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Oceana’s Approach on Earth Day and Every Day

In a new
 series of blog posts featuring our Vibrant Oceans Initiative partners and in celebration of Earth Day 2015, we asked Andrew Sharpless, CEO of Oceana, to share Oceana’s approach and the progress they’ve made in our work together.

Some organizations use Earth Day to celebrate accomplishments achieved on behalf of the planet despite the odds. Others use it for gentle prodding, urging us to turn off the lights or take shorter showers. Often, it sounds like a zero sum equation: what people want is bad for the planet, stopping human activity is what’s best for the earth.

Certainly human activity is dramatically transforming the planet and we need to change some of what we do, quickly and drastically. But at Oceana our approach posits that the best solutions contribute to both the good of the planet and that of humanity. Bloomberg Philanthropies, with a focus on spreading solutions that truly work, understands this, too. Humans are a permanent part of the equation. So how can we contribute to a positive balance?

Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Vibrant Oceans Initiative is a perfect example.  This initiative, in which Oceana is working with Rare and Encourage Capital, tackles different parts of the issue simultaneously, so that we can make faster, lasting progress.

Thriving fisheries are important for ocean health, species biodiversity and food security for millions of people globally. By campaigning for responsible fishing practices, Oceana has succeeded in setting catch limits, restricting bycatch, and preserving habitat around the world. It’s a win for the oceans and the species that live in them, and a win for the growing number of people who can depend on wild fish as a part of their diet.

Thanks in no small part to the generous contribution of Bloomberg Philanthropies, Oceana is now campaigning in the countries that control close to 40 percent of the world’s wild ocean fish catch. The Vibrant Oceans Initiative allows us to be more effective than ever, changing the way fisheries are managed and feeding more people by working with national policies, local communities, and private markets to change the way we manage our oceans.  One example of this is our work in the Philippines, where the Vibrant Oceans Initiative is reforming both local and industrial fishing simultaneously, while also integrating financial strategies to ease the transition to more sustainable fishing.

Saving a Strait in the Philippines

The Tañon Strait is a magnificent ribbon of water that stretches for a hundred miles between the Filipino islands of Negros and Cebu. It is home to 14 species of whales and dolphins, 26 species of mangroves, 18,830 hectares of coral reefs representing 15 families and seven species of seagrass. It is also one of the Philippines’ most productive fishing grounds and centerpiece of Filipino cultural heritage.

As a nation of over 7,000 islands where 1.3 million small-scale fishers depend on the sea for their livelihood, the country’s past and future are deeply tied to its waters. But destructive and illegal fishing across the Philippines have led to a 90 percent decline in fisheries since the 1950s. Oceana opened a permanent office in the Philippines in 2014 with the help of Bloomberg Philanthropies. One of Oceana’s first actions was to work with Vibrant Oceans partner Rare to gather an unprecedented group of Tañon Strait Protected Area Management Board members, conservationists and other stakeholders to discuss bold measures to address illegal fishing and ensure that the Tañon Strait is properly managed. The summit marked a critical step for rebuilding these fisheries and sustaining them for generations to come.

Just last month amendments to the Philippine Fisheries Code took effect, cracking down on illegal fishing activity and helping to rebuild fisheries countrywide. This means stiffer penalties for illegally fishing in municipal waters reserved for smaller-scale fishermen, damaging important habitat like mangroves, or using unlicensed fishing gear. The amendments also provide funds for job training and scholarship programs for fisher folk impacted by illegal and large-scale fishing, setting the Philippines on a path towards a more sustainable future for its fisheries.

Three Simple Things You Can Do

But making a difference for our oceans and the people who depend on them is not just about policy changes in faraway places.  Our everyday decisions also make a difference.  One billion people on Earth wake up hungry every day. Agriculture is the largest driver of terrestrial biodiversity loss. How can we transform this equation? Healthy, well-managed oceans can provide a nutritious meal every day for a billion people. In other good news, wild seafood requires minimal fresh water to produce, emits little carbon dioxide, doesn’t use up any arable land, and provides healthy, lean protein at a cost per pound lower than beef, chicken, lamb or pork.  So in homage to Michael Pollan’s memorable Food Rules, Oceana advises that you lead the change with your fork. To make your own difference, “Eat wild seafood. Not too much of the big fish. Mostly local.” With the help of a species-specific guide, such as the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch guide, available as an iPhone app, these guidelines will stand you in good stead.

Eat Wild & Local

Try to eat wild seafood, not farmed. The big exception to this rule is farmed shellfish, such as oysters and clams.

Eat Small Fish

Small fish such as sardines, anchovies and herring are largely free from the toxins that accumulate in larger fish and are generally caught without using destructive bottom trawling methods that can destroy centuries-old seafloor communities.

Eat big fish rarely and when you do, check with the Seafood Watch guide, or try to stick to the safe bets — like wild salmon.

Eat More Shellfish, But Steer Clear of Shrimp

Shellfish are filter feeders and these animals, farmed or wild, actually improve water quality and can be beneficial to degraded estuaries and coastal areas, so oysters and mussels are always good choices. But even in the highly regulated United States, 76 percent of the marine life that shrimp trawlers haul up isn’t shrimp at all, but species like sharks, red snapper and almost 9,000 endangered sea turtles each year.  Eating shrimp that is not responsibly caught perpetuates these losses.

Following these rules will help tip the balance towards more biodiverse, abundant oceans for future generations to depend on and enjoy.


Andrew Sharpless, CEO, Oceana

Andrew has led Oceana since 2003 as its Chief Executive Officer. Oceana, founded in late 2001, has grown in that time to be the largest international conservation organization fully dedicated to protecting the oceans.  Sharpless holds degrees from Harvard Law School, the London School of Economics, and Harvard College and is an advocate and a manager with wide leadership experience in business and NGO start-ups. He served as Executive Vice President of, TLC, Animal Planet, Discovery Health and The Travel Channel.