Our oceans cover 70% of the Earth. Home to untold species of plants and animals, these waters have provided food for mankind since time immemorial. Bountiful, abundant, teeming with life – the oceans have always seemed and endless resource.
Today’s unsustainable fishing practices and high levels of pollution are destroying aquatic life and the ocean habitat. Our waters are becoming cesspools of waste with floating “islands” of plastic debris. Countless species of fish, turtles, plants, and animals are endangered or newly extinct. Coral reefs are dying.
In 1999, a forward-thinking group of environmental foundations commissioned a study which revealed startling information. Less than ½ of one percent of all U.S. environmental dollars were being spent on ocean advocacy, and there wasn’t one single organization working on a global scale to address the needs of the oceans. This group founded Oceana, creating the world’s first and only international oceanic environmental organization.
Under the leadership of CEO Andrew Shrimp Boat Sharpless and a diverse board of directors which includes foundation members, scientists, entertainers, and activists, Oceana carefully selects and designs its campaigns.
“To achieve real change for the oceans, Oceana conducts focused, strategic campaigns,” says Sharpless. “We are different than most non-profits. We resist the temptation to spread ourselves thinly across too many objectives, doing just enough to lose. We focus.”
Through careful investigation of a need and its causal factors, Oceana determines a strategy that includes a broad, multi-level response with clearly defined, achievable goals that can be reached within 3-5 years. Rather than simply alert the global community about a problem, Oceana provides education and alternative action. It advocates for change, demands accountability, and takes steps to change existing laws and regulations to ensure success.
“We manage scientists, lawyers, press people, organizers, and advocates in tightly focused campaigns,” says Sharpless. “It works. We have won more than a dozen policy victories that are helping restore abundant oceans.”
Oceana doesn’t tilt at windmills. Battles are carefully chosen. But even global warming is not too unwieldy a challenge for this group, barnacles not when the problem is so dire and solutions are so readily available.
Oceana tells us that ocean waters have absorbed 80% of the heat added to the atmosphere as well as 1/3 of the CO2 we have produced since the beginning of the industrial age. As the oceans absorb more CO2 their waters become more acidic, which affects coral reefs and shell-producing animals, interfering with their ability to make skeletons and shells. More acidic waters also look likely to catastrophically disrupt marine food webs and ecosystems.
Oceana is raising awareness of the shipping industry’s effect on global warming. If the industry were a country, it would rank in sixth place as a CO2 emitter, surpassed only by the United States, China, Russia, India, and Japan.
According to the International Maritime Organization, ocean-going vessels released 1.12 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in 2007, an amount equal to that produced by 205 million cars. (Compare this number to the 135 million cars registered in the United States in 2006). This pollution Cruise Ship continues to be emitted and remains unregulated, while the shipping industry grows at an alarming rate of 5% each year.
Out of every industry that burns fossil fuels, the shipping industry uses the dirtiest fuel. (The fuel is so unrefined it can be solid at room temperature, so solid you can walk on it.) This dirty fuel releases a high rate of CO2, other greenhouse gases, and black carbon (soot). Black carbon is believed to be responsible for 30% of Arctic warming. Oceana is raising awareness about this problem and how we can dramatically reduce emissions by changing to cleaner fuel, using available technology to decrease emissions, and decreasing the amount of fuel used.
A 10% reduction in speed results in a 23.3% reduction in emissions. Ships can turn off their diesel engines while in port. Ships can utilize sail or kite technology, harnessing wind energy while out at sea. A special coating can be added to propellers, which reduces fuel requirements by 4%-5%. Oceana is educating the shipping industry about these and other energy saving and pollution reduction strategies. And voluntary changes are being made. But Oceana is also teaming up with Earthjustice, Friends of the Earth, and the Center for Biological Diversity to create regulatory change through the Environmental Protection Agency. A formal petition, which was ignored by the EPA, has been followed by a letter of intent to sue. If the EPA refuses to take action, the next step will be a lawsuit.
Commercial fishing creates enormous waste. Sixteen billion pounds of by-catch fish are wasted each year and hundreds of thousands of sea turtles, marine mammals, and seabirds are killed. U.S. commercial fishing operations alone throw away more than one million metric tons of fish each year, nearly a third of its annual commercial catch.
“Fishermen end up throwing fish and other sea life away for several reasons – they’ve caught the wrong species, gone over quota, or simply incidentally caught untargeted wildlife like sharks, sea turtles, and marine mammals,” says Sharpless. “To give one example, the pollock fishery in Alaska has incidentally caught tens of thousands of king salmon, a commercially important and vulnerable species, in its trawls.”
Oceana advocates a “count, cap and control” approach to reduce by-catch. This includes documenting the amount of by-catch, setting strict limits on acceptable levels, and taking measures to control and reduce it through interventions such as changes in fishing gear or by restricting fishing in areas with a history of high by-catch levels.
Sharpless tells us, “The federal government, following campaigning by Oceana, is evaluating establishing a cap, count and control program to limit salmon by-catch in the pollock fishery.”
Bottom trawling is a particularly destructive practice Oceana targets. “Trawlers used to raise their nets and heavy gear up over the rocks so they wouldn’t get destroyed, but now the technology is so sophisticated that they don’t have to, and the weight of the gear destroys everything on the seafloor, including coral beds and other living creatures that provide the nooks and crannies where little fish grow up into the bigger fish we enjoy eating,” says Sharpless. “Scientists believe that the extensive use of bottom trawls and dredges by commercial fishing causes more direct and avoidable damage to the ocean floor than any other human activity in the world.” As a direct result of Oceana’s advocacy efforts, more than 1 million square miles of seafloor is now protected from bottom trawling.
Mercury contamination is also a serious problem. When Oceana began its campaign to urge chlorine companies to switch to mercury-free technology, there were nine plants using outdated technology. In the last five years, that number has been reduced to four—which Oceana calls the “foul four.” These four plants are still dumping thousands of pounds of mercury into the environment each year.
Through Oceana’s Grocery Store Campaign, consumers are warned about high levels of mercury in predatory fish like tuna and swordfish, and are urged to limit their consumption.
Oceana’s current campaigns include efforts to save sea turtles, bluefin tuna, and sharks.
If you’re not a scientist or a politician, if you’re landlocked and thinking the only thing you can do to help the oceans is to reduce your carbon footprint—think again. Andrew Sharpless says, “Join Oceana! Sign up to be a Wavemaker at www.Oceana.org/join. We’ll email you when we need you to contact your member of Congress to help pass positive ocean legislation, and we’ll keep you up to date on Oceana news, challenges, and victories.”
Oceana is certainly making waves. And in their wake, the whole world reaps the benefits of Oceana’s hard work and dedication.
May 2004: Potty Training Royal Caribbean – Eleven months after the launch of Oceana’s Stop Cruise Pollution campaign, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines agreed to major reform of its waste treatment practices.
DECEMBER 2008: Sharks Get a Boost in Rome – Thanks in part to Oceana’s work, the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) in Rome, Italy, decided to boost conservation initiatives for four migratory shark species: the porbeagle, spurdog, shortfin mako and longfin mako. Nearly half of all migratory shark species are threatened with extinction due to overfishing and habitat degradation.
JANUARY 2009: Dr. Lark Caves – After more than a year of pressure from Oceana, Dr. Susan Lark announced that she will sell cosmetic products containing squalene derived from olives rather than deep sea sharks. More than 15,000 wavemakers contacted Lark, telling her it was unconscionable to sacrifice already at-risk shark populations for the sake of beauty.
AUGUST 2008: Costco Joins Green List — Costco Wholesale Corporation commits to warn its customers about mercury contamination in fish by posting the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) mercury advice on signs at seafood counters in all its stores. The move, prompted by requests from Oceana and Costco members, follows similar action by other major grocery chains nationwide.
JULY 2008: Freezing the Bering Sea’s Footprint – The National Marine Fisheries Service announces that it will adopt Oceana’s “freeze-the-footprint” approach by closing nearly 180,000 square miles of the Bering Sea to destructive bottom trawling to protect important seafloor habitats and marine life.
JULY 2008: U.S. House Protects Sharks – After campaigning by Oceana, the U.S. House of Representatives passes the Shark Conservation Act of 2008, which improves existing laws to prevent shark finning by requiring that sharks be landed with their fins still naturally attached in all U.S. waters.
JULY 2008: Saving Bluefin Tuna – Oceana launches a new campaign to document the plight of the bluefin tuna and to establish a sanctuary in the Mediterranean Sea, one of the world’s key breeding grounds for the species. Without intervention, scientists believe that bluefin tuna populations are headed for collapse.
JUNE 2008: Reducing Salmon By-catch in Pollock Fishery – The world’s largest fishery has taken the first step toward reducing wasteful king salmon by-catch. After pressure from Oceana and its allies, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council moved forward in June on capping salmon by-catch in the Alaska pollock fishery.
FEBRUARY 2008: Banning Mediterranean Driftnetting – The European Court of Justice rejects any further requests by the French government for exemptions from the EU ban on driftnetting in the Mediterranean Sea. This ruling will spare 25,000 juvenile bluefin tuna annually, along with 10,000 non-targeted marine species caught annually in the driftnets.
JANUARY 2008: Safer Seafood – Kroger and Harris Teeter grocery stores are added to Oceana’s Green List after agreeing to post the FDA advice about mercury in seafood. The Green List now accounts for almost 30% of the major market share of grocery companies.
MAY 2007: Cutting Fishing Subsidies – After campaigning by Oceana, the U.S. Congress passes resolutions supporting worldwide cuts in harmful fishing subsidies that lead to overcapacity in fishing fleets and thus to overfishing. Oceana is working with nations in the current World Trade Organization negotiations to end these harmful taxpayer handouts.
JANUARY 2007: Italy Closes Loopholes on Illegal Driftnetters – Two months after Oceana presented its findings to the scientific committee ACCOBAMS, the Italian Attorney General announced new efforts to crack down on illegal driftnetting by declaring it illegal for vessels to carry driftnets on board, regardless of whether or not they are being used when detected.
DECEMBER 2006: Pioneer Industries Switches to Mercury-Free Technology – Since early 2005, Oceana has urged chlorine companies to use mercury-free technology. Of the original nine plants that were using the outdated technology, Pioneer Industries is the fourth to convert.
DECEMBER 2006: New Magnuson-Stevens Act Passed – Oceana helped campaign for new legislation that significantly improves the protection of deep-sea corals and sponges from bottom trawling and other destructive fishing gear. This bill as passed makes marginal improvements to the existing Magnuson-Stevens Act.
SEPTEMBER 2006: Protecting Sharks from Finning – Oceana and other members of the Shark Alliance scored a major victory for sharks in the European Parliament when the Parliament decided to reject a recommendation from its own Fisheries Committee to increase the allowable ratio of shark fins to bodies from 5% to 6.5%.
JULY 2006: Saving the “Dolphin Deadline” – After months of persistent campaigning by Oceana, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation that maintains an important deadline for protecting tens of thousands of dolphins, whales, and other beloved ocean creatures from dirty fishing gears and practices.
MARCH 2006: Protecting Pacific Krill – The Pacific Fishery Management Council voted to prohibit commercial krill fishing in the federal waters off of California, Oregon, and Washington. More than 5,000 Oceana activists contacted the Council to support a prohibition on krill fishing in the Pacific to protect our ocean ecosystem food web.
SEPTEMBER 2005: Limiting Destructive Trawling – After two years of intensive lobbying by Oceana staff in Brussels and Madrid, the European Union prohibited destructive fishing practices, including bottom trawling, in over 250,000 square miles around the Azores, Madeira, and the Canary Islands.
MAY 2005: Stopping Illegal Oil Dumping – Responding to intensive advocacy by Oceana Europe, the EU Parliament approved new legislation to punish violators of international oil dumping laws.
MAY 2005: Protecting Pacific Corals – In an historic conservation move, the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council adopted the Oceana approach and closed nearly one million square kilometers of ocean to destructive trawling.
MAY 2005: Ending Backroom Deals in Fisheries – Oceana’s lawyers won a change in the rules for fishery policy-making in Chile that will stop government officials from keeping secrets. Now they must publicly disclose the information they use to set quotas and other rules for commercial fishing companies operating along Chile’s massive coastline.
APRIL 2005: Establishing an Observer Program – In Chile, for years a law to place professional observers aboard fishing fleets existed, but was ignored. Oceana successfully convinced the government to enforce the law and professional observers are now at last beginning to monitor Chile’s commercial fishing operations.
MARCH 2005: Protecting Marine Mammals – After lobbying by Oceana and other conservation organizations, the Chilean congress added ten new marine mammals to the government’s protected species list.
JANUARY 2005: Saving Dolphins and Whales from Active Sonar – After requests from Oceana, both the European Parliament and the Spanish Government took action to prohibit the U.S., NATO, and other navies from using active sonar in European waters.
February 2003: Saving 60,000 Sea Turtles – Oceana successfully pressured the government to require larger TEDs (turtle excluder devices) on shrimp nets in the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic Ocean, saving some 60,000 sea turtles a year.