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Oceans

A resilient ocean sustains marine life and functioning ecosystems that support rich biodiversity, food security and sustainable livelihoods

Overview

vibrant coral

$2.5

Trillion

Economic benefits generated by the ocean per year

The ocean covers more than two-thirds of our living planet’s surface and is home to spectacular ecosystems and treasured wildlife. No matter where you live, you’re never far from the ocean’s reach.

The value of the marine world goes well beyond biodiversity—the ocean sustains the lives of more than 1 billion people, regulates our climate, produces half the oxygen we breathe, and fuels the water cycle that produces rain and freshwater. But after decades of overuse and pollution, these services are being interrupted.

One out of three fish stocks is overfished. Hundreds of thousands of marine mammals, seabirds, and sea turtles are captured each year, along with tens of millions of sharks. Half of all coral reefs and mangroves are gone.

Taking better care of our ocean is something we must do together. WWF is working to build a more resilient ocean by improving how we manage what goes in and what comes out of the ocean, all while protecting important regions, like the Arctic, and threatened ecosystems like coral reefs and mangrove forests.

From the front lines of climate change, Arctic Youth Ambassador Gabriel Stenek shares one village’s story

Located on a tiny island in the Chukchi Sea, just north of the Bering Strait and 20 miles below the Arctic Circle, Shishmaref has struggled for decades with coastal erosion and flooding attributed to climate change. Arctic Youth Ambassador, Gabriel Stenek share's its story.

Portrait of WWF Arctic Youth Ambassador.

Why It Matters

  • Regulating Global Climate

    Our ocean plays a crucial role in keeping the planet’s temperature balanced and driving weather, such as rainfall and winds. Unfortunately, it's also absorbed most of the planet’s warming—over 90%—and a significant amount of our carbon pollution as a result of human-caused climate change. Warmer ocean waters are driving stronger storms and bleaching coral reefs. As the ocean absorbs carbon dioxide, it becomes more acidic, threatening most shelled organisms, including small crustaceans that are fundamental to the marine food chain.

  • Sustainable Livelihoods

    The ocean is a lifeline for people around the world, generating at least $2.5 trillion worth of products and services each year. Fishing alone supports more than 260 million jobs. Only a healthy ocean can keep this economic engine running.

  • Food Security

    Seafood is the major source of protein for roughly 1.5 billion people. But according to the UN Food & Agriculture Organization, one out of every three assessed wild fish populations have been harvested beyond their limit and cannot handle the pressure that would come from adding more boats, nets, or poles. There are also regions with little enforcement of rules where the most destructive fishing practices continue to damage habitats and ecosystems, as well as the marine life that calls them home.

  • Marine Life

    Scientists estimate more than 2 million species live in ocean waters and nine out of 10 haven’t been fully identified. The Marine Living Planet Index recorded a 36% overall decline in the abundance of vertebrate marine life between 1970 and 2012. Unsustainable fishing is the primary direct threat to marine wildlife, followed by habitat degradation, which can also include a loss of food sources.

What WWF Is Doing

No Plastic in Nature

One dump truck full of plastic waste enters our ocean every minute. That’s 8 million tons of plastic every year impacting marine wildlife and people.

“We need to shut off the faucet of plastic that is leaking into our environment,” said Nik Sekhran, chief conservation officer at WWF-US. “Embracing a holistic approach from design to disposal will put us on a path toward transforming the entire value chain and get us closer to our goal of no plastic in nature.”

The WWF report No Plastic in Nature: A Practical Guide for Business Engagement examines the scope and causes of the plastic waste crisis and offers a clear and pragmatic guide for businesses to lead the much-needed plastics revolution. 

Increasing sustainable fishing

Learn more how WWF is preventing illegally caught seafoodfrom entering our food chain.

Fishing is one of the most significant drivers of declines in ocean wildlife. WWF is working around the world to scale improvements in fishing, reduce the catch of iconic ocean wildlife, and eliminate incentives for illegal fishing.

WWF recognizes the Marine Stewardship Council standard as the leading certification program for wild-caught fisheries but not all fishing is ready for certification. WWF developed the fishery improvement project model to fill the gap and draw together stakeholders, assess what needs to improve, identify how the improvements will be made, and ultimately report back on progress. WWF is accelerating the transition by leveraging key pressure points in order to achieve improvements faster, such as working through fishing associations and regional bodies.

WWF is also connecting communities with tools that empower local control of resources, with projects in Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean to help small-scale fishers secure access and tenure rights, adopt best practices, and use technology to improve reporting and transparency.

At the same time, WWF works to stop criminals from stealing from legal fisheries, which renders good management much less effective. WWF works with partners worldwide to close borders in the major seafood importing countries to illegally and unsustainably harvested seafood through government regulatory and voluntary private sector actions.

Building Resilient Coastal Ecosystems

A mangrove

Where land meets a sea is often a place of spectacular biodiversity and ecological beauty. The coastal zone makes up only 10% of the ocean environment but is home to over 90% of all marine species. Coral reefs and mangrove forests provide people and nature with numerous benefits, but we’ve lost half of these ecosystems, and stand to lose even more from the pressures brought on by development and climate change.

WWF is working toward the goal of expanding the extent of mangrove cover 20% by the year 2030. This collaboration through the Global Mangrove Alliance leverages the knowledge, expertise and ongoing work of local, regional and global organizations to improve management and conservation efforts.

Mangrove ecosystems are closely connected to coral reefs, and WWF is focused on saving the reefs that are important to neighboring communities and have the best chance of surviving a warmer, more acidic ocean. From Coastal East Africa to the Coral Triangle, WWF is advancing our scientific understanding of coral reefs and creating the tools that support community-led conservation, which includes marine protected areas.

Safeguarding the Arctic

Melting ice along the Bering Strait

Today, the Arctic is experiencing rapid and dramatic transformation. Warming is occurring faster here than anywhere on the planet. As sea ice vanishes, wildlife like polar bears lose vital feeding grounds and the ocean is opened to increased ship traffic and oil and gas exploration, putting nature and people at risk.

There are WWF staff on the ground in seven of the eight Arctic nations and we’ve been on-the-ground for 25 years, supporting local communities and collaborating with experts in science, policy, and planning. We work to strengthen Arctic-wide governance, advance climate-smart, sustainable development, and secure permanent protection for ecologically critical areas.

In addition to promoting good stewardship of some of the richest and most biologically diverse areas of the US Arctic, such as the Bering Strait and Bristol Bay, WWF is working through the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental forum made up of the eight Arctic nations, to protect wildlife and subsistence harvesting by securing inter-connected and well-managed protected areas throughout the Arctic.

Projects

  • Incorporating blue carbon in Kenya's national green house gas accounting

    WWF and the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute are carrying out a carbon stock assessment of the mangroves in Lamu County, Kenya, and plan to link this science to the country’s national climate policies.

  • Incentivizing Sustainable Fishing on the High Seas

    A Global Think Tank led by WWF as part of the Common Oceans ABNJ Ocean Partnerships Project—an initiative funded by the Global Environment Facility and implemented by the World Bank—identified a new theory of change that accounts for gaps in the governance of high seas fisheries. 

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Experts