The Ocean

© CI/photo by Sterling Zumbrunn
© CI/photo by Sterling Zumbrunn

If it's raining where you are, the ocean played a role. If you drove to work, the seas are absorbing the carbon dioxide from your car. If you ordered seafood for lunch, it may have traveled halfway around the world to land on your plate.

No matter where you live on Earth, what you do affects the ocean — and what happens to the ocean affects you.

The ocean covers more than two-thirds of the world's surface. In the past 50 years we have learned more about Earth's ocean than in all of preceding human history. But, at the same time we learned more, we lost more.

IN DEPTH: CI's global marine program

The amount of marine life we extract to feed ourselves is astronomical, and some of our fishing methods — dynamite fishing, bottom trawling, cyanide fishing, and other techniques — cause great damage to current and future fish stocks and to the underwater world in which they thrive. Today, 90 percent of the ocean's top predators are gone. Entire populations of fish, and the communities and economies they support, have collapsed. Seafloors look like war zones. Corals have been bleached white from chemical runoff. Dead zones — vast swaths of ocean that can no longer support life — are spreading throughout the marine realm.

These critical issues don't deter us. With our partners, we've embarked on a scientific mission that will tell us exactly where species and marine ecosystems are most threatened and what actions we can take to reverse them. Our research to date has already helped strengthen three protected “Seascapes” in critical marine areas around the world.

Our partnerships are diverse. Some of the industries we work with to protect marine life may surprise you:

  • We work with businesses like Wal-Mart and McDonald's to help them develop sustainability guidelines for the fish they sell to consumers.
  • We partner with the cruise industry to help them understand their impact on the oceans, and make operational adjustments to protect marine life and coastlines.
  • We advise policymakers on effective ways to balance economic necessities with the health of our oceans.

From the beaches to the deserts to the mountain tops, the ocean affects everyone. We're working to keep it safe and productive balancing the needs of both people and nature.

The human element

Protecting marine ecosystems through protected area designations is critical for biodiversity conservation. However, people and communities living in or around protected areas must be given sufficient consideration in the conservation equation.

Bypassing populations who depend on marine resources not only restricts livelihoods and economic development, but it also runs the risk of limiting the achievement of conservation goals. In order to achieve success, people must be allowed to interact with and benefit from their surrounding environment so long as it is both responsible and sustainable.

Conservation International addresses these issues by looking at balancing and linking economic development with biodiversity conservation goals. This fosters community relations that not only cultivate interest in conservation objectives, but also raise living standards for community members.

Learn more about our work with communities to improve human well-being through ocean conservation »


We know more about the surface of Mars than we do about the seafloor of our own ocean, even though it provides 98 percent of the biological zones where organisms can live, produces most of the atmospheric oxygen we breathe from photosynthesis in microscopic oceanic plants, supplies food to one in four people every day and shapes powerful forces in our climate. We urgently need to know more about the ocean and this is one of the driving reasons for our expeditions.

Explore a few of the places we've studied »

Priority areas



Seascapes enhance ocean health through good governance of large marine areas. Learn about the seascapes model and explore successes in the Eastern Tropical Pacific, Bird's Head and Sulu-Sulawesi Seascapes.


Oceans are vast places, touching multiple countries and continents. CI is working at a regional scale to rally government leadership and public action, especially through the creation of new seascapes and other innovative policies.





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