What We Do: Protecting Our Oceans

Dive into Greenpeace's Oceans campaign and learn how you can help us stop overfishing, end commercial whaling, and create worldwide marine reserves - including the Bering Sea.

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Overfishing, pollution, bycatch, and global warming are major threats to ocean life.

  • Three quarters of global fish stocks are overfished.

  • 90 percent of top marine predators are already gone.

  • Global warming is causing the ocean to warm and acidify, in turn putting more pressure on already struggling ecosystems.

Since Greenpeace was formed in the early 1970s, protecting ocean life has been a cornerstone of our work. Read more about our motivation to defend the oceans, now more than ever

The destruction of our oceans depends on an industrial system that is outdated, brutal, and wasteful. Industrial fishing methods and gear, like bottom trawlers and fish-aggregating devices, destroy sensitive habitat and leave fish with no place to live—or hide. The barbaric behavior of commerical whaling is still pursued by a handful of nations. And only 2 percent of the world’s oceans are under any kind of protection at all, not nearly enough for species and habitats to recover. The following is a short list of some of the biggest threats to ocean life:

Overfishing and destructive fishing practices

Factory fishing are devastating our oceans.

Three quarters of global fisheries are considered overfished, and 90 percent of the population of top ocean predators have disappeared. As these top predators die off, their numbers are replaced by faster growing species, upsetting the ecosystem and changing it significantly.

The fact is, there are too many boats chasing too few fish. The fishing industry has vessels that can stay out on the water longer and catch more fish than ever before. We are fishing faster than fish populations can restore themselves.

Some of the important fish species that are being fished at unsustainable rates include:

  • Menhaden: Considered by many scientists to be the “most important fish in the sea,” this small fish is an important food source for dozens of predators in the Atlantic Ocean, including whales and the striped bass.

  • Atlantic Herring: Along the diverse and beautiful ocean waters of New England, Atlantic Herring populations are being decimated by a form of fishing called "pair trawling." Very large nets are pulled by two relatively small fishing vessels resulting in bycatch, a marine species caught unintentionally from this industrial fishing. Pair trawls have been known to catch whales in their pursuit for fish!

  • Pollock: This is a hugely popular fish and may be best known for being the primary ingredient in McDonald’s Filet O’ Fish sandwich. Three major pollock fisheries in the Bering Sea and the Gulf of Alaska have been closed or severely limited due to overfishing. A fishery is an area dedicated to the raising and harvesting of fish.

Some factory fishing vessels can carry thousands of tons of fish, as many as the haul for entire nations, processing them at sea while more are caught.

Destructive Fishing Practices 

While fishing technology improves, fish populations decline. Vessels can pinpoint the location of schools to exploit, and Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) can attract fish right to them. Enormous purse-seine nets then just scoop up whatever has gathered from the ocean.

Bottom trawling and dredging are two of the most destructive fishing methods now practiced worldwide. Essentially, they are like running giant plows with nets attached across the seafloor, scooping up whatever is around, and demolishing the living community. Trawling and dredging have been particularly destructive to slow-growing corals, which are also highly vulnerable to ocean acidification. As with purse-seine nets, trawling and dredging are indiscriminate and wasteful.

READ MORE about bottom trawling.

Longline fishing, or longlining, is another wasteful and indiscriminate method of industrial fishing. Like its name suggests, it consists of baiting thousands of hooks along lines that are often many miles long. Often ships have multiple longlines set at once, snagging thousands of creatures as the lines are pulled through the water. Needless to say, longlines are not choosy about what species they catch, much like trawling, dredging, and purse seine nets.

Bycatch is a sickening euphemism for all the “unwanted” species that are caught, or the animals brought onboard (and usually killed) that were not originally targeted. Bycatch often includes sea turtles, albatross, sharks, and manta rays. This bycatch is often tossed back dead in the water. Every year, fishing nets kill up to 300,000 whales, dolphins, and porpoises around the world. It was the issue of dolphin bycatch related to the tuna industry that brought this serious issue to public attention.

READ MORE about bycatch

What Greenpeace is doing about overfishing & destructive fishing practices

  • Greenpeace continues pressure on major fishing companies, particularly those that sell canned tuna including Bumble Bee, Chicken of the Sea and Starkist, to stop destructive fishing practices.

  • Every year, Greenpeace releases the Carting Away the Oceans Report which ranks US grocery retailers on their sustainable seafood policies. In recent years, we’ve been pleased to point to real leaders in the industry including Safeway and Whole Foods with their affordable and sustainable canned tuna products as well as ocean conservation initiatives.

  • Several areas in the ocean should be protected all together from destructive fishing. The Bering Sea Canyons is one of those places, and Greenpeace is working hard to push for its protection from the North Pacific Fishery Management Council with the support of allied organizations and retailers.

What YOU can do

  • Take advantage of our Sustainable Seafood Hub designed for consumers to inform yourself about how you can shop sustainably during your next grocery trip.

GET STARTED at the Sustainable Seafood Hub 

  • Talk to your local seafood retailer as much as possible. Ask questions and learn how to read labels.

  • If you live near local seafood suppliers, shop as locally and small-scale as possible! It’s always better to know exactly where your food is coming from.

  • Limit your consumption of Red List species as much as possible. A Red List species is one a species that has been fished to the extent that they are approaching total stock collapse. You can find our list here of Red List species.

FIND OUT what's on the Red List


It's hard to believe it still happens

Whaling was rampant for so long that many species of whales may never recover. In the United States, the North Atlantic right whale has a lonely population of about 350. The blue whales of the Antarctic are at less than 1 percent of their original abundance. West Pacific grey whale populations are the most endangered of the world's great whales, hovering on the edge of extinction with just slightly more than 100 remaining. Most of the international community has organized under the International Whaling Commission to create international law that lets the world’s whales recover in peace

A few countries, namely Japan, Norway and Iceland, continue to ignore a 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling. Every year they kill thousands of whales to feed a black market of illegal whale meat.

READ MORE about Japan and whaling 

READ MORE about Norway and whaling 

READ MORE about Iceland and whaling .

Unfortunately, there is also a domestic threat to whales and other marine life right off the coasts of the United States. President Obama has shown great leadership by supporting the South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary. Unfortunately, he has also allowed Navy sonar testing and seismic testing from the oil and gas industry. By their own reports, the testing will result in massive numbers of marine life injuries and fatalities.

Learn more about seismic and sonar testing

Whales are also regularly caught in commercial fishing nets, and their habitats and food supplies are threatened by global warming, ocean acidification, and overfishing.

What Greenpeace is doing to protect whales

  • Ensure that the Obama administration uses their diplomatic leverage to close the loopholes and end all commercial whaling.

  • Persuade many of the countries currently voting with Japan to overturn the commercial whaling moratorium to reconsider their approach and instead vote to protect whales.

  • Continue exposing Japan’s black-market whale meat trade—that is both unpopular and uneconomical—to create a public discussion in the Japanese media about the future of whaling.

  • Work to protect whales & other marine life in US waters from harmful seismic and sonar testing, from both oil & gas exploration and from Navy testing.

What YOU can do

Tell President Obama to live up to his campaign promises to save whales from illegal whaling from Japan and Iceland.

TAKE ACTION to save whales

Ocean Pollution, Ocean Acidification, and Global Warming

Oil spills and other pollution at sea only account for a fraction of ocean pollution. In fact, nearly half of the huge amount of waste we load into the sea comes from activities on land.

Another third comes from airborne pollutants.

Terrestrial sources of ocean pollution include: Domestic sewage, industrial discharge, leakage from waste storage, urban and industrial run-off, accidents like chemical spills, dumping of garbage and waste at sea, and mining.

Another major source of ocean pollution is the runoff of fertilizers and pesticides. In the case of fertilizers, also known as nutrient runoff (although there’s nothing healthy about it when it gets to the ocean), huge dead zones often result, like the one in the Gulf of Mexico the size of Connecticut. In these dead zones, algae blooms so significantly and uses up so much oxygen that marine life struggles to survive. A dead zone Sustainable agricultural and land use practices has real impacts on the health of our oceans.

The dumping of radioactive waste as sea has been banned since 1993, however radiation contamination is still a problem for our oceans. Most recently fish on both sides of the Pacific Ocean have been found with high levels of radioactive contamination as a result of the Fukushima nuclear meltdown in Japan. The normal operation of nuclear power stations also pollute the sea, but far worse are nuclear fuel reprocessing plants, like the ones at La Hague, France and at Sellafield, UK.

The same stuff that contributes to global warming, namely higher concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide, is also having a disastrous effects on the oceans. Some of that extra CO2 is being taken up by the oceans, causing them to become more acidic. This is changing the very medium in which ocean life survives. For many creatures, particularly vulnerable corals and crustaceans, ocean acidification is threatening basic survival itself.

In the North Pacific there is floating whirlpool of plastic and garbage that is about the size of Texas. This trash vortex, also known as the Eastern Garbage Patch is one large and visible sign of a much bigger problem: plastic, which is produced and discarded wantonly the world over, is choking our oceans and ocean life. Large pieces pollute waterways and beaches and are broken down by the tides into smaller and smaller pieces. Those small bits are ingested by all manner of marine life.

LEARN MORE about the trash vortex and plastic pollution 

What Greenpeace is doing about ocean pollution

  • By promoting and advocating for widespread renewable energy use and leaving polluting energy sources like oil and coal behind, Greenpeace is working to protect oceans from global warming and pollution.

  • Greenpeace internationally works to eliminate plastic and other trash pollution for our oceans by promoting proper recycling and takeback programs as well as more sustainable packaging.

What YOU can do

  • Use less plastic so it doesn’t end up in the ocean. Carry a refillable water bottle with you and reusable bags to the grocery store.

  • To reduce global warming pollution and ocean acidification, be mindful of your energy use. Switch to energy efficient products, unplug appliances when not in use and try to limit your vehicle use as much as possible by using public transportation, biking or walking if that’s available to you.

  • Stay involved in your community’s conversation about its energy source. Communities are all over the country are working towards clean, renewable energy.

READ MORE about one city’s push for solar

These threats alone are pushing oceans and their inhabitants to the brink. They are a threat to the survival of all people, most immediately the one billion coastal people who depend on the ocean for their daily survival.

We are motivated to defend the oceans by our respect for the oceans and all marine life. And we are emboldened by our bonds with the many coastal communities, sustainable fishing communities and indigenous people we have come to know during our more than 40 years advocating for the oceans.

Greenpeace’s work began on a ship in 1971. We’ve never left and we never will.