Threats to oceans and coasts | WWF

Oceans. For centuries people have regarded them as an inexhaustible supply of food, a useful transport route, and a convenient dumping ground - simply too vast to be affected by anything we do.

But human activity, particularly over the last few decades, has finally pushed oceans to their limit.

Overfished, polluted, taken for granted, carelessly abused and destroyed, and much more fragile and complex than we once thought ... the largest living space on Earth is fast deteriorating.

This doesn’t just threaten marine habitats and species - many of which have only recently been discovered - but also our own health, way of life, and security.

Major threats to the world's oceans include:

Trawler catch, Borneo, Malaysia. © WWF

Unsustainable fishing

90% of the world's fisheries are already fully exploited or overfished, while billions of unwanted fish and other animals die needlessly each year. Unsustainable fishing is the largest threat to ocean life and habitats ... not to mention the livelihoods and food security of over a billion people.
Orangefin anemonefish (Amphiprion chrysopterus). Juvenile anemonefish often dive deep into the mouth of their host aurora anemone when threatened. © WWF

Inadequate protection

They might cover over 70% of our planet’s surface, but only a tiny fraction of the oceans has been protected: just 3.4%. Even worse, the vast majority of the world’s few marine parks and reserves are protected in name only. Without more and better managed Marine Protected Areas, the future of the ocean’s rich biodiversity - and the local economies it supports - remains uncertain.
Tourists beach in Kemer, Mediterranean Sea, Turkey. © WWF

Tourism & development

The beach is not just a favourite holiday destination, it’s our favourite place to live. Around the world, coastlines have been steadily turned into new housing and tourist developments, and many beaches all but disappear under flocks of holiday-makers each year. This intense human presence is taking its toll on marine life.
Container port on the North Sea, Antwerp, Belgium. © WWF


The oceans are huge highways, across which we ship all kinds of goods. Like other human activities, this heavy traffic is leaving its mark: oil spills, ship groundings, anchor damage, and the dumping of rubbish, ballast water, and oily waste are endangering marine habitats around the world.
Offshore oil & gas development. Texas, Gulf of Mexico, USA 

Oil & gas

Important reserves of oil, gas, and minerals lie deep beneath the seafloor. However, prospecting and drilling for these poses a major threat to sensitive marine habitats and species.
Trash dumped in mangrove forest, Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Belize. © WWF


Untreated sewage, garbage, fertilizers, pesticides, industrial chemicals, plastics ... most of the pollutants on land eventually make their way into the ocean, either deliberately dumped there or entering from water run-off and the atmosphere. Not surprisingly, this pollution is harming the entire marine food chain - all the way up to humans.
Villa Leppefisk salmon farm, Vestnes, Norway. © WWF


Fish farming is often touted as the answer to declining wild fish stocks. But more often than not, the farming of fish and shellfish is actually harming wild fish, through the pollution the farms discharge, escaped farmed fish, increased parasite loads, and the need to catch wild fish as feed.
Coral bleaching due to temperature rise, Indo-Pacific Ocean. © WWF

Climate change

Coral bleaching, rising sea levels, changing species distributions - global warming and climate change are already having a marked affect on the oceans. Strategies are needed to deal with these phenomena, and to reduce other pressures on marine habitats already stressed by rising water temperatures and levels.