Oceans and Fisheries

Covering more than 70 percent of the Earth's surface, the world's oceans harbor fantastic biodiversity, feed over a billion people, support jobs for hundreds of millions, enable passage for over 90 percent of global trade, increasingly provide energy for the global economy, and serve to inspire humanity in infinite ways. Yet, oceans and the species that depend on them— including humans—face an uncertain future.


The combined effects of overfishing, serial depletion of marine species, poorly managed resource extraction, rising seas, and warming waters have contributed to the loss of a third of the world's coral reefs, 90 percent of the oceans' top predators, and the collapse of their most productive fisheries.

Our Goal

WCS seeks to safeguard 90 percent of global coral species, reverse the decline of sharks and rays, and steward the recovery of marine mammals. We seek to rebuild local fisheries by ending overfishing of fragile coastal ecosystems and supporting measures that triple the available fish biomass. We also aim to expand marine protected areas to cover 10 percent of the world's oceans.

With several hundred marine scientists and conservationists on staff, WCS tests and applies innovative solutions for measurable conservation outcomes. Our core strategies are to:

Our core strategies are to:

  • Protect key habitats.
  • End coastal overfishing.
  • Steward the recovery of marine mammals.
  • Reverse the decline of the world's sharks and rays.
  • Inspire an ocean constituency.

We focus where we are needed most: areas that hold the greatest biodiversity and aggregations of marine wildlife, and support increasingly important fisheries and vulnerable coastal communities. This includes nine priority regions, and work that extends into the waters of 23 countries.

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Photo Credit: ©Gill Braulik/WCS

Why WCS?

100 years

WCS has been a leader in marine scientific discovery and marine conservation for over 100 years. Our world-renowned scientists conduct groundbreaking research to ensure that we can effectively prioritize threats to ocean ecosystems, invest in regions where we can have the greatest impact, and monitor conservation outcomes.

7 species protected

WCS plays a key role in the global marine policy arena. In March 2013, we helped secure a historic decision to restrict trade for the first time ever in five shark species, and both reef and giant manta rays, under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

On Our Strategies

Protect Key Ocean Habitats

For fisheries, marine ecosystems and threatened species to recover, it is essential that Marine Protected Areas—where fishing is limited both legally and in practice—be expanded and improved. WCS conservationists work with partners around the globe to study the life cycles and the distributions of various marine species to identify the most important coastal and open-ocean areas for protection. We seek to support the efforts by governments around the world to expand protected areas to encompass 10 percent of the world's oceans by 2020. In addition, we support effective monitoring and management, so that protected areas provide sanctuary to fish and other marine life at critical life stages, allowing them to reproduce and repopulate larger swaths of ocean. We also seek innovative solutions to support the creation, management, and enforcement of marine protected areas.

End Coastal Overfishing

Fishing that occurs outside of protected areas must also be regulated. Coastal communities obtain a significant portion of the fish and seafood they consume from small-scale fisheries, where over 90 percent of the world's fishers are engaged. However, in many countries, these fisheries are largely unregulated. As a result, they are quickly being depleted, often causing larger ecosystem decline and hardship to coastal communities. WCS is working with local communities and governments to build co-management systems where communities, fishers, and government work together to manage their local fish stocks.

Steward the Recovery of Marine Mammals

As our closest relatives in the oceans, marine mammals were nearly eliminated en masse in the last century. While these iconic species captivate millions, their global populations continue to be threatened by increasingly complex drivers of change. Today, we use cutting-edge science to understand the modern threats they face on the road to recovery: the effects of sonar, shipping, oil and gas, overfishing, climate change, and other human activities.

Reverse the Decline of Sharks and Rays

Demand for shark and ray parts for meat, shark fin soup, traditional medicines, and other uses is driving relentless fishing of these animals. Compounding these pressures, sharks and rays are accidentally caught in nets set for other fishes. As a result of overfishing, a quarter of the world's shark and ray species are now threatened with extinction. In response, WCS is catalyzing a global effort to conserve the world's sharks and rays over the next decade. Our goal is to protect the most endangered species, build sustainable fisheries, regulate trade in sharks and rays, and reduce demand for shark and ray products. This will enable the recovery of these globally important fishes.

Inspire an Ocean Constituency

WCS is engaging the public in ocean conservation in part through our New York Aquarium. Thanks to the Aquarium, the over 10 million annual visitors to Coney Island encounter WCS's ocean conservation messages, encouraging many to become ocean advocates. In 2016, Ocean Wonders: Sharks! will open, connecting visitors to our work globally and further encouraging guests to enage in our local conservation efforts in the New York Seascape.

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