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The Challenges Our Oceans Face, And the Actions We Can Take

 Audubon > News Read More 

If I asked you to close your eyes and think of the ocean, what images come to mind? Waves lapping at the shore, grainy sand, maybe a bird or two wheeling overhead against a clear blue sky? Even for those of us who do not live close to the coast, the ocean conjures up a sense of vastness and connection. In her 1951 book, The Sea Around Us, Rachel Carson writes, “The sea has always been a great teacher, showing us the importance of adaptability and resilience in the face of challenges.”  

Today the sea Carson described faces many challenges. Scientists estimate that there are 300 million fewer seabirds today than in the early 1950s, a decline of 70 percent. Audubon is working to reverse this decline by supporting  the spaces, places, and food seabirds and shorebirds rely on, and our science is helping reveal what birds tell us about what they need to thrive. 

World Oceans Day is June 8, a global day of celebrating and committing to protecting the ocean and marine resources that sustain us. This year’s theme is “Catalyzing Action for Our Ocean and Climate,” acknowledging the need for transformative collaboration in service of a healthy blue planet. Both people and birds rely on a healthy ocean and coastal environment for survival. Here are some of the ways Audubon is working to protect both birds and human communities in the places where the land meets the sea, and beyond to the furthest reaches of the ocean:

Marine Protected Areas 

Audubon works to establish Marine Protected Areas around the hemisphere. These protected area provide vital habitats and refuge for birds, fish, sea turtles, marine mammals and other wildlife, providing long-term protection while also providing a range of other benefits. Marine protected areas are important tools in responding to climate change, as they can protect habitats like kelp forests and saltmarshes that act as carbon sinks, removing atmospheric carbon and storing it in marine plants and sediment.   

Many efforts to expand the network of marine protected areas are being led by indigenous communities. One example is the proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary, located between the Monterey Bay and Channel Islands national marine sanctuaries in California. This proposed marine protected area is the result of 40 years of leadership on the part of the Northern Chumash Tribal Council to protect an area that is culturally, historically and ecologically important, and that supports up to 20,000 shorebirds in its mudflats every winter, and providing safe havens for birds like the federally threatened Snowy Plover and the Brown Pelican.  

In Northern Ontario, Canada, the Omushkego Cree are leading an effort to establish an Indigenous-led National Marine Conservation area that would protect 91,000 square kilometers of Weeneebeg (Cree for James Bay) and Washaybeyoh (Hudson Bay). 

Science to Support Seabirds

For more than 50 years, Audubon’s Seabird Institute has restored seabird nesting colonies in Maine for more than 42,000 seabirds, including the iconic Atlantic Puffin, and accumulated data on seabirds and their diet. The techniques honed at the Seabird Institute, including the deployment of decoys to restore seabird colonies have been exported around the world, supporting efforts to restore seabird colonies across 551 locations in 36 countries, and counting. 

Audubon’s Seabird Institue is located at Hog Island, on the coastal waters of the Gulf of Maine, one of the fastest-warming regions in the ocean. Our network of researchers supports a living laboratory to understand how climate change impacts seabirds, and the fish they rely on for sustenance. We also host hundreds of people each year at our Hog Island camps, which inspire current and future leaders to continue protecting birds and the places they need to thrive. 

Fisheries Management

Seabirds rely on forage fish, small schooling fishlike sardines, menhaden and herring, for sustenance. We work to defend the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, our nation’s only federal fisheries law, to protect the long-term sustainability of our fisheries, for the benefit of seabirds and other wildlife that need a healthy ocean. As climate change increases global ocean temperatures, stocks of forage fish may shift, forcing seabirds to extend their foraging to follow the forage fish. The increased distances traveled and deep diving necessary to access their food spends precious energy which makes adults less able to lay eggs, feed and fledge their young. This affects breeding success and can threaten regional populations of seabirds. Healthy forage fish populations are essential for seabirds in a warming world. 

Though it’s been 73 years since Rachel Carson described the sea as “a great teacher,” those words are still relevant today, underscoring the importance of our ocean and marine environment to respond to climate change, protect the habitats birds and people need to thrive, and preserve biodiversity in a rapidly changing world.


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