Marine conservation activism

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.

World ocean map
Animated map of the world's oceanic waters.


United States

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.

Notable People

  • Jacques Cousteau: Explorer, Conservationist, Researcher & Author
  • Sylvia Earle: Marine Biologist, Explorer, & Author
  • Steve Irwin: Naturalist, Conservationist, Zoologist, Herpetologist, & Television Personality

International Issues


Marine debris on Hawaiian coast
Marine debris on the Hawaiian coast

Marine Debris is defined as “any persistent solid material that is manufactured or processed and directly or indirectly, intentionally or unintentionally, disposed of or abandoned into the marine environment or the Great Lakes”. This debris can injure or even kill marine organisms; it can also interfere with navigation safety and could pose a threat to human health. Marine debris can range from soda cans to plastic bags and can even include abandoned vessels or neglected fishing gear.[1]

Ocean Conservancy

Ocean Conservancy is a non-profit environmental group that fights for the improvement and conservation of marine ecosystems and marine life. They work to find science-based solutions to protect the world's oceans from the global challenges that they face today.[2]

One of the many issues that they work closely to stop is the flow of trash that enters the ocean. The International Coastal Cleanup (ICC) is one of the methods Ocean Conservancy uses to prevent marine debris. The ICC is the largest volunteer effort to clean up the world's oceans and other waterways; over the past 25 years the ICC has cleaned up approximately 144,606,491 pounds of trash from beaches all over the world.[3]


Whaling in the Faroe Islands
Whaling in the Faroe Islands.

International Whaling Commission

Whaling is the hunting of free roaming whales; many whaling practices have led to drastic population loss in many whale populations around the world.[4] In 1986, The International Whaling Commission (IWC) was founded to put a ban on commercial whaling. The commission recognizes three different types of whaling: aboriginal subsistence, commercial, and special permit (or scientific) whaling.[5]

This form of whaling supports indigenous communities where whale products play an important role in cultural and nutritional life. The IWC sets catch limits for aboriginal subsistence whaling every six years.[6]

This form of whaling is highly regulated by the IWC and is currently on a moratorium. There are a few countries that oppose the moratorium and continue to hunt for whales; these countries share catch data with the Commission but are not regulated by it.[5]

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.[4]

This category of whaling is separated from IWC-regulated whaling by international law. Special permit research proposals are to be submitted by countries to the IWC for scientific scrutiny. The role of the IWC is advisory only.[5]


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,[7] 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.[8]

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

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.[9] 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".[10]

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.[11] 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”.[12]

Shark Finning

Shark finning 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.[13] 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 skyrocketed 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.[13] 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.

Project AWARE

Current campaign known as Project AWARE is working globally to advocate solutions for long-term protection for these animals. Created initially as an environmental initiative project, this campaign was developed by the Professional Associations of Diving Instructors (PADI) in 1989. Used to educate divers about environmental problems this program eventually grew to become a registered non-profit organization in the US in 1992 and eventually became recognized in the UK and Australia in 1999 and 2002 respectively. In spite of the arising issues with marine challenges, Project AWARE has continued to grow towards meeting the needs of the marine ecosystem as they see fit. Marine debris and shark and ray conservation activism are the two most prevalent issues that are being further worked toward improving since 2011.[14]

Shark Savers

Another huge campaign working to ensure the protection of these marine species is a group called Shark Savers that is sponsored by the group called WildAid. 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. Similarly to Project Aware, the Shark Savers program was founded by a group of divers that wanted to help the marine system in 2007. Through the recent creation of shark sanctuaries, the program focuses on sustainability when thinking about the economical and environmental benefits. These created sanctuaries provide a protected area for the sharks and also promote change in nearby communities.[15]


Bite-Back is another organization that is active in the community and aims to stop the sale of shark fins for the making of shark fin soup in Great Britain. By exposing the UK and their acts toward profiting from shark products, they aim to put an end to their ways of over fishing and exploitation. The organizations main goal is to allow marine life a chance to thrive while they are busy doing the dirty work of lowering consumer stipulation.[16]

Shark Trust

Part of a worldwide alliance called The Global Shark and Ray Initiative (GSRI), the Shark Trust is working in efforts to better the ocean for marine animals such as shark and rays. The Initiative created a plan for changing the status of the shark population that would span over 10 years starting on February 15, 2016. Teaming up with other large conservation organization such as Shark Advocates International and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the team aims to ultimately give these vulnerable animals the safety and security that the ought to have in their natural environment.[17]


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.[18]

Global Fishing Watch

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.[19][20][21]


Marine protected areas

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.[22] 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.[23]

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.[24] 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.[25] The term is a simplification of numerous ecological benefits that are derived from removing fishing from nursery, breeding grounds and essential fish habitats.[26]


  1. ^ Administration, US Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric. "What is marine debris?". Retrieved 2016-12-08.
  2. ^ "Ocean Conservancy: What We Do". Retrieved 2016-12-08.
  3. ^ "Ocean Conservancy: Fighting for Trash Free Seas". Retrieved 2016-12-08.
  4. ^ a b "Stop Whaling". WDC, Whale and Dolphin Conservation. Retrieved 2016-12-08.
  5. ^ a b c "Whaling". Retrieved 2016-12-08.
  6. ^ "Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling in the Arctic". Retrieved 2016-12-08.
  7. ^ Larter, Paul (February 8, 2008). "Australia condemns bloody killing of whale and calf by Japanese fleet". The Times. London. Retrieved May 12, 2010.
  8. ^ Michael McCarthy, "SAVE THE WHALE: 20 years on and whales are under threat again", The Independent (London), January 2, 2006, sec. A
  9. ^ "Who We Are - Sea Shepherd Conservation Society". Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Archived from the original on 2009-08-30. Retrieved 2016-11-14.
  10. ^ "Mandate - Sea Shepherd Conservation Society". Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Retrieved 2016-11-14.
  11. ^ "Our History - Sea Shepherd Conservation Society". Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Archived from the original on 2016-11-29. Retrieved 2016-11-14.
  12. ^ "Equality Statement - Sea Shepherd Conservation Society". Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Retrieved 2016-11-14.
  13. ^ a b "Stop Shark Finning". Stop Shark Finning. Retrieved 2016-11-14.
  14. ^ "Sharks and Rays | Project AWARE". Retrieved 2016-11-14.
  15. ^ "Shark Savers :: Home". Retrieved 2016-11-14.
  16. ^ "About - Bite-Back". Retrieved 2016-12-09.
  17. ^ "The Shark Trust - Global Strategy". Archived from the original on 2016-12-20. Retrieved 2016-12-09.
  18. ^ Vince, Gaia. "How the world's oceans could be running out of fish". Retrieved 2016-12-07.
  19. ^ Google Launches Global Fishing WatchDigital Trends (September 16, 2016)
  20. ^ Oceana Unveils Global Fishing WatchHuffington Post (September 15, 2016)
  21. ^ Illegal fishing targeted by crowdsourcing thanks to new Global Fishing Watch websiteABC News (Australia) (September 15, 2016)
  22. ^ David White, "Fully Protected Marine Reserves Will Promote Sustainable Fishing", 2001
  23. ^ Environment California, "Save Our Ocean Legacy,""Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-04-18. Retrieved 2007-05-10.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  24. ^ 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
  25. ^ 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
  26. ^ 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.
Bioeconomics (fisheries)

Bioeconomics is closely related to the early development of theories in fisheries economics, initially in the mid-1950s by Canadian economists Scott Gordon (in 1954) and Anthony Scott (1955). Their ideas used recent achievements in biological fisheries modelling, primarily the works by Schaefer in 1954 and 1957 on establishing a formal relationship between fishing activities and biological growth through mathematical modelling confirmed by empirical studies, and also relates itself to ecology and the environment and resource protection.These ideas developed out of the multidisciplinary fisheries science environment in Canada at the time. Fisheries science and modelling developed rapidly during a productive and innovative period, particularly among Canadian fisheries researchers of various disciplines. Population modelling and fishing mortality were introduced to economists, and new interdisciplinary modelling tools became available for the economists, which made it possible to evaluate biological and economic impacts of different fishing activities and fisheries management decisions.

Catch reporting

Catch reporting is a part of Monitoring control and surveillance of Commercial fishing. Depending on national and local fisheries management practices, catch reports may reveal illegal fishing practices, or simply indicate that a given area is being overfished.

Data storage tag

A data storage tag (DST), also sometimes known as an archival tag, is a data logger that uses sensors to record data at predetermined intervals. Data storage tags usually have a large memory size and a long lifetime. Most archival tags are supported by batteries that allow the tag to record positions for several years. Alternatively some tags are solar powered and allow the scientist to set their own interval; this then allows data to be recorded for significantly longer than battery-only powered tags.

Destructive fishing practices

Destructive fishing practices are practices that easily result in irreversible damage to aquatic habitats and ecosystems. Many fishing techniques can be destructive if used inappropriately, but some practices are particularly likely to result in irreversible damage. These practices are mostly, though not always, illegal. Where they are illegal, they are often inadequately enforced.

European Fishery MLS

In European Union member states, there exists a standard set of minimum landing sizes (MLS) for all major species of finfish and shellfish. These MLS are set under EU Council Regulation 850/98.

Fish measurement

Fish measurement is the measuring of the length of individual fish and of various parts of their anatomy. These data are used in many areas of ichthyology, including taxonomy and fisheries biology.

Fish stock

Fish stocks are subpopulations of a particular species of fish, for which intrinsic parameters (growth, recruitment, mortality and fishing mortality) are traditionally regarded as the significant factors determining the stock's population dynamics, while extrinsic factors (immigration and emigration) are traditionally ignored.

Fishery Resources Monitoring System

The Fishery Resources Monitoring System (FIRMS) is a partnership of intergovernmental fisheries organizations that share a wide range of high-quality information on the global monitoring and management of marine fishery resources.

GIS and aquatic science

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) has become an integral part of aquatic science and limnology. Water by its very nature is dynamic. Features associated with water are thus ever-changing. To be able to keep up with these changes, technological advancements have given scientists methods to enhance all aspects of scientific investigation, from satellite tracking of wildlife to computer mapping of habitats. Agencies like the US Geological Survey, US Fish and Wildlife Service as well as other federal and state agencies are utilizing GIS to aid in their conservation efforts.

GIS is being used in multiple fields of aquatic science from limnology, hydrology, aquatic botany, stream ecology, oceanography and marine biology. Applications include using satellite imagery to identify, monitor and mitigate habitat loss. Imagery can also show the condition of inaccessible areas. Scientists can track movements and develop a strategy to locate locations of concern. GIS can be used to track invasive species, endangered species, and population changes.

One of the advantages of the system is the availability for the information to be shared and updated at any time through the use of web-based data collection.

Incidental catch

In fishing, incidental catch is that part of the catch which was not originally targeted, but was caught and retained anyway. It can be contrasted with discards, which is that part of the catch which was not originally targeted, but was caught and returned to the sea, and bycatch, which is for all the species caught apart from the targeted species.

The operational definitions used by the FAO for incidental catch and other related catches are as follows:

Target catch: The catch of a species or species assemblage which is primarily sought in a fishery, such as shrimp, flounders, cods

Incidental catch: Retained catch of non-targeted species

Discarded catch (usually shortened to discards): That portion of the catch returned to the sea as a result of economic, legal, or personal considerations.

Bycatch: Discarded catch plus incidental catch.

Minimum landing size

The minimum landing size (MLS) is the smallest fish measurement at which it is legal to keep or sell a fish. What the MLS is depends on the species of fish. Sizes also vary around the world, as they are legal definitions which are defined by the local regulatory authority. Commercial trawl and seine fisheries can control the size of their catch by adjusting the mesh size of their nets.

European Union – The European Fishery MLS applies to all EU member states.

Ocean Conservancy

Ocean Conservancy (founded as The Delta Corporation) is a nonprofit environmental advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., United States. The organization helps formulate ocean policy at the federal and state government levels based on peer reviewed science. Ocean Conservancy is one of the few organizations that help protect wildlife in the ocean.

Ocean Outcomes

Ocean Outcomes (O2) is an international nonprofit organization which works with commercial fisheries, seafood industry, local communities, government, NGOs, and other fishery stakeholders to develop and implement solutions towards more sustainable fisheries. O2's work includes fishery assessments, fishery improvement projects (FIPs), buyer engagement programs, supply chain analysis, and other contractual fishery-related work. Founded in 2015, O2 has team members and fishery projects across Northeast Asia, including on the ground operations in China, Japan, and South Korea.

Oceana (non-profit group)

Oceana is an ocean conservation and advocacy organization.

Particle (ecology)

In marine and freshwater ecology, a particle is a small object. Particles can remain in suspension in the ocean or freshwater. However, they eventually settle (rate determined by Stokes' law) and accumulate as sediment. Some can enter the atmosphere through wave action where they can act as cloud condensation nuclei (CCN). Many organisms filter particles out of the water with unique filtration mechanisms (filter feeders). Particles are often associated with high loads of toxins which attach to the surface. As these toxins are passed up the food chain they accumulate in fatty tissue and become increasingly concentrated in predators (see bioaccumulation). Very little is known about the dynamics of particles, especially when they are re-suspended by dredging. They can remain floating in the water and drift over long distances. The decomposition of some particles by bacteria consumes a lot of oxygen and can cause the water to become hypoxic.

Paul Watson

Paul Franklin Watson (born December 2, 1950) is a Canadian-American marine wildlife conservation and environmental activist, who founded the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, an anti-poaching and direct action group focused on marine conservation and marine conservation activism; a group accused of Eco-terrorism by both the Japanese government and Greenpeace. He is a citizen of Canada and the United States.

The Toronto native joined a Sierra Club protest against nuclear testing in 1969. He was a co-founder of Greenpeace, crewed and skippered for it and a founding board member in 1972. He has been credited by The New York Times, The New Yorker, and other publications with being a founder of Greenpeace. The documentary How to Change the World shows that Watson was indeed one of the original founding members of Greenpeace. Because Watson argued for a strategy of direct action that conflicted with the Greenpeace interpretation of nonviolence, he was ousted from the board in 1977 and subsequently left the organization. That same year, he formed the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. The group is the subject of a reality show named Whale Wars.

He promotes veganism, and a biocentric, rather than anthropocentric, worldview.Watson's activities have led to legal action from authorities in countries including the United States, Canada, Norway, Costa Rica and Japan. He was detained in Germany on an extradition request by Costa Rica in May 2012. The Interpol red notice was issued on September 14, 2012, at the request of Japan and Costa Rica.After staying at sea for 15 months, he returned to Los Angeles late October 2013, going through customs and "was not arrested". He appeared before a US appeals court on November 6, 2013, stating that neither he nor Sea Shepherd violated a 2012 order requiring them to leave whaling vessels alone. Although the United States is a signatory member of Interpol, Watson has not been detained for extradition to Japan or Costa Rica. He was living in Vermont, writing books. He has resided in Paris since July 1, 2014.

Pulse fishing

Pulse fishing is a fisheries management technique for preventing fish stocks from being overfished by periodically permitting a cycle of fishing followed by a fallow period which allows stocks to reconstitute. It should not to be confused with electric pulse fishing which is a fishing technique which involves pulsing electric currents.

Sustainable seafood advisory lists and certification

Sustainable seafood advisory lists and certification are programs aimed at increasing consumer awareness of the environmental impact and sustainability of their seafood purchasing choices.

California-based Seafood Watch and Marine Conservation Society's fish online are some of the best-known guides. One of the best-known certification programs is Marine Stewardship Council's scheme for consumer seafood products.

Other programs include regional guides, such as that produced by the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS). In Canada, SeaChoice produces assessments and recommendations using the traffic light system, while recommendation of restaurants is done by Vancouver Aquarium's Ocean Wise.

Water column

A water column is a conceptual column of water from the surface of a sea, river or lake to the bottom sediment. Descriptively, the deep sea water column is divided into five parts—pelagic zones (from Greek πέλαγος (pélagos), 'open sea')—from the surface to below the floor, as follows: epipelagic, from the surface to 200 meters below the surface; mesopelagic, from 200 to 1000 meters below the surface; bathypelagic, from 1000 to 4000 meters below the surface; abyssopelagic, from 4000 meters below the surface to the level sea floor; hadopelagic, depressions and crevices below the level sea floor.

The concept of water column is useful since many aquatic phenomena are explained by the incomplete vertical mixing of chemical, physical or biological parameters. For example, when studying the metabolism of benthic organisms, it is the specific bottom layer concentration of available chemicals in the water column that is meaningful, rather than the average value of those chemicals throughout the water column.

Water columns are used chiefly for environmental studies evaluating the stratification or mixing of the thermal or chemically stratified layers in a lake, stream or ocean: for example, by wind-induced currents. Some of the common parameters analyzed in the water column are pH, turbidity, temperature, hydrostatic pressure, salinity, total dissolved solids, various pesticides, pathogens and a wide variety of chemicals and biota.

The term water column is also commonly used in scuba diving to describe the vertical space through which divers ascend and descend.

Aquatic ecosystems

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