We defend marine species and habitat from overfishing, offshore oil drilling, the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification, plastic pollution and a host of other threats. The impacts of our work stretch from the Gulf of California to the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic, the Hawaiian archipelago to Japan, and Antarctica north to the Arctic Circle.


Ocean waters cover three-quarters of the globe and are vast, mostly undiscovered havens for mysterious and diverse life. But the open oceans are also a free-for-all, barely regulated or policed. International laws to protect them are drastically inadequate to address threats like large-scale commercial fishing, which sweeps life out of the seas at unprecedented rates — often only to discard the unusable “bycatch.” Tragically, that discarded bycatch includes thousands of severely injured or slain sea turtles, seabirds, and marine mammals annually.

Meanwhile the oceans are rising, warming and becoming more acidic because of our overreliance on fossil fuels. Offshore drilling fuels climate change and threatens marine life and coastal communities. Plastic pollution fills our oceans, choking wildlife and carrying toxins throughout the food web — yet industry is increasing U.S. plastic production using our oversupply of fracked gas.  

We're working to tackle some of the biggest threats with strategic campaigns.  


• Scientific analysis
• Petitions and litigation to list species and protect critical habitat under federal law
• Policy reform through advocacy and litigation
• Strategic litigation to address threats to marine biodiversity and public health
• Communications and media outreach
• Organizing campaigns against plastic and fossil fuel projects
• Building power and mobilizing people for change


The Center's Oceans program has ...

• Shut down the most destructive fisheries in the Pacific for endangered species — among others, the set-gillnet fishery off central California, including Monterey Bay, which drowned sea otters, harbor porpoises, elephant seals, sea lions and seabirds. We also shut down the California-based swordfish longline fishery, which killed leatherback and loggerhead sea turtles, and a lobster fishery that was starving Hawaiian monk seals.

• Won Endangered Species Act protections for Southern Resident killer whales, Southwest Alaska sea otter, Cook Inlet beluga whales, bearded and ringed seals, 22 species of corals, chambered nautilus, Taiwanese humpback dolphin, white abalone and black abalone.

• Secured critical habitat protection of 120 million acres for polar bears;  685 miles of beaches and more than 300,000 square miles of ocean for loggerhead sea turtles; 7,000 square miles for Hawaiian monk seals; nearly 40,000 square miles of the Atlantic Ocean for North Atlantic right whales; and 36,000 square miles of the Bering Sea for one of the world's most endangered whales, North Pacific right whales.

• Forced California to adopt new rules for the commercial Dungeness crab fishery to prevent deadly entanglements of endangered whales and sea turtles by publicizing skyrocketing entanglements and winning reforms in court.

• Won a precedent-setting lawsuit blocking Liberty, the first offshore drilling project in federal Arctic waters, because of the federal government’s failure to properly consider its impact on endangered species and climate change. 

• Organized national coalitions of hundreds of community and conservation groups to petition the feds for new water and air pollution regulations for plastic plants; created and promoted the Presidential Plastics Action Plan asking President Biden to rein in plastic production and pollution.

• Campaigned for Obama’s permanent removal of Arctic and Atlantic waters from the federal offshore oil-leasing program, then successfully defended those protections in court after Trump tried to rescind them; organized a national campaign that defeated Trump’s attempt to expand offshore drilling into almost all federal waters.

• Blocked Formosa Plastics’ attempt to build one of the world’s largest plastic-making complexes in St. James Parish, Louisiana, using strategic litigation, community organizing, and an aggressive media and communications strategy.

• Successfully petitioned and sued the federal government to make Hawaii declare two beaches impaired by plastic pollution, triggering requirement to address the problem.

• Won lawsuits to protect critically endangered North Atlantic right whales from fishing-gear entanglements and harmful seismic airgun blasting; successfully petitioned the agency to extend a rule protecting the whales from ship strikes.

• Filed a lawsuit against the federal government resulting in a moratorium on fracking off the California coast, as well as a suit helping force the disclosure of offshore fracking’s environmental impacts; organized grassroots resistance against Southern California fossil fuel development.

• Filed a groundbreaking petition that required the Environmental Protection Agency to address CO2 impacts on the ocean under the Clean Water Act. Carbon dioxide is making ocean water acidic, posing huge threats to marine species and the ocean web of life.

• Successfully sued the U.S. Navy over its indiscriminate use of sonar and explosions in the Pacific Ocean that were injuring whales and other marine mammals, forcing the military to develop new studies and plans to govern future operations. 

Check out our press releases to learn more about actions by Center's Oceans program.

Banner photo © Robin Silver