Celebrating Ocean Victories of 2023

Here’s what we’re celebrating this year—and what we’re looking forward to in 2024

As another year comes to a close, I am reflecting on the incredible progress Ocean Conservancy has made in 2023 towards a healthy, resilient ocean future. This year has not been without its challenges: We saw record-breaking heat waveslegislative setbacks and frustrating court decisions. For better or worse, this is the nature of ocean conservation work—sometimes we hit roadblocks, but it’s a reminder of why this work is so critically important. 

It can be easy to focus on the challenges and forget to celebrate the many victories we’ve accomplished together. That’s why I like to pause at the end of each year and share some good news from the previous months (see my previous recaps from 20222021 and 2020).

Fortunately, we have much to celebrate in 2023. Compiling this list has made me even more hopeful for what we can achieve together in 2024. 

Here are seven of our big ocean victories from this year: 

We drove an ambitious agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from global shipping. In July, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) reached an agreement on decarbonizing the shipping sector. After years of dedicated advocacy by Ocean Conservancy and other partners, we celebrated an agreement that doubled the ambition of the initial IMO strategy— the shipping sector has agreed now to full decarbonization by 2050. With the shipping industry accounting for considerable contributions to global greenhouse gas emissions annually, this is a massive victory for our ocean and our planet. We will continue to participate in IMO negations to make sure these timelines are met, but this agreement is an important milestone in the journey towards a sustainable future. 

Our ocean plastic-pollution experts were at the forefront of the global plastics treaty negotiations. We’re at a pivotal moment in the fight against ocean plastics—leaders from around the world are in negations for the international legally binding instrument (ILBI) on plastic pollution. Also known as the “global plastics treaty,” this agreement aims to curb the global plastic-pollution crisis that is severely afflicting our ocean and the wildlife and communities that depend on it. As a leader in ocean plastics and a UN-accredited observer organization, Ocean Conservancy has compiled extensive research, responded to initial treaty drafts and participated in global negotiations. We have played an active role in shaping the ILBI, ensuring it reduces plastics at the source and tackles microplastics and ghost gear—the deadliest form of marine plastics.

We applauded additional funding towards the restoration of critical manatee habitat. In June, Florida passed a bill that will allocate $100 million towards the restoration of Indian River Lagoon, an important habitat for a range of Florida wildlife. The Lagoon is home to more than 4,300 plant and animal species, including dolphins, sea turtles and manatees—a species that has been threatened with decreasing habitat and increased harmful algal blooms. It’s not just the animals that benefit, though—the bill will also help improve water quality for communities throughout South Florida. 

We were proud to announce the recipients of the first Ocean Justice Community Grants. This year we awarded the first Ocean Justice Community Grants to five incredible organizations from Florida to Alaska. These grants are intended to support the work of ocean advocates who promote sustainable and traditional Indigenous practices, protect communities’ connections to the ocean, advance ocean innovations, develop new ocean leaders and strengthen coastal communities. This new initiative aligns with our vision of a healthier ocean protected by a more just world, and I am deeply honored that Ocean Conservancy gets to play a small part in advancing the work of these grantees. 

We spread awareness about the dangers of plastic foam and drove policy with our “What the Foam” campaign. Plastic foam, commonly used in takeout food containers and often referred to as “Styrofoam,” was the seventh most frequently collected trash item in our 2022 International Coastal Cleanup®. In September, Ocean Conservancy released a report showing the catastrophic effects of foam on ocean habitats and wildlife—including ingestion by turtles, seabirds, seals and more. We called on the United States to say, “What the Foam” and ban plastic-foam foodware nationally. We celebrated a major victory this year when Oregon passed Senate Bill 543, a law which will phase out foam foodware, packing peanuts and coolers and prohibit the use of PFAS (also known as “forever chemicals”) in food packaging. With this bill, Oregon joined 10 other states and Washington, D.C., in implementing plastic foam-foodware bans—and this is just the beginning. Also this year, we also saw the introduction of the federal Farewell to Foam Act, which would restrict the sale and use of foam foodware, packaging peanuts and single-use coolers. This legislation is the direct result of Ocean Conservancy’s campaign and is a testament to the power of the data we collect every year at the International Coastal Cleanup. 

We launched the first round of Ports and Community Grants. Ocean Conservancy’s Shipping Emissions and Ocean Justice Programs collaborated to form the Ports Justice Project, a community-centered effort to decarbonize maritime ports. This initiative offers grants to support Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC)-led and BIPOC-serving grassroots organizations within key regions, including in Virginia, South Florida and South Louisiana. The grants program aims to provide funding to groups that are already empowering their communities and developing innovative solutions to port-community concerns. 

We celebrated a big step forward in curbing ship pollution in California. In October, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved the California Air Resources Board (CARB) waiver requestfor the Ocean-Going Vessel At-Berth Regulation. Essentially, this rule reduces the amount of diesel particulates that are released by docked vessels in California ports. It’s a big step towards reducing air pollution in California and protecting the health of millions of Californians who are most impacted by emissions from diesel-powered ships.  We celebrate this rule as  an important, precedent-setting action. CARB estimates that in the next decade, the updated policy will save 237 lives, yield $2.31 billion in public health benefits and reduce carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions by 356,000 metric tons.

I could spend all day talking about what we achieved this year, but that would likely produce a very lengthy post. Instead, here are a few more achievements: 

These are just a few of the many victories we celebrated together this year—all thanks to incredible partnerships and the dedicated support of ocean advocates across the globe. I am grateful to my esteemed colleagues at Ocean Conservancy, our supporters and partners and to all those working towards a healthy, sustainable ocean. Let’s do it again in 2024.

Our work is focused on solving some of the greatest threats facing our ocean today. We bring people, science and policy together to champion innovative solutions and fight for a sustainable ocean.
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