on a campaign called the Save Our Ocean Legacy, a campaign lasting several years trying to establish Marine Protected Areas' off of the California coasts. 29 Marine Protected Areas were planned to be established when the legislation bill passed in 1999. The hope is that the plan will be finalized in 2007.[24]

Some fishers do not accept that Marine Protected Areas (MPA) benefit fish stocks and provide insurance against stock collapse. MPAs can cause a short-term loss in fisheries production.[25] However, the concept of spillover, where fish within a Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) move into fished areas, thus benefiting fisheries, has been misunderstood by some fishers.[26] The term is a simplification of numerous ecological benefits that are derived from removing fishing from nursery, breeding grounds and essential fish habitats.[27]


  1. ^ John Clements, Ocean Natural Resources Special Report (Political Research, Inc: Dallas, Texas, 2003)
  2. ^ Vessel Sewage Discharge Program - Protecting Our Waterways | Ocean Regulatory Programs | US EPA
  3. ^ Natural Resource Defense Council,"Press Release,"
  4. ^ Jeanette J. Lee, "Worldwide Coastal Cleanup bags 4,000 Tons of Debris", The Associated Press, May 19, 2005.
  5. ^ Marine Conservation and Ocean Research - groups, associations, organizations, societies, alliances, conservationists and activists who help preserve, protect, research and conserve the earth's oceans
  6. ^ Whaling | Greenpeace International
  7. ^ "Stop Whaling". WDC, Whale and Dolphin Conservation. Retrieved 2016-11-14. 
  8. ^ a b William Aron, William Burke, and Milton Freeman, "Flouting The Convention", Atlantic Monthly, vol 283 May 1999
  9. ^ David McNeill,"Japan launches bid to end ban on whale hunting,"The Irish Times February 12, 2007, World, p.11
  10. ^ Larter, Paul (February 8, 2008). "Australia condemns bloody killing of whale and calf by Japanese fleet". The Times. London. Retrieved May 12, 2010. 
  11. ^ Michael McCarthy, "SAVE THE WHALE: 20 years on and whales are under threat again", The Independent (London), January 2, 2006, sec. A
  12. ^ "Who We Are - Sea Shepherd Conservation Society". Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Retrieved 2016-11-14. 
  13. ^ "Mandate - Sea Shepherd Conservation Society". Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Retrieved 2016-11-14. 
  14. ^ "Our History - Sea Shepherd Conservation Society". Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Retrieved 2016-11-14. 
  15. ^ "Equality Statement - Sea Shepherd Conservation Society". Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Retrieved 2016-11-14. 
  16. ^ a b "Stop Shark Finning". Stop Shark Finning. Retrieved 2016-11-14. 
  17. ^ "Sharks and Rays | Project AWARE". Retrieved 2016-11-14. 
  18. ^ "Shark Savers :: Home". Retrieved 2016-11-14. 
  19. ^ Vince, Gaia. "How the world's oceans could be running out of fish". Retrieved 2016-12-07. 
  20. ^ Google Launches Global Fishing WatchDigital Trends (September 16, 2016)
  21. ^ Oceana Unveils Global Fishing WatchHuffington Post (September 15, 2016)
  22. ^ Illegal fishing targeted by crowdsourcing thanks to new Global Fishing Watch websiteABC News (Australia) (September 15, 2016)
  23. ^ David White, "Fully Protected Marine Reserves Will Promote Sustainable Fishing", 2001
  24. ^ Environment California, "Save Our Ocean Legacy,"
  25. ^ Robert L. Ship, "No Take Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) as a Fishery Management Tool, a Pragmatic Perspective: A Report to the FishAmerica Foundation", May 23, 2002
  26. ^ Richard B. Allen, "No-Take Reserves as a Fishery Management Tool", speech delivered at Fisheries, Oceanography, and Society: A Symposium Presented by the Ocean Life Institute, August 27, 2001
  27. ^ for example see N.A.J. Graham, R.D. Evans And G.R. Russ. 2003. The effects of marine reserve protection on the trophic relationships of reef fishes on the Great Barrier Reef. Environmental Conservation 30 (2): 200–208; Berkeley, S.A., Chapman, C., and Sogard, S. 2004. Maternal age as a determinant of larval growth and survival in a marine fish, Sebastes melanops. Ecology 85(5):1258-1264.; Longhurst, A. 2002. Murphy's Law revisited: longevity as a factor in recruitment to fish populations. Fisheries Research 56:125-131.;Walsh, M.R., Munch, S.B., Chiba, S., and Conover, D.O. 2006. Maladaptive changes in multiple traits caused by fishing: impediments to population recovery". Ecology Letters 9:142-148.