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4 Ocean Victories of 2020

2020 has been quite a year. We’ve faced a global pandemic, a contentious election, worsening climate change impacts and unprecedented economic and social challenges. Things have been hard, and continue to be hard, for families and communities around the world.

But despite all of that—and as a result of all of that—we have seen incredible examples of compassion, love and resilience. We’ve seen people wearing masks to protect each other, waiting in long lines to exercise their right to vote and rallying for the rights of Black, Indigenous and people of color.

We’ve also seen great wins for our ocean. I am in awe of those who have continued to advocate for our ocean throughout this trying year, including my wonderful colleagues at Ocean Conservancy and dedicated supporters like you. This is no small feat, especially considering the anti-ocean and anti-climate policies pushed by the current president and his administration.

Please join us in celebrating some of the biggest ocean wins of 2020.

Pebble Mine rejected

This fall, the Army Corp of Engineers denied a crucial permit, which hopefully ends the longstanding effort to develop a huge gold and copper mine in one of the most important and spectacular places on earth. The Pebble Mine would have been built at the headwaters of Bristol Bay, which is home to the world’s largest sockeye salmon run. Nearly 60 million sockeye are caught in Bristol Bay each year, and the thriving commercial fishery supports more than 140,000 jobs. The area has been home to Yup’ik, Aluti’iq and Dena’ina peoples since time immemorial, and the salmon, animals, berries and numerous other resources of the region are both a critical part of this ecosystem and a key source of food and subsistence fishing. Despite a conclusion by the previous administration that the mine would cause irreversible damage to the ecosystem and the communities that rely on it, the Trump administration reversed this finding and forged ahead. Your voice in support of Bristol Bay mattered—more than 700,000 people, including Ocean Conservancy supporters, opposed the mine. Ultimately, even the Trump administration was forced to conclude that a mine in this area would be “contrary to the public interest.”

Arctic Ocean leases given up

In April, the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation (ASRC) relinquished the 21 leases it held in the Beaufort Sea, in the Arctic Ocean. The relinquishment of those leases brought nearly to a close a remarkable story in a remarkable place. From 2003-2009, the federal government sold 727 leases covering 4.1 million acres to oil companies to explore and develop the Arctic Ocean. Indigenous peoples use the Arctic Ocean for subsistence hunting, and these areas are important for whales, polar bears and other iconic wildlife already threatened by climate change and are remote—there would be no way to clean up a major spill. Ocean Conservancy and others opposed the leasing and proposed drilling, and over the past several years, Shell and other companies have exited the Arctic. With ASRC’s relinquishment, only 13 of the 727 leases remain. Moving forward, we have the opportunity to prevent another cycle of leasing and development and to keep the Arctic off-limits to risky leasing and drilling.

Fighting for Trash Free Seas

The pandemic impacted all of us, and changed the way we work—especially our International Coastal Cleanup (ICC). Shutdowns were implemented around the world right as our ICC team was gearing up for a season of in-person cleanups. But around the world, volunteers and ocean lovers joined together to #CleanOn, participating in solo or socially distant cleanups. Disposable masks and gloves were found all over the world, with scientists estimating that we are using 129 BILLION masks every month. Stay tuned for a report from us next spring on total amounts of personal protective equipment found during the 2020 ICC season. Given the challenges this year, and the fact that trash and plastic were visible in all our lives in new and sobering ways, it meant even more that there were major victories in the fight for trash and plastic-free seas:

  • In 2020, we welcomed our first cohort of cities into the Urban Ocean Initiative, based in Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, India and Panama. This is a pivotal step in the challenge to reduce plastic waste from cities.
  • The Save Our Seas Act 2.0 was signed into law. This bill establishes ocean plastic pollution as a policy priority for the U.S. government. This legislation addresses critical infrastructure needs, helps fill key knowledge gaps and directs the United States to become an international leader in plastic pollution reduction and prevention. We are so appreciative of ocean advocates like YOU who asked your Senators to support marine debris legislation and are looking forward to taking the next legislative steps

Environmental nonprofits and others step up in the fight for diversity and inclusion

For us, like for many, 2020 brought a long-overdue reflection around our role in the fight for justice, equity diversity and inclusion. We recognize that for too long we have been absent, and that a just and equitable future requires far more from us. The health of people and our ocean are inexplicably linked, and we can’t address one issue without the other. I am thankful to all those committed to integrating justice, equity, diversity and inclusion in their work, and look forward to continuing this fight in 2021 and beyond. I’m thrilled to announce that we recently launched our search for a vice president for Justice and Equity—learn more here.

From all of us, I wish you and your loved ones a happy, healthy and safe New Year. Please stay safe, wear a mask and join us refreshed and renewed in 2021.

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