Environmental Issues in the Ocean

For centuries, people assumed that the ocean was bottomless and immune to human impacts. It’s only recently that scientists have come to understand the devastating effects we’ve already had on our oceans.

Japanese owned factory trawler NORTHERN EAGLE fishing for pollock in the Bering Sea.

© Greenpeace / Robert Visser

Global fish populations—a critical source of food for millions of people—are collapsing. The barbaric practice of commercial whaling is still legal and practiced in Norway, Iceland, and Japan. Plastics and toxic waste are making their way into our waters. Currently, less than two percent of our oceans are set aside as marine reserves, making it all too easy to exploit their natural resources.

Without proper protection, overfishing, bycatch, pollution, and other issues have become major threats to the health of our oceans.

Overfishing & Destructive Fishing

Overfishing is threatening food security for hundreds of millions of people and destroying ocean ecosystems worldwide.

We’ve already removed at least two-thirds of the large fish in the ocean, and one in three fish populations have collapsed since 1950. Put simply, there are too many boats chasing too few fish.

Commercial Whaling

It’s hard to believe commercial whaling still happens, isn’t it?

The practice was rampant for so long that many whale species may never recover. In the US, the North Atlantic right whale is down to about 350 remaining individuals. The blue whales of the Antarctic are at less than 1 percent of their original population. West Pacific grey whale populations are the most endangered of the world’s great whales, hovering on the edge of extinction with only slightly more than 100 remaining.

Pollution & Climate Change

Oil spills and other pollution at sea—while they carry serious consequences—actually account for a small fraction of ocean pollution. Nearly half of all ocean pollution comes from activities that take place on land, like sewage, industrial and agricultural runoff, garbage dumping, and chemical spills.

Human Rights on Land & At Sea

Changing the way we treat our oceans isn’t just about the creatures that live in them, it’s about the people that depend on them. Globally, more than three billion people depend on our oceans and coastal ecosystems for their livelihood.

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