While researching this topic, I felt enormously encouraged by the number of marine conservation charities that I stumbled upon, because I knew that each one represented a group of people working tirelessly for the ocean’s future. It’s all too easy to become mired in hopelessness when considering the damage already done to the oceans by the human race. We have plundered fish stocks with such indiscriminate greed that 90 percent of all large wild fish species have disappeared from our oceans. Over 25 percent of all shark and ray species are faced with extinction, while every year, we are inundated with scenes of mass cetacean slaughter in places like Taiji and the Faroe Islands. Pollution and climate change have wreaked untold devastation upon the planet’s coral reefs, and in the Pacific Ocean lies a flotilla of plastic waste measuring several million square miles. And yet, despite the extent of the damage done, all is not lost. Marine conservation charities like the ones I discovered provide a glimmer of hope in the darkness, a bright flame for the future of our oceans that we can help fuel by offering our support. The sheer number of marine charities can be overwhelming in itself, making it difficult to choose which one to donate to (whether that be in terms of your time or your money). Here we’ll take a look at five of those charities, each one focusing on a different aspect of marine conservation.
Focus: Shark and ray conservation
The Marine Megafauna Foundation (MMF) is a U.S.-registered charity whose primary research base is located in Tofo Beach, Mozambique. Although the organization began by focusing on the research and conservation of whale sharks and manta rays along the Mozambican coastline, its efforts have expanded significantly in recent years. Nowadays, the MMF also works to conserve other megafauna species like whales and turtles, while its chief scientists have contributed to conservation projects in Ecuador, Mexico, Belize, Myanmar, Indonesia, Qatar, Tanzania and Brazil. MMF was founded by Dr. Andrea Marshall, the manta-ray scientist responsible for discovering the distinction between the two species of manta, and Dr. Simon Pierce, a renowned whale-shark expert who has contributed to the IUCN Red List assessments for five separate elasmobranch species. MMF’s primary objective is to conduct scientific research, providing the data necessary to encourage protective legislation for the species that it studies. The organization is also involved in educational outreach programs and supporting sustainable tourism in Mozambique. Those who wish to support MMF can make a donation directly through their website, or sign up for one of the organization’s hands-on volunteer programs.
Focus: Promoting sustainable fishing practices
Registered as a non-profit organization in the U.S., Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP) focuses on helping global seafood supply chains to source stock from sustainable fisheries, as well as improving those fisheries that don’t currently meet sustainability standards. Its overall mission is to motivate all those involved in the seafood industry to help recover depleted fish stocks, and to limit the industry’s environmental impact. This organization has created a database named FishSource, which includes profiles of thousands of international fisheries and details the sustainability and improvement needs of each one. Seafood companies use the database to make informed decisions when selecting a supplier, which positively influences their sustainability policies and helps them adhere to environmental guidelines. In those areas where fisheries are not yet considered sustainable, SFP implements Fishery Improvement Projects (FIPs), which encourage collaboration between all relevant stakeholders (from the fishermen themselves to the buyers, suppliers and producers) in order to promote better fishery management policies. SFP is also involved in a global program designed to mitigate the effects of ocean acidification, and provides leaders of the seafood industry with the information necessary to help them tackle this issue.
Focus: Cetacean conservation
Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) is a global charity dedicated to the protection of all cetacean species. Registered in both the U.K. and the U.S., WDC acts as an advisory body to international governments, conducts field research and rescue, and spearheads numerous conservation projects and campaigns. This charity’s vision is a world where every whale and dolphin is safe and free; to that end, WDC campaigns against the whaling activities of countries like Japan, Norway and Iceland, lobbies against the annual dolphin hunts in Taiji and the Faroe Islands, and fights for the abolition of captive whale and dolphin shows. WDC believes that scientific research is vitally important if cetacean species are to be given legal protection, particularly as many species are currently classified as data deficient on the IUCN Red List. WDC has supported over 185 conservation field projects in more than 40 countries over the past two decades. The organization also offers an annual research grant of up to £5,000 (around $8,000) to promote non-invasive cetacean research methods. The charity also promotes education initiatives, encourages supporters to take an active part in fundraising and awareness events and offers an extensive cetacean adoption program.
Focus: Marine conservation education
Sustainable Seas Trust (SST) is a South African non-profit that focuses particularly on educating people from a wide spectrum of socioeconomic backgrounds about marine conservation issues. The organization’s founder, Dr. Tony Ribbink, has written extensively on marine conservation issues. SST aims to promote conservation, sustainability and habitat restoration through educational materials that include posters, books and films. These materials are used to influence policy makers, and are also distributed throughout South African schools, many of them in impoverished coastal communities. SST focuses particularly on raising awareness about the importance of the marine environment amongst communities like these because the cooperation of these communities is vital to uphold legislation protecting coastal areas. By offering education and skills training to the South African people, SST hopes not only to help the oceans but also to address human issues like poverty and food security. SST’s projects include creating educational materials, involving members of the public in citizen-scientist research initiatives, and sponsoring events such as community beach cleanups and educational photo walks for schoolchildren. SST will also be facilitating South Africa’s first six Hope Spots, to be launched this December.
Focus: Global coral reef health
The Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL) was originally founded in 1994 to encourage the dive community to get involved with the protection of the world’s coral reefs. Since then, this NGO has grown into a global organization that focuses on working with local communities to ensure the protection and sustainability of coral reef ecosystems. Currently, CORAL runs projects in Hawaii, Honduras, Indonesia, Mexico, Fiji and Palmyra Atoll, adopting a multi-faceted approach to reef conservation that tackles the many issues facing these delicate marine habitats. CORAL recognizes the importance of incentivizing local communities to care about conservation in order to enable the long-term success of marine-protected areas and national parks. To that end, the organization helps these communities identify and fund new, sustainable business ventures within protected areas that allow them to earn a living while adhering to local conservation laws. CORAL also focuses on education, from funding scholarships for high school and college students in Fiji to providing educational materials promoting shark and coral conservation to schools in Indonesia. Additionally, CORAL has developed a voluntary code of standards for hotels, dive operators and shops that help these businesses to impact the environment positively while promoting sustainable eco-tourism.
These five charities represent just the tiniest fraction of the organizations that are doing amazing work for our oceans’ future. If you are interested in supporting a charity like the ones detailed here, I encourage you to do some research of your own, and find the one whose ethos and purpose most closely reflects your personal interests and beliefs. Find the one that ignites your passion and fuels your desire to help fight for our oceans so that when you’re faced with marine conservation issues, you will feel empowered rather than powerless.