What Is Marine Conservation?

The definition of Marine Conservation, including techniques and top issues

Transplanting corals to help with marine conservation
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Marine conservation is also known as ocean conservation. The health of all life on Earth depends (directly or indirectly) on a healthy ocean. As humans began to realize their increasing impacts on the ocean, the field of marine conservation arose in response. This article discusses the definition of marine conservation, techniques used in the field, and some of the most important ocean conservation issues.

Marine Conservation Definition

Marine conservation is the protection of marine species and ecosystems in oceans and seas worldwide. It involves not only protection and restoration of species, populations, and habitats but also mitigating human activities such as overfishing, habitat destruction, pollution, whaling and other issues that impact marine life and habitats.

A related term you may encounter is marine conservation biology, which is the use of science to solve conservation issues. 

Brief History of Ocean Conservation

People became more aware of their impacts on the environment in the 1960s and 1970s. Around this same time, Jacques Cousteau brought the wonder of the oceans to people through television. As scuba diving technology improved, more people took to the undersea world. Whalesong recordings fascinated the public, helped people recognize whales as sentient beings, and led to whaling bans.

Also in the 1970's, laws were passed in the U.S. regarding protection of marine mammals (Marine Mammal Protection Act), protection of endangered species (Endangered Species Act), overfishing (Magnuson Stevens Act) and clean water (Clean Water Act), and establishing a National Marine Sanctuary Program (Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act). In addition, the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships was enacted to reduce ocean pollution.

In more recent years, as ocean issues came to the forefront, the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy was established in 2000 to "develop recommendations for a new and comprehensive national ocean policy." This led to the creation of the National Ocean Council, which is charged with implementing the National Ocean Policy, which establishes a framework for managing the ocean, Great Lakes, and coastal areas, encourages more coordination between the Federal, state and local agencies charged with managing ocean resources, and using marine spatial planning effectively.

Marine Conservation Techniques

Marine conservation work can be done by enforcing and creating laws, such as the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act. It can also be done by establishing marine protected areas, studying populations through conducting stock assessments and mitigating human activities with the goal of restoring populations. 

An important part of marine conservation is outreach and education. A popular environmental education quote by conservationist Baba Dioum states that "In the end, we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught."

Marine Conservation Issues

Current and emerging issues in marine conservation include:

  • Ocean acidification
  • Climate change and warming ocean temperatures.
  • Sea level rise
  • Reducing bycatch in marine fisheries and entanglements in fishing gear.
  • Establishing marine protected areas to protect important habitats, commercially and/or recreationally-valuable species and feeding and breeding areas.
  • Regulating whaling
  • Protecting coral reefs through studying the problem of coral bleaching.
  • Addressing the worldwide problem of invasive species.
  • Marine debris and the issue of plastics in the ocean.
  • Dealing with the problem of shark finning.
  • Oil spills (an issue the public became well aware of thanks to the Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon spills).
  • The ongoing debate of the appropriateness of cetaceans in captivity.
  • Studying and protecting endangered species (e.g., North Atlantic right whale, vaquita, sea turtles, monk seals and many other threatened and endangered species).

References and Further Information:

  • The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Story: Marine Conservation. Accessed November 30, 2015.
  • ScienceDaily Reference. Marine Conservation. Accessed November 30, 2015.
  • U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy. 2004. Review of U.S. Ocean and Coastal Law: The Evolution of Ocean Governance Over Three Decades. Accessed November 30. 2015. 
  • U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy. About the Commission. Accessed November 30, 2015.
  • The United States Environmental Protection Agency. Ocean Dumping Timeline. Accessed November 30, 2015.
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Kennedy, Jennifer. "What Is Marine Conservation?" ThoughtCo, Sep. 1, 2021, thoughtco.com/what-is-marine-conservation-2291532. Kennedy, Jennifer. (2021, September 1). What Is Marine Conservation? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-marine-conservation-2291532 Kennedy, Jennifer. "What Is Marine Conservation?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-marine-conservation-2291532 (accessed June 2, 2023).