16 Biggest Problems For Our Oceans, Coasts & Marine Life

Oceans make up 71% of the earth’s total surface area, and these oceans and their wildlife are important in a number of ways for life on Earth.

As one example, the ocean provides more than half of the oxygen in the atmosphere, and absorbs the most carbon from the atmosphere (protectplanetocean.org)

Further to that, ocean-based businesses also contribute more than $500 billion to the world’s economy (protectplanetocean.org).

In this guide, we look at some of the biggest problems for our oceans, coasts and marine life.

We also look at some potential solutions to address these problems.


Summary – Biggest Problems For Oceans, Coast, & Marine Life, & Potential Ways To Start Solving These Problems



Destructive fishing practices

Predators are being killed, and other marine life are being killed perhaps unnecessarily

Ocean acidification

Coral dying

Ocean dead zones, eutrophication and algal blooms

Mercury pollution

Plastic waste pollution in the ocean, fishing gear dumping, and other types of waste pollution in the ocean

Irresponsible fish farming

Overall reduction in biodiversity

Offshore drilling and mining

Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing

Melting ice caps

Ocean shipping

Lack of protection

Coastline tourism and development


Potential Solutions

Read more about the following solutions in this guide about how to save the world’s oceans:

Limits and regulations on types and quantities of fishing allowed

More sustainable and ocean friendly fishing practices

Consumers can choose sustainable seafood, or switch to land sourced/produced sustainable food

Better protection of specific ocean species and organisms

Minimizing atmospheric CO2 from humans sources

Minimising (and managing) mercury release from human sources

Aim for more sustainable agricultural practices

Better management and treatment of sewage and waste water (and less dumping of untreated waste water into the ocean)

Aim for more sustainable mining practices

Aim for more sustainable electricity production practices

Aim for more sustainable transport practices

Minimise air pollution

Minimise soil/land pollution and contamination

Minimise plastic waste, fishing equipment and other waste going into the ocean

Reduce freshwater pollution

Reduce run-off, leaching and direct dumping overall, and better manage, treat and dispose of waste overall (that ends up in the ocean)

Explore the benefits of on-shore fish farming and aqua culture either as an alternative or complement to ocean fishing

Aim for more sustainable offshore drilling and mining practices

Invest in alternate income sources for citizens in countries where they rely on destructive ocean tourism to make a living

Regulate beachfront development to minimize environmental damage


1. Overfishing

Reduces marine wildlife numbers

Can threaten and endanger certain species (such as bluefin tuna and the orange roughy)

Species removal upsets the ecosystem and food chain because one species or type of animal might depend on another to survive

Certain fishing techniques pull too many fish, even unwanted fish, each catch (bycatching is a separate issue whereby unwanted marine life is pulled in the nets whilst trying to catch other marine life).

They aren’t sustainable.


The Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that over 70% of the world’s fish species have been entirely exploited or depleted

– worldoceansday.ca


2. Destructive Fishing Practices

Specifically with how catches are pulled

Bottom trawling destroys the sea floor habitat

– treehugger.com


Ghost Fishing is another issue where lost or discarded fishing gear continues to catch fish and other marine life

– worldoceansday.ca


3. Predators Are Being Killed, & Animals Are Being Killed For Specific Body Parts

Sharks in particular can be killed for their fins (for fin soup) … and the result is two fold

First, the waste of killing a shark for only it’s fins

Second, sharks are a predator in the ocean that help regulate numbers of other animals in the food chain.

When you remove a predator, lower animals on the food chain can overpopulate and cause issues

– treehugger.com


Whaling can be another issue – whales being killed causes issues in the marine ecosystem elsewhere

– worldoceansday.ca


4. Ocean Acidification

Ocean acidification … is the ocean’s water pH levels becoming more acidic (the level is lowering as opposed to staying slightly more basic)

The ocean absorbs a certain amount of naturally emitted CO2, but human activity produces C02 at an excessive rate.

This extra C02 is being absorbed by the ocean and shellfish, coral and other species are at risk of being threatened and eliminated if they can’t adapt quickly enough

– treehugger.com


5. Coral Dying

Coral supports small marine life, which supports bigger marine life, which supports humans

Coral is dying or at least becoming more stressed, mainly because of coral bleaching, caused by climate change and greenhouse gas emissions.

This makes the water warmer and harder for coral to live

– treehugger.com


6. Ocean Dead Zones, Eutrophication & Algal Blooms

Dead spots are a lack of oxygen – marine life can’t survive in areas with a lack of oxygen

Carbon dioxide from greenhouse gas emissions, and things that seep into or we dump into the ocean, are the main causes.

– treehugger.com


Fertilisers and pesticides can be a contributor – especially on coastlines where excess nitrogen and phosphorus cause algal blooms

–  oceanservice.noaa.gov


7. Mercury Pollution

Coal plants contaminate the water with mercury

The smallest marine life absorb it, and it works its way up the food chain to fish like tuna, and into humans

– treehugger.com


8. Waste, Plastic & Garbage Patches

Plastic and other waste pollutes the ocean

The Great Pacific Garbage patch is an example of a large gyre of plastic waste in the ocean

Plastic is a material that doesn’t naturally decompose in the environment – it can get ingested by wildlife and entangle them

Plastic also breaks up into micro plastics which are ingested by wildlife

[Plastic also costs money to remove from the ocean]

– treehugger.com


Read more about waste pollution in the ocean here, or specifically about plastic pollution in the ocean in this guide.


9. Irresponsible Fish Farming

Nutrient and chemical pollution can occur easily in open-ocean fish farming operations when fish feed, excrement, and medication is released into the environment.

Farmed fish accidentally released into wild populations can also have destructive effects, such as loss of native stocks, disease transmission, and damaging changes in habitat.

In China, 90 percent of fish food production comes from aquaculture (2006)

Overall, aquaculture in the marine environment contributes 34 percent of production and 36 percent of total value

– worldoceansday.ca, and greenfacts.org


10. Offshore Drilling & Mining

When oil is extracted from the ocean floor, other chemicals like mercury, arsenic, and lead come up with it.

Also, the seismic waves used to find oil harm aquatic mammals and disorient whales.

Furthermore, the infrastructure projects to transport the oil often create worse problems, eroding the coastline.

Lastly, oil is a fossil fuel that when burnt as an end product, contributes to climate change and warming of the ocean

– worldoceansday.ca


The International Seabed Authority, based in Kingston, Jamaica, has been handing out permits for exploration beneath the high seas – for example to the Russian Federation – to look for cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts within the Magellan Mountains in the Pacific.

– boatinternational.com


11. Overall Reduction In Biodiversity

With the above issues, such as threatening of species of marine life, and destruction of habitats, ocean biodiversity is decreasing

The number and variety of living organisms is decreasing

– protectplanetocean.org


12. Illegal, Unregulated & Unreported Fishing

Pirate fishing is a large component of overfishing, causing estimated losses to coastal states of $10 to $23 billion annually.

Illegal fishing is as much as 40 per cent of the catch in some fisheries.

– boatinternational.com


13. Melting Ice Caps

The shrinking Arctic ice cap is a problem for polar bears, but it is also introducing species new to the region such as mackerel and Arctic cod and could in theory increase the amount of human food available.

There is a need to manage fishing in waters that were formerly under the ice for most of the year.

– boatinternational.com


14. Ocean Shipping

Ocean shipping results in oil spills, ship groundings, anchor damage, and the dumping of rubbish, ballast water, and oily waste are endangering marine habitats around the world.

– wwf.panda.org


15. Lack Of Protection

Only a tiny fraction of the oceans has been protected: just 3.4%

Some areas need more protection than others because of environmental damage and wildlife depletion

– wwf.panda.org


16. Coastline Tourism & Development

Housing, hotels, construction and holiday tourism are all threats to coastlines by damaging habitats and contributing pollution

– wwf.panda.org


Other Notes

Fishing provides a lot of jobs and money for the economy

Certain wildlife are fished for their health benefits of oils

Geo-engineering has been tried with the ocean – limestone to reverse pH levels, and iron filings to help suck up C02

– treehugger.com


Potential Solutions To Ocean Problems/Issues

Might include:

Traditional ocean conservation strategies

Introduce fishing bans on certain types and species of wildlife, and on predators like sharks

Introduce more sustainable fishing practices and techniques

Consumers can question restaurant servers, sushi chefs, and seafood purveyors about the sources of their fish, and read labels when we buy from store shelves. Treehugger.com has sustainable seafood slideshows that will show you what you want to look for when you’re choosing your next meal, and what to avoid.

Reduce the amount of carbon emissions via human activity (will reduce acidification and coral bleaching and uptake of carbon by oceans)

Decrease our dependence on fertiliser and pesticides in agriculture

Be more careful about what chemicals and toxic substances, as well as what waste water gets dumped into our oceans (currently, about 80% of waste water globally is dumped untreated)

Introduce and maintain more protected ocean areas


Read more about the above issues and problems in this Treehugger.com resource



1. https://www.treehugger.com/clean-technology/the-ocean-has-issues-7-biggest-problems-facing-our-seas-and-how-to-fix-them.html

2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ocean_acidification

3. https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/eutrophication.html

4. http://www.greenfacts.org/en/fisheries/l-2/01-fisheries-production.htm#5

5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marine_conservation

6. https://wwf.panda.org/our_work/oceans/problems/

7. http://www.protectplanetocean.org/collections/introduction/introbox/oceans/introduction-item.html

8. https://www.boatinternational.com/destinations/of-the-biggest-threats-to-the-oceans–26353

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