Oceans Issues & Threats

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

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

© Greenpeace / Robert Visser

With such an incredible amount of plastic waste taking over our oceans, we are witnessing a pollution crisis occur around the world. Trash is being eaten by marine life and has entered every level of the food chain — even ending up in the seafood on our plates.

Global fish populations — a critical source of food for millions of people — are in danger of collapsing due to widespread and destructive fishing practices. The global industry is overrun with human rights violations — from human trafficking and forced labor to debt bondage and inhumane working conditions

Currently, there is very little protection for our threatened marine life and dwindling fish stocks — with less than two percent of our oceans set aside as marine reserves, it has become all too easy for our natural resources to be exploited from lack of protection.

The time to act is now.  The threats that plastic pollution and overfishing pose to the health of our oceans is clear — without adequate protections and corporate responsibility, we face creating irreversible damage and the collapse of some of the most important food sources in the world.

Plastic Pollution

Single-use plastic is everywhere: soda bottles, bags, food packaging, coffee cups, lids, straws — you name it. We’ve been told for decades that recycling is the solution for these disposable products, yet a whopping 90% of global plastic isn’t recycled — and an enormous quantity of it is ending up in our oceans. Without significant and urgent change, we face handing the next generation a garbage dump instead of an ocean, unfit for marine life.

Protecting Ocean Sanctuaries

This year we have the opportunity to create the largest protected area on Earth — an Antarctic Ocean Sanctuary bigger than California, Florida, New York and Texas combined. It would ensure a safe home for future generations of animals, and protect the waters from industrial fishing vessels, currently sucking up the tiny shrimp-like krill, on which all Antarctic life relies.

The Antarctic ocean supports an abundance of incredible sea life — penguins, whales, fish, seals, and colossal squid. But a warming climate and expanding industrial fishing are threatening this vital ocean and its iconic creatures.

Meanwhile, we are pushing the international community to deliver on its commitment to create a new high seas biodiversity treaty. With less than 2 percent of the world’s oceans strongly protected, The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources must create a mandate and a process through which we can move much more quickly toward a goal of protecting 30% of the ocean by 2030.

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.

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 who depend on them. Globally, more than three billion people rely on our oceans and coastal ecosystems for their livelihood.

As we have depleted fish populations, it has become more difficult for many fishing captains and companies to turn a profit. Increasingly, unscrupulous operators are cutting costs by denying the fishermen and women who work on their boats a living wage. Some are not paid at all, even after months or years working long hours without setting foot on land. Through a series of interviews with fishermen and women, we uncovered disturbing stories where people were worked to exhaustion and beaten if they dared complain. Many were denied access to sufficient food or water, and some were forced to eat bait to survive.

Human rights and environmental concerns are inextricably linked. When companies deny fishermen a living wage, they can afford to keep more boats on the water. This further drives overfishing, creating a spiral that threatens our oceans and fishermen alike.

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 were driven to the brink of extinction. 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 one 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. The good news is that the moratorium on commercial whaling Greenpeace and allies won in 1986 — honored by all but Japan, Iceland, and Norway — is slowly helping most of the great whale populations to recover.



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