Ocean Issues

The oceans cover more than 70 percent of the Earth’s surface, and yet they’re one of the least-understood habitats on the planet. And unfortunately, they’re one of the most threatened–by things like climate change, overfishing, bycatch, plastic pollution, and more. More and greater efforts to protect the oceans and the life they contain are vital.

If you care about ocean issues, here are some things you can do:
Urgent action needed to save North Atlantic right whales from extinction
Fishing nets are taking whales’ food in the shadow of Manhattan. Here’s what you need to know
Stand up against HR200, stand up for healthy seas
Protect the world’s last greatest salmon run from certain destruction
Prevent plastic trash from getting into the oceans
Tell California Governor Jerry Brown to sign plastic bills into law
Support Marine Protected Areas
Help keep the oceans as quiet as possible
Take part in a beach cleanup

Urgent action needed to save North Atlantic right whales from extinction

The Associated Press reports that “scientists say the population of North Atlantic right whales could decline to levels not seen since 1990 in as few as 12 years. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which manages coastal fisheries, received an update on the whales’ status in late October. The whales are among the most endangered marine mammals and are thought to number only about 437. The population was only 268 in 1990 before it rebounded to a recent high of 481 around 2010. But the species has been hindered by poor reproduction and several years of high mortality since then. Scientists say the species is jeopardized by entanglement in fishing gear and ship strikes. No new calves have been born this year, leaving the species’ future even more in doubt.”

You can help save these whales from extinction! Write your congresspersons to ask them to co-sponsor the SAVE Right Whales Act of 2018 (S. 3038 and H.R. 6060)—an exciting bill in Congress that will provide funding for the fishing and shipping industries, state agencies, research institutions, and nonprofit organizations to come together and find promising solutions to protect one of the world’s most critically endangered animals, the North Atlantic right whale. Find your congresspersons and their contact information here. Call, or write emails or letters. Your voice can make a difference!

Fishing nets are taking whales’ food in the shadow of Manhattan. Here’s what you need to know

High-volume commercial fishing-net boats have begun targeting and catching millions of fish that whales, dolphins, and many large fishes rely on for survival in the ocean triangle off New Jersey, New York, and Long Island on the U.S. East Coast. One fishing company—Omega Protein—is doing all the damage. The herring-like hand-sized fish are called menhaden. We got the tip about what is going on from our friend Paul Sieswerda at Gotham Whale, who takes people out to observe the whales.

Gotham Whale has put together a quick Take Action guide on how to address this specific issue. See their website for easy instructions on what to do!

Get the whole story here on the National Geographic wildlife blog.

Learn more about the issues of fishing menhaden and other so-called “forage fish” in Safina Center Fellow Paul Greenberg’s new book The Omega Principle.

Stand up against HR200, stand up for healthy seas!
HR 200 – a bill that would compromise the foundations of US fisheries management – has been approved by the House of Representatives and is now up for a vote in the Senate. If it’s enacted, it would threaten the rebuilding of vulnerable fish stocks, undermine science-based catch limits and overrule key environmental laws.

What can you do to protect coastal communities and oceans from unsustainable, unscientific new fishing laws?

Call your U.S. Senators and tell them you support healthy fisheries and you urge them to OPPOSE HR 200
Click here to find U.S. Senators’ contact information.

Click here for a draft phone script

Read our coverage of the issue and call to action on the Safina Center Blog, here!

Protect the world’s last greatest salmon run from certain destruction
UPDATE: Key financing deal for Pebble Mine falls through! This is a major step forward in protecting Bristol Bay’s watershed, the most ecologically and economically important remaining salmon basin on Earth. Read more, here.

But currently, the US Army Corps of Engineers is still deciding whether or not to move forward with Pebble Limited Partnership’s application to construct Pebble Mine. The mine would likely span  three miles across and would require a huge tailings dam and containment pond to “hold” the 2.5-10 billion gallons of mine waste produced over the mine’s lifetime. Accidents could destroy the existing values of the whole region. Chronic leaks and a near-eternal poison drip seem virtually guaranteed.

You can help stop Pebble Mine by making your voice heard! The Army Corps has recently lengthened the public comment period from the end of April to June 29, 2018, so there is time for you to take action. Find out  more about the project, and how to take action, in our recent blog post about the project here.

Access the Army Corps’ public commenting page here. Here’s a sample comment you could send to the Army Corps:

To U.S. Army Corps of Engineers:

We must safeguard Bristol Bay from ecological destruction in order for Alaska’s economy, environment, and culture to survive. Your agency should protect Bristol Bay, and the people and businesses these highly productive waters support. Please considering the following when reviewing the Pebble Mine project:

1. The Pebble Mine application is incomplete. Your agency should not release a Draft Environmental Impact Statement without more information from Pebble Limited Partnership. Foundational information for major parts of Pebble’s proposal, including the proposed transportation corridor, port or use of Lake Iliamna, are lacking from their application. The data Pebble did supplied is more than 10 years old and thus is not reliable for analyzing project impacts. Pebble Limited Partnership should also give you an independently prepared economic feasibility analysis, which is usually done for other mines like Donlin. Without the economic feasibility analysis, the Corps could be analyzing and the public could be commenting on a mine that will never be built due to a lack of funds. To move forward with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process under these conditions is a waste of government resources and of the people’s time.

2 . The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that a mine smaller than what Pebble is currently proposing would pose “significant and irreversible harm” to Bristol Bay’s waters and would result in “a complete loss of fish habitat.” The current plans outlined by the Pebble Limited Partnership will permanently destroy 4,000 acres of wetlands and more than 5 miles of anadromous streams vital to the region’s salmon and many other kinds of fish. Pebble Mine’s pollution levels exceed EPA’s proposed restrictions on the mine. The Army Corps needs to compare the plans of Pebble Limited Partnership to the EPA’s analysis before moving the project forward.

3. The Army Corps needs to examine a range of possible alternatives beyond Pebble Limited Partnership’s proposed mine site and include alternatives for mining copper and gold somewhere other than Bristol Bay.

4. The Army Corps needs to take a realistic look at Pebble Mine to accurately assess its impacts. Pebble Limited Partnership asks the Corps to limit the review to an unreasonably small 20-year mine, while it tells its potential investors that the mine can operate for 200 years and produce 11 billion tons of ore. The Army Corps needs to look at the full extent of mining the Pebble deposit, and not ask the public to participate in a process that is founded on a permit application that is missing such basic components.

Please stand with the lives and livelihoods of the people of Bristol Bay, and the millions of Americans that understand the enormous ecological value of these waters. Please reject Pebble Limited Partnership’s mine permit application as incomplete, missing key environmental and economic foundational data, and missing information needed for government agencies to accurately assess the extent of the impacts mining the Pebble Deposit will have on local economics, ecology and cultures.


[Your Name]

Prevent plastic trash from getting into the oceans
Here are some tips to help you reduce your use of plastic products, so less of it ends up in the oceans:

  • Avoid purchasing food and products wrapped in plastic
  • Use a reusable water bottle. Don’t buy bottled water or other drinks
  • Don’t use products that contain microbeads. (Check by using the Beat the Microbead website and app)
  • Cook at home more often; eat takeout less
  • Buy secondhand items since they usually don’t come in packaging
  • Recycle the plastic items you do use (instead of throwing them away in the trash)
  • Support legislation banning or taxing plastic bags, styrofoam and other plastic products
  • Buy things in bulk to cut down on plastic packaging
  • Bring a reusable garment bag to your dry cleaner
  • Support campaigns that encourage less use, or an end to the use, of plastic. We encourage you to check out the OneLessStraw Campaign, organized by conservation nonprofit One More Generation (OMG), which was founded in 2009 by then 8.5-and-7-year-old brother and sister duo Carter and Olivia Ries.

Tell California Governor Jerry Brown to sign plastic bills into law:

    • While the U.S. government has not taken much action to address the plastic pollution crisis following the passage of the 2015 Microbead Free Waters Act, California legislators have moved forward on reduction efforts, especially with some of the worst-polluting items such as straws and polystyrene take out containers.

Currently there are six bills on Governor Brown’s desk ready to be signed into law:
SB 1335 – prohibits non-recyclable and non-compostable takeout food packaging at state facilities including; parks, beaches, colleges, and fairgrounds.
AB 1884 – requires restaurants to offer straws only upon request.
SB 1263 – directs the Ocean Protection Council to develop a statewide microplastics reduction strategy.
SB 1422 – requires all drinking water to be tested for plastic contamination.
SB 212 – requires safer medicine and sharps disposal, extending producer responsibility for needles and meds.
SB 452 – increases funding and incentives for recycling centers, increasing opportunities for consumers to redeem their bottles and cans.

Whether or not you’re a California resident, do your part and pick up the phone or send an email! Contact Governor Brown and send a message that he should sign every one of these bills into law. Ask your family and friends to do the same.
Phone: (916) 445-2841
Email form:

Support marine protected areas
Marine protected areas serve as refuges for marine life. They’re places where fish, marine mammals, corals and other creatures can live without being exploited for human use. Nominate a marine area you want to see protected through Mission Blue’s Hope Spot program, here.

You can also help by advocating for America’s investment in its national marine sanctuaries. Sign the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation’s petition here.

Help keep the oceans as quiet as possible.
It’s well known that human-created noises from ships, oil and gas exploration and military exercises are harmful to marine creatures. You can help keep the oceans as quiet as possible by:

      • Buying locally (so you’re not supporting trans-ocean shipment of goods
      • Avoiding engine-powered recreation in sensitive ocean areas
      • Keeping your boat engine in good order, reducing the amount  of noise it emits
      • Commenting on proposals and legislation that affects marine noise
        • There are two major military exercises that would cause large amounts of ocean noise that are currently under NOAA review. While NOAA’s public commenting period remains open, you can write letters to NOAA here. A sample letter might read: “I oppose NOAA authorization of these military exercises because they would cause harmful ocean noise. Scientists are aware that increased background noise in the oceans–caused by ships, military exercises and energy exploration–can cause marine animals to change their natural behavior and experience hearing loss, prevent them from hearing important sounds, and can make it more difficult to communicate with other animals. To prevent potential deaths of marine mammals, I call on NOAA to halt the approval of these military exercises.”

Take part in a beach cleanup
Beach cleanups are a good way to remove trash from marine ecosystems, preventing harm to marine and coastal creatures. Look for cleanup locations near you through the Ocean Conservancy.

(cover photo: Great South Channel, off Martha’s Vineyard. ©Carl Safina. Common dolphins.)