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Oceans are one of the most fascinating and vital ecosystems on the planet. They absorb excess CO2, helping us to regulate climate, produce oxygen, and provide a home to 500,000 - 10 million marine species. Unfortunately, thanks to climate change, pollution, and unsustainable fishing, oceans and their ecosystems are under threat. In fact, by 2050, 90% of coral reefs — which hold most of the ocean's biodiversity — will be gone.
This problem may seem so big and scary that we find ourselves lost trying to figure out what to do to actually save the ocean. To ease your mind and inspire your next volunteering project, we have compiled a list of actions that create a meaningful impact in saving the ocean. Here, you will find links to the organizations successfully leading these initiatives and how you can get involved from any part of the world.
Every year, 4-12 million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean. A large part of this plastic comes from land runoff which flows to the sea carrying litter, oil, mercury, pesticides, and agricultural fertilizers. Plastics threaten marine life if they ingest them or get trapped in them, while pesticide runoff, in addition to being toxic to marine life, can also produce algal blooms that lead to dangerously low levels of oxygen.
Most of the ocean’s plastic comes from industrial activities and fishing gear. Similarly, runoff often comes from industrialized agriculture and improper waste management and disposal or unregulated activities like oil and gold mining. Thus, to reduce the levels of pollution in the ocean, we must advocate for policies that regulate single use plastics, ensure proper waste disposal, and regulate mining activities and the use of pesticides and fertilizers.
Oceana is currently at the forefront of this fight. As the largest ocean conservation organization, it has achieved over one hundred policy changes that regulate waste disposal and single use plastics by leading awareness campaigns and holding polluting companies accountable for their actions. Oceana also leads efforts to end major sources of ocean pollution such as the oil and the aquaculture industry. You can be part of this change by passing a resolution on your own on their website or looking at their projects all over the world to find inspiration for starting your own project on a local scale by looking at what has been effective for them.
Moreover, if you are based in the US and are a high school student, you can work with teachers to create a school or community-based ocean conservation project to register as an Ocean Guardian Classroom. This allows students to take action in their own hands and with their own approach. Projects can be anything from awareness campaigns and improving water waste systems to developing green purchasing programs to reduce waste and pollution (which often ends in the ocean).
Our coasts are home to thousands of fish and plant species and help filter natural runoff, preventing pollutants from entering the ocean. They also provide resilience to coastal areas against climate change and improve water quality for a healthy marine habitat.
Surfrider Foundation takes a grassroots approach to effectively protect coasts. Surfrider has the largest network of Coastal Defenders in the World. Volunteers test water quality, engage in city council meetings about coastal protection, and participate in beach clean-ups. Their success is thanks to their grassroots approach that engages in dialogues and collaborates with coastal communities on conservation projects. For example, this year they pushed for an increase in NOAA’s Coastal Management Budget Increase.
Although they are based in California, you can join as a volunteer not only in the US, but also globally, where they are leading other coastal protection and monitoring projects in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Japan, Morocco, and more.
"Saving the ocean may seem like it involves huge projects with fancy names and big budgets, but in reality, all these projects have arisen from individual actions that, with enough devotion and planning, have scaled up to maximize their reach and impact. Nonetheless, a project doesn't need to be fancy and big to be effective."
Life in the ocean and life on land are deeply interconnected. By having healthy soils and forests, we prevent harmful chemicals and pollutants from reaching the oceans. This can be achieved by limiting and regulating the use of fertilizers used by shifting to less polluting practices such as precision agriculture. Furthermore, forests are the second-largest carbon sink after the ocean, meaning that they absorb CO2, removing it from the atmosphere and reducing its effects as a greenhouse gas. Excess CO2 contributes to ocean acidification and coral bleaching, and ,as corals are home to a vast array of marine life, losing them would be detrimental to our ocean’s beautiful marine biodiversity.
PUR Project works closely with local communities in South America, South Asia, and Europe, teaching local populations about agroforestry so that they benefit from natural resource preservation while also generating an income from agriculture. So far, they have preserved over 400,000 hectares and helped 54,000 farmers.
Another example of a successful project is the Green Belt Movement. Created by Nobel Prize winner, Wangari Maathai, The GBM “uses a watershed-based approach to restore degraded watersheds of key water catchments to improve their functions and improve the livelihood of the local communities.” Similar to the PUR Project, they have been successful at restoring forests and land ecosystems while creating an income source for communities in Kenya. You can engage with the GBM by becoming a Hummingbird and expanding this tree planting project to your own community. You can also download their materials to use for advocacy campaigns.
Although a big part of saving the ocean focuses on working towards the future, it is also important to protect what still remains. Restoring corals and marine ecosystems is an essential part of preventing further damage and giving us extra time in our efforts.
For instance, The Ocean Conservation Trust recently launched a massive seagrass restoration program in the UK. Seagrass is essential for climate change fighting as it can absorb up to 35 times more carbon than rainforests. Seagrass is also essential for restoring ocean biodiversity and health. You can support OCT efforts by donating through their website or fundraising to support their efforts and increase awareness.
"Successful projects are those that engage local communities and leaders and maintain a long-term commitment to their cause."
Saving the ocean may seem like it involves huge projects with fancy names and big budgets, but in reality, all these projects have arisen from individual actions that, with enough devotion and planning, have scaled up to maximize their reach and impact. Nonetheless, a project doesn't need to be fancy and big to be effective.
Successful projects are those that engage local communities and leaders and maintain a long-term commitment to their cause. Projects can be anything from a creative advocacy project using arts or social media to planting trees or creating a coast protection system. Even leading a monitoring project to track water temperatures or health can also be a great contribution, as you’d be adding to the research of other scientific conservation projects.
If you are inspired by this article, we at ámaxa are here to help you lead truly impactful climate change and ocean conservation projects. Through the ámaxa student impact program, we match you with a team and a mentor to guide you in solving a real problem - in this case, a real climate or ocean conservation problem - over 4-6 months. Our first student cohort is currently providing remote volunteers for students in Palestine, funding solar powered lights for grandmothers of AIDS orphans in Uganda, furnishing homes for resettled Afghan refugees in Colorado, and much more. Visit our website and apply today to be a part of our next cohort!