A reminder that we need to keep our oceans healthy came with the news in May that 35 percent of the corals on the Great Barrier Reef are dead or dying.

The Great Barrier Reef is one of the world’s largest Marine Protected Areas — safe havens in our oceans for plants and sea creatures of all kinds, from tiny algae and krill to large marine mammals. They help preserve natural barriers, such as coral reefs, mangrove swamps and wetlands, that shield coastal lands from being flooded during hurricanes and other natural events.

Governments, nongovernmental groups and local residents can collaborate to manage and protect these areas and our oceans. Scientists estimate that to safeguard marine fish and plants, 30 percent of the world’s oceans need to be protected. But less than 3 percent of our oceans are adequately protected.

Plastic bags floating in ocean water (Shutterstock)
Plastic bags polluting our oceans are mistaken for jellyfish by some marine animals. Ingestion results in death. (Shutterstock)

What are the threats?

A recent report from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warns that coral bleaching is increasing in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

Ocean acidification also takes a toll. It is caused by greenhouse gas emissions, particularly carbon dioxide (CO2), from coal-fired electrical plants, automobiles and other sources — the same pollutants that contribute to climate change.

Plastics clog our oceans and waterways, killing marine life and endangering human health.

Take action for our oceans

Even if you don’t live near the sea, you can do something. Each of these habits can help preserve precious ocean resources:

  1. Follow sustainability guidelines when you buy fish to eat, so that illegal fishing enterprises are put out of business.
  2. Take reusable bags when you shop.
  3. Take public transport to lessen pollution from motor vehicle emissions.
  4. Conserve water and energy.
  5. Recycle plastics and other products.
  6. Support government efforts to establish MPAs in your country.
  7. Help marine conservation organizations by volunteering your time or donating money.
Dead fish inside pile of nets sitting on beach (Shutterstock)
Fishing nets, especially longlines used commercially to net vast catches, end up killing birds, turtles and other marine animals. (Shutterstock)

Learn more

You can help protect the oceans. Start by checking out organizations such as

To quote oceanographer Jacques-Yves Cousteau, “The sea, the great unifier, is man’s only hope. Now, as never before, the old phrase has a literal meaning: We are all in the same boat.”

Download our free poster on marine protected areas.

People laying on a beach with grass in the foreground (Shutterstock)
The ocean benefits everyone, but it and its life-forms need protection. (Shutterstock)