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The five biggest threats to the world's oceans

16 May 2022

With extreme climate events becoming increasingly frequent around the world, the urgency of reducing global warming and protecting the environment has rocketed to the forefront of our collective socio-political consciousness in recent years. For good reason: Scientists from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have issued a sobering warning that we only have until 2030 to make the significant changes required to limit climate change. Although the climate crisis will disproportionately affect the poorest 10% of the planet it is an existential threat facing every living being. 

The ocean, containing 97% of the world’s water, is one of the greatest causes for concern. It sustains all life on Earth, accounting for 80 per cent of the planet’s biodiversity, but its health is in rapid decline. Below, learn about the key concerns endangering our oceans – and what we can do to save the seas.

Plastic Pollution

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Plastic is emblematic of unethical consumerism; it is cheap to manufacture, durable and disposable. As a result, vast quantities pollute our oceans.  It is estimated that a truckload of plastic is dumped into the ocean every minute, damaging ecosystems and entering the food chain. Turtles, dolphins and seabirds can mistake it for food or become entangled and injured. Plastic has been found in the oceans as deep as 11km, meaning synthetic fibres have contaminated the most remote places on Earth. A chilling estimate suggests that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the water than fish (by weight).


Use less plastic by cutting down on everyday items like straws, coffee cups and plastic cutlery. Instead, integrate reusable items and long-life bags into your daily routines.

Donate to and support ocean cleanup projects.

Hold corporations accountable with your cash - Coca Cola, Nestlé and PepsiCo are the worst offenders for plastic pollution.

Oil drilling and pipelines

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Regrettably, we have learnt precious little from oil-related catastrophes, such as Deepwater Horizon and Exxon Valdez, as oil spills continue to happen with alarming regularity. Within the first month of 2022, Peru witnessed one of its most catastrophic environmental disasters when 10,000 barrels of crude oil from the Repsol refinery spewed into the Pacific Ocean. In reality, oil spills only actually account for 10% of marine oil pollution, with the rest coming largely from shipping and oil drilling. Our dependence on oil is killing fish, mammals and seabirds and is destroying entire ecosystems. Although marine oil pollution has decreased in recent decades, decisive action is needed to combat this issue.


Go sustainable – use electric cars, switch to solar power, turn your heating down, and choose petroleum-free beauty products.

Make your voice heard – political scrutiny can force corporations to change harmful policies.

Melting Ice Caps

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We’re all too familiar with heart-wrenching images of polar bears stranded on dwindling icebergs, but the effects of melting ice caps are far more wide-reaching in their devastation. As glaciers and sea-ice fall away into the water, changes in ocean currents will continue to disrupt weather patterns worldwide. Storms are growing in intensity and deadliness and floods are taking place with greater frequency. These effects are felt most immediately by indigenous communities, who have reported significant alterations in their way of life, including depleted fish numbers and coastal erosion. Sobering estimates suggest that the Arctic Ocean could be ice-free during summer within 20 or 30 years.


Mitigate the human cost of melting ice caps by donating towards grants for indigenous communities.

Dying Coral Reefs

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Thousands of animal species make their homes in tropical coral reefs, making them the most diverse marine ecosystems on earth. Unfortunately, we are facing reef loss at alarming rates. An estimated 50% of the Great Barrier Reef is already dead and it is almost entirely due to human activity. Coral reefs face a variety of stressors, including unsustainable tourism, rising sea temperatures, pollution and overfishing. These factors culminate in coral bleaching, a process that eventually kills reefs. The fishing industry is dependent on coral to support marine life but it also protects coastlines from the damaging effects of surging seas.


Practice safe boating - anchor in sandy areas away from coral and sea grasses so that the anchor and chain do not drag on nearby corals.

If you dive, don't touch - coral is extremely fragile and contact with humans can destroy its protective layer of mucus.


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Some 28.8 per cent of the world’s wild fish stocks are estimated by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) as overfished. About 61.3 per cent are said to be “fully fished.” That means 90 per cent of the world’s wild fish are either fully or over-exploited. This is due to destructive fishing practises, such as bottom-trawling, which destroys seabed habitats by accumulating huge levels of bycatch. Furthermore, the rapacious greed of the fishing industry has resulted in rampant human rights abuses of workers aboard fishing vessels. In future, we must conform to sustainable standards of fishing to avoid depleting our oceans entirely.


Eat less fish – go veggie or buy MSC approved fish.

Donate to the Environmental Justice Foundation to combat bottom trawling and human rights abuses.