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Overfishing, climate change, habitat destruction and pollution remain major threats to the world’s ocean. But amidst all that there is some seriously good ocean conservation news worth celebrating. So, to continue the tradition started last year with listing 14 Ocean Conservation Wins of 2014, here’s a rundown for 2015 that will hopefully fill you with #OceanOptimism. These wins represent the diligent efforts of organizations and individuals too numerous to list, so let’s just start with a blanket shoutout to all of #TeamOcean for a great year.

1. More than 2 million square kilometers of ocean was protected in big new marine reserves. Marine reserves are areas completely closed to fishing, and 2015 saw more ocean protected in a single year than ever before. Chile created Desventuradas Marine Park (297,000 square kilometers) and Easter Island Marine Park (631,000 square kilometers). New Zealand created Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary (620,000 square kilometers), Palau created Palau National Marine Sanctuary (500,000 square kilometers), the UK announced the Pitcairn Island Reserve (833,000 square kilometers), and protected areas are in the works for Patagonia. However, there is a broad consensus that 30 percent of the ocean should be fully protected in reserves, and these new designations only get us up to 1 percent—but we’ll take it!

The Rock Islands in Palau in the Pacific Ocean are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Photo credit: Matt Rand / The Pew Charitable Trusts
The Rock Islands in Palau in the Pacific Ocean are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Photo credit: Matt Rand / The Pew Charitable Trusts

2. New technology is being developed to combat illegal fishing. Designating all these new reserves means little without enforcement, and we can’t enforce unless we know what’s happening out on the water. One big tech effort launched this year is Global Fishing Watch, a partnership between Skytruth, Google and Oceana to track fishing vessels and identify illegal fishing. Another similar program is the Pew Charitable Trust’s Virtual Watch Room. These technologies are in prototype phase and need significant improvement before they live up to expectations, but it’s a promising and exciting development.

3. Illegal fishing boats are being chased down and caught! Sea Shepherd chased a pirate fishing boat on Interpol’s most wanted list for 10,000 miles, until the boat sank (potentially on purpose to drown the evidence of illegal fishing). Another boat was chased for four days, caught, and fined $2 million for illegally fishing in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area. The Black Fish and Environmental Justice Foundation have also been stepping up to make sure enforcement happens, but hopefully we can soon rely on law enforcement organizations, not environmental groups, to do this work.

4. Ocean conservation is one of the UN’s new sustainable development goals. These goals set the UN’s agenda for the next 15 years, and it wasn’t clear the ocean would make the cut, but (voila!) Goal 14 is to “Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources.” Specific targets include, by 2020, conserving 10 percent of the ocean (but see #1 above for how far we have to go and whether 10 percent is even enough), halting overfishing and illegal fishing, and ending the subsidies that encourage them. Addressing marine pollution and ocean acidification, and supporting small island states and small-scale artisanal fisheries are also priorities.

5. The Port State Measures Agreement is close to being ratified. Another one from the UN, this is an agreement aiming to “to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing through the implementation of robust port State measures.” In other words, boats have to come into port eventually, so it’s important to have international cooperation in place to prosecute the bad guys when they come ashore. IUU fishing is a major issue, representing ~$20 billion annually, and this measure will greatly increase enforcement capacity. The agreement will enter into force after 25 countries ratify it—nine more ratifications to go, all expected in 2016.

6. The ocean is getting some good ink and screen time. Racing Extinction premiered in theaters, bringing the issues of trade in endangered species, overfishing and ocean acidification to the big screen. The Discovery Channel promised to stop with all the fear-mongering and straight up fake documentaries during Shark Week. Richard Branson’s philanthropy launched Ocean Unite, to pull together and support the ocean conservation community on communications. And see #6 below.

7. Sustainable fishing became understood as a human rights issue. Reporter Ian Urbina produced a slew of impressive investigative articles exposing the widespread human trafficking, slave labor and other horrors associated with major fisheries. Upworthy produced a series of pieces to get this info to a broader audience. Greenpeace has been fighting for fishers’ rights, teaming up with five of the largest labor unions. The “Statement of Solidarity With Greenpeace Campaign to Reform the Tuna Industry” begins: “We know that environmental and social justice issues are absolutely intertwined and increasingly solutions that protect workers are the same solutions that safeguard the environment and natural resources.” Hear, hear! And if you eat shrimp, unless you’re paying like $20 a pound, it’s totally unsustainable and slaves probably peeled it for you, so please find something else to dip in cocktail sauce.

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