The ocean dominates our planet, covering over 70% of Earth and generating almost all its oxygen.
They are critical for life on earth, regulating the climate and absorbing up to 50% of the carbon dioxide humans produce by burning fossil fuels.
Despite their importance, only “8% of the world’s oceans are protected.”
Ocean conservation is the best way to change that, and many ocean charities are working hard to protect and preserve our marine ecosystems and prevent the over-exploitation of ocean resources.
What are Ocean Charities and What Do They Do?
Ocean charities seek to protect marine life, reduce plastic pollution, create sustainable fisheries, and increase awareness of the impact climate change has on our oceans.
Different charities target different aspects of ocean conservation, with some focusing on reducing threats to coral reefs and others on developing sustainable fishing practices.
The following 11 charities work on a political and public level to save our oceans. One of the best ways for you to make a positive impact is to join one of these organizations and support their cause.
The 11 Best Ocean Conservation Charities
#1 The Ocean Conservancy
The Ocean Conservancy was founded 50 years ago to find long-term solutions to some of the biggest threats facing our oceans and the wildlife within them.
As a non-profit advocacy group, the Ocean Conservancy campaigns for policy changes that protect our oceans.
It focuses on reducing human impact, restoring sustainable fisheries, and advancing ocean justice.
Over the past year, Ocean Conservancy has celebrated landmark victories like California’s Plastic Pollution Producer Responsibility Act, and is currently working with the Florida Aquarium to find solutions to the dangerous and destructive red tides threatening the Gulf of Mexico.
The Ocean Conservancy is also involved with the International Coastal Cleanup® (ICC) movement that organizes beach clean-ups all over the world.
Since it began 35 years ago, volunteer organizations and individuals have retrieved over “348 million pounds of trash”.
Oceana was the first global organization to focus solely on the world’s oceans.
It was established in 2001 after a report revealed that “less than 0.5 percent of all resources spent by environmental non-profit groups in the United States went to ocean advocacy.”
Since its inception, Oceana has won a series of significant victories, including banning bottom trawling fishing operations in sensitive habitats and reducing plastic pollution.
The CEO of Oceana, Andrew Sharpless, presented a report at COP27 advocating for a complete ban on the expansion of offshore drilling operations, a move he says “could reduce emissions by 6.3 billion metric tons a year.”
The organization also campaigns to protect sensitive habitats and marine life in vulnerable places, like the Arctic.
So far, they have “protected nearly 4 million square miles of ocean” and won over 225 policy victories.
#3 Nature Conservancy
This global non-profit initiative seeks to combat climate change and the global loss of biodiversity.
Established in 1951, Nature Conservancy is one of the oldest conservation organizations in the world and currently runs over 100 projects focused solely on ocean conservancy.
Nature Conservancy works to protect coastlines across the world, improve the health of coral reefs, and create sustainable fisheries while restoring critical habitats.
In 2022, the Nature Conservancy teamed up with Disney and Avatar to raise awareness about ten vulnerable marine species and habitats, including mangroves and manatees.
The Nature Conservancy encourages its supporters to reduce their carbon footprints, participate in volunteer activities, and support their campaigns to stop ocean exploitation and safeguard the future of our marine life.
#4 Coral Reef Alliance
The Coral Reef Alliance works with communities throughout the world to reduce threats to coral reefs and develop sustainable ways to protect them.
On a global scale, the Coral Reef Alliance partners with other NGOs, scientists, and policymakers to convert research into action and address global threats like coral bleaching.
The largest international organization focusing solely on coral reefs, the Coral Reef Alliance is currently working in Guatemala to reduce overfishing and ocean sewage.
It also has a project in Hawaii designed to prevent land-based pollution from entering the ocean and create a cleaner environment for the coral reefs of both Maui and Hawaii Island.
The Coral Reef Alliance uses science-based solutions to create healthier environments for coral reefs so they can naturally evolve to cope with the effects of climate change.
#5 The 5 Gyres Institute
The 5 Gyres Institute’s ocean conservancy focuses on plastic pollution and how the ocean’s natural currents accumulate plastic waste in large areas like the Great Pacific Garbage patch.
Using a combination of scientific research, education, and community engagement, the 5 Gyres Institute is “working toward a future free of plastic pollution.”
Established in 2009, the institute has driven numerous conservation projects to reduce ocean pollution and clean up the marine environment.
Since 2010, the 5 Gyres Institute has been campaigning to get single-use plastics out of national parks. It recently helped launch The Plastic-Free Parks TrashBlitz, which aims to get a clearer picture of the types of plastic threatening the environment.
#6 Parley for the Oceans
- A – Avoid plastic wherever possible and replace it with eco-initiative materials
- I – Intercept plastic that could end up in the environment through recycling and upcycling initiatives
- R – Redesign packaging and other materials to make them more environmentally friendly
Parley for the Oceans brings creative thinkers together with scientists and researchers to develop “alternative business models and ecologically sensible products.”
In 2019, Parley for Oceans spearheaded a project to create a recycled American Express card, highlighting the impact the banking industry has on the environment and offering consumers a greener alternative.
Greenpeace is well-known for its efforts to stop environmental crimes and raise awareness about global environmental issues.
Since its inception in 1971, Greenpeace has been one of the world’s most influential players in ocean conservation.
It played a key role in the campaign to end bottom trawling fishing operations in sensitive habitats, including Dogger Bank off the east coast of England.
Other notable victories include the ban on seismic blasting and offshore oil exploration in the Argentine Sea and off the coast of South Africa.
Currently, Greenpeace is focusing on reducing plastic pollution by calling on companies like Coca-Cola, Nestlé, and PepsiCo to “stop fueling the plastic pollution and climate crises by investing in reuse and refill solutions.”
#8 Marine Megafauna Foundation
The main aim of the Marine Megafauna Foundation is to protect marine wildlife and improve the management of marine protected areas.
When it was founded in 2003, the foundation focused exclusively on the marine megafauna found along the coast of Mozambique but has since expanded its operations worldwide.
The group uses ground-breaking technologies to track and monitor vulnerable marine life, including sharks, rays, and turtles.
The information they gather is then used to develop sustainable conservation solutions.
In Florida, the Marine Megafauna Foundation is busy gathering data about the resident population of manta rays.
They hope to identify and protect critical habitats and provide government agencies with data to further their conservation efforts.
#9 Ocean Defenders Alliance
This organization works to reduce marine debris by sending out crews of volunteer divers to retrieve abandoned fishing gear, including nets, lines, and traps.
Founded in 2002, the group works alongside coastal communities in both Hawaii and California. They aim to promote ocean health by removing manmade debris that endangers the lives of vulnerable marine animals.
The alliance plans to expand its efforts to other areas of the California coast, including San Diego and Ventura Counties, in due course.
The Ocean Defenders Alliance is calling for volunteers to assist with beach clean-ups and fundraising campaigns onshore, while experienced divers, skippers, and mechanics are needed to join their boat crews.
#10 Project AWARE
Also known as the PADI AWARE Foundation, this non-profit organization campaigns to inform policy change, raises awareness about the threats facing our marine environments, and organizes extensive clean-up operations.
Since it was established in 1989, Project AWARE has successfully campaigned for more sustainable fishing practices, increased awareness of the challenges facing our global shark population, and removed over “2 million pieces of trash from the ocean.”
Project AWARE also played an integral role in getting the CITES to limit the international trade of vulnerable species, including sharks.
Working alongside the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI), Project AWARE is committed to combatting climate change, creating marine protected areas, and protecting vulnerable marine life.
SeaTrees is a global project founded by the non-profit organization Sustainable Surf.
Its marine conservation focuses on protecting and regenerating “blue-carbon coastal ecosystems,” such as mangrove forests, coral reefs, and seagrass meadows.
These critical ecosystems remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than the rainforest and are integral if we are to reduce the effects of climate change.
The organization works with local coastal communities to regenerate kelp forests in California and restore mangrove forests in Indonesia.
It has also successfully regenerated coral reefs off the coast of Nusa Penida Island in Bali, providing a habitat for over 500 fish species, many of which are vulnerable to extinction.
How Can People Support Ocean Charities?
Donating money to an ocean charity is the most obvious way to show your support, but it’s not your only option.
Many of these non-profit organizations need volunteers just as much as they need funding.
If you’re into scuba diving, why not join Project AWARE or become a volunteer diver for the Ocean Defenders Alliance?
If you prefer to stay on dry land, you could help with a local beach clean-up or attend a Greenpeace event.
You could also add your name to a petition, symbolically adopt a marine animal, or host a fundraising event.
Another way to support marine conservation is simply to reduce your own plastic waste by opting for recycled packaging and using local recycling facilities.
You could also tackle your carbon footprint and help slow down global warming.
There are lots of ways to support marine conservation – it’s not all about money – but funding is a huge problem for many ocean charities, and even a small donation can make a big difference.
What are the Challenges Faced by Ocean Charities?
The ocean is a huge place and supports a diversity of ecosystems and marine life.
Currently, our understanding of those ecosystems and their inhabitants is extremely limited.
We have only explored 5% of the world’s oceans, limiting our understanding of which species or habitats are most in peril.
Many species living in the ocean are highly migratory, making tracking them, and gathering data about their habitat use, reproductive needs, and food sources extremely challenging.
Great swathes of the ocean also go undiscovered and unprotected because they fall into Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ).
In zones like these, marine conservation depends on international agreements that are difficult to achieve.
Even when multiple nations agree on a policy change, it isn’t always enforced effectively, especially when it comes to commercial fishing operations.
Many parts of the ocean are also extremely remote, making law enforcement and marine research expensive and logistically challenging.
Funding is also limited with around 60% of all global marine protected areas complaining of inadequate financing.
There are also some 500 million people relying on the ocean for food and income, so marine conservation needs to balance its goals with the needs of those coastal communities.
Many charities are working around the world to save our oceans from today’s greatest global challenges, and all of them need funding and volunteers.
Some marine charities focus on marine debris and plastic pollution, while others seek to promote healthy fisheries or the regeneration of sensitive habitats.
Some organizations perform scientific research to improve our understanding of the ocean and its inhabitants, while others concentrate on promoting clean water initiatives and beach clean-ups.
Whatever your concerns about the future of our oceans, there’s an organization out there that aligns with them, and can help you make an impact.
Whether you choose to offer time, money, or simply your voice, there’s a way you can contribute to the efforts of the best ocean charities and help find sustainable solutions to the enormous challenges facing our oceans.
Nicky is a British adventurer and animal lover who spends her time exploring the natural world and writing about her experiences. Whether on horseback, underwater, running, hiking or just standing with a fishing rod in hand, she embraces everything her adopted home of South Africa has to offer.