6 Ocean Conservation Issues (And How You Can Help)

September 27, 2017

The ocean cover more than 70 percent of our planet's surface, contains over 352 quintillion gallons of seawater, and provides a home for over 1 million species of plants and animals. With its almost unimaginable size, you'd think the ocean would be invulnerable, but in fact the ocean, and the life within it, is seriously endangered by human activity from pollution to climate change. In this month's blog, we break down 6 major ocean conservation issues.

You’ll learn more about each them below, discover how we’re working to save our seas, and find out what you can do to help. As you’ll find below, each of these are big problems with far-reaching consequences, but as you’ll also find, we all have the power to make a difference.


Marine Debris

Marine debris comprises pretty much any item in the ocean that doesn’t belong there. This can include plastics, metals, rubber, fishing gear, and a number of other man-made items. Once these items are discarded in the ocean, they can move thousands of miles away on the wind and currents. These bits of garbage are not only an eyesore, they can destroy habitats like coral reefs, injure or kill marine life, and even damage ocean vessels.

What We’re Doing

As the coordinator for the Texas General Land Office’s Adopt-A-Beach cleanup program, we organized 850 volunteers in 2016 to help clean up local Texas beaches. We combed North Beach and Packery Channel Park, picking up more than five tons of garbage. These events not only made our beaches a little bit cleaner, but educated the public on the issue of marine debris.

What You Can Do

You can do your part to reduce ocean debris simply by being responsible for your own trash. Never litter, and recycle as much as you can. When you go to the beach, try bringing along a trash bag and picking up trash you come across – you may find it’s even more fun and fulfilling than a day spent sunbathing.

Plastic Pollution

Of all the pollutants affecting the ocean, plastics are by far the biggest problem, making up eighty percent of more of marine debris. Plastics like water bottles, six-pack rings, and ziploc bags can litter the ocean for hundreds of years, since they don’t biodegrade easily. Plastic items can also kill and injure wildlife, some of which may even accidentally ingest these items. Harmful toxins in plastic can also leech into sea water, poisoning animals’ natural habitats.

What We’re Doing

We lead by example to show how you can phase out plastics. Last year, we made a huge reduction in plastic use by eliminating bottled water from our premises, choosing boxed water instead. We’ve also gotten rid of many single-use plastics, such as plastic bags from our gift shops. Every year, we look at new ways we can recycle, reduce waste, and minimize plastic pollution in our ocean.

What You Can Do

We all need to reduce our dependence on plastic. With plastic being cheap and readily-available, that may sound difficult, but you can start with small acts like using a resuable shopping bag instead of a plastic one, swearing off bottled water, and choosing glass and paper packaging whenever possible. By reducing the demand and use of plastic, you help keep more of it out of the trash and out of the ocean.


“There’s plenty of fish in the sea” may be a common expression, but the reality is there are fewer and fewer fish swimming the ocean every year. A rising demand for seafood and highly-efficient fishing technology have led to many species being removed from the ocean faster than they can repopulate. Many popular fish are now at serious risk of going extinct. If that were to happen, millions of people would not only be deprived of a vital food source, but countless other species that depend on those fish could also go extinct.

What We’re Doing

We combine entertainment with education on sustainable seafood at our popular Seafood Wars events. Talented local chefs compete to whip up the most delicious sustainable seafood dish, while our guests vote for the winner. A speaker also informs the audience on the importance of sustainable seafood. Our guests leave having not only enjoyed a tasty meal, but with a greater awareness of sustainable seafood and why they should support it.

What You Can Do

While there are laws in place to prevent overfishing, they aren’t always effective. It’s the consumer that will ultimately make the difference. Research every bit of seafood you buy to make sure it’s sustainable, meaning that its providers have ensured the population stays healthy for future generations. Online tools like Seafood Watch make it easy to determine exactly where your fish comes from. While you may pay a bit more for sustainable seafood, the long-term cost of not going sustainable – for the Earth and for the people on it – will be much higher.

Endangered Vaquitas

The vaquita, the world’s smallest porpoise, is facing extinction, with 30 or fewer left in the wild. Their main threat is entanglement is nets used by fishermen seeking the totoaba, a fish which commands a high price on the black market. With the situation growing desperate, conservationists and officials have kicked off an ambitious plan to capture the remaining vaquitas and place them in a protective seapen, where they would be safe from harmful human activity and might even be able to breed.

What We’re Doing

Saving the vaquita has been our passion project for some time, with the Aquarium donating $75,000 to date for rescue, conservation, and education efforts. In addition to our significant financial contributions, we raise awareness on the plight of the vaquita through social media, interpretive displays in our Dolphin Bay exhibit, and by commemorating International Save the Vaquita Day. As more members of the public hear about the vaquita and its plight, we hope they are inspired to help care for this endangered marine mammal and fight for its conservation.

What You Can Do

A main obstacle to the ongoing efforts to save the vaquita is that so few people even know it exists. You can help us get the word out about this animal and the need to save it by sharing news over social media and with friends and family. The hashtags #SaveAVaquita and #4aporpoise will also allow you to coordinate and connect with other vaquita conservationists. If you want to contribute to the plan to save the vaquita, you can also donate at www.vaquitacpr.org.

Climate Change

Climate change is the most urgent threat facing the ocean today. As greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide trap energy from the sun, the ocean is absorbing more and more heat. This results in an overwhelming amount of environmental issues, including rising ocean temperatures, an increase in sea levels, and alterations in climate patterns. The disastrous effects of climate change can already be seen in coral bleaching events, the mass migration of species, and ocean acidification, and things could soon get much worse.

What We’re Doing

Our building maintains a number of green initatives which reduce our own impact on the climate, including several energy-efficient features. We institute eco-friendly restroom flush systems, LED lighting and automatic light-switches, a solar panel array, and an electric car charging station to help shrink our carbon footprint and show our guests that green energy options are the best possible choice you can make.

What You Can Do

You can reduce your carbon footprint in a number of small but effective ways. Switch off lights and electronics when not in use, and choose energy-efficient appliances. Carpool and use public transportation when you can, and try out alternatives to driving such as walking and riding your bike. If you’re able, choose a vehicle and utility company that gets its power from clean and renewable sources.


Ultimately the biggest challenge with ocean conservation is a lack of awareness and action. While there are dedicated environmental advocates doing their best every day, ocean conservation is still not getting the attention it needs. It will take motivated and vocal supporters like you to ensure a healthy future for the oceans and the environment as a whole.

What We’re Doing

Our education programs run year-round, reaching thousands of children and creating the next generation of passionate conservationists. In 2016, we reached over 77,000 children to communicate the need to protect animals and the environment, both for the sake of wildlife and our own. While we love to offer a place where families come to learn, bond, and discover together, we hope our guests also leave the Aquarium with a greater appreciation for our seas and the need to conserve them.

What You Can Do

Everyone has a voice, so make yours heard. Write your legislators and research issues to determine how your vote affects the environment, then show up during important elections. Using the Internet and social media, you can also reach thousands of other people. Most importantly, your opinion can influence friends and family more than a stranger ever could. Tell them about why ocean conservation is important to us all and how they can help. Just remember whatever you do, it’s never a drop in the ocean. Your passion for conservation can set off a ripple effect that transforms into a wave of change for the ocean and the Earth as a whole.

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