Our Ocean Crisis -- Solutions Are the Easy Part

06/03/2015 10:22 am ET | Updated Jun 01, 2016

Over the last 64 years, the geologic nanosecond in which I've lived my life, 90 percent of the largest pelagic (open ocean) fish -- including hammerhead sharks, bluefin tuna and black marlin -- have been wiped out, along with close to half the world's tropical reefs.

Our global ocean faces a cascading disaster from industrial overfishing, oil, chemical, plastic and nutrient pollution, loss of coastal and marine habitat and fossil-fuel-fired climate impacts. A report earlier this year in the journal Science suggests we may soon face a mass extinction in the ocean. It's enough to make you lose hope.

To which I respond, get over yourself. There's no time for that.

Personally, I'm more frustrated than despairing, because we know what the solutions are. If you stop killing fish, they tend to grow back; if you stop producing 100 million metric tons of disposable plastic every year, you won't have that much of it choking sea turtles or acting as a toxic sponge pushing poison up the food-web. And if we make a rapid transition from oil to renewable energy, we can be assured no wind spill will destroy another beach or bayou.

What we lack is not solutions but the political will to enact them. And even here there is hope we may have started scaling up the solutions as fast as the problems.

Greening ports, fighting pirates, and establishing vast ocean wilderness areas are just three examples of how this is getting done.

In my book, "The Golden Shore," I talk about how California -- with 39 million people and the world's 6th-largest economy -- has become a model for living right with our coasts and ocean, including our ports.

The Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are the largest port complex in the Western Hemisphere, but 10 years ago they were not growing because of lawsuits from residents in surrounding communities that were experiencing the highest rates of adult cancer and childhood asthma in the state due to air pollution from port operations.

The mayor of L.A. then hired a new port director, who held the first joint meeting of the LA/LB Harbor Commissions since 1924 to pass a Clean Air Action Plan. Her plan -- eliminating old diesel trucks, plugging ships into dockside power instead of burning dirty bunker fuel in port, and other actions -- combined with cleaning up channel waters and shipping lanes, has seen a more than 75 percent reduction in air and water pollution.

As a result, the lawsuits went away and shipping terminals have expanded. By doing right by the marine environment, they've improved business operations that see a billion dollars of goods cross their docks every day. Now the greening-ports movement has expanded to 50 major ports around the world, working to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and offering dockage-fee discounts to ships that use cleaner propulsion systems.

While commercial ships greater than 300 tons are required to carry Automated Information Systems (AIS) that make them easy to track and manage, the same is not yet true for the world's fishing fleet that is taking fish out of the ocean faster than they can reproduce.

On May 13, the largest citizen lobby for ocean conservation in U.S. history took place in Washington, D.C. Delegations from 24 states held 163 meetings on Capitol Hill to, among other things, express support for a bipartisan bill that targets Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing. Illegal or pirate fishing poses a real threat to global food security but new treaties, laws and technologies could soon put an end to it. Satellite-data acquisition has become cheap enough so that it's now possible to identify illegal fishing vessels with remote surveillance and have port agreements that can prevent them from landing their catch or bust them when they do. Collaborations to stand up to these systems include conservation groups like Oceana and Pew, the U.S. Coast Guard, Interpol, Google and a number of African nations. Secretary of State John F. Kerry has also become a major player in the fight against IUU fishing.

Another way to protect marine wildlife and habitats, including coral reefs and kelp forests, is to create Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) -- large ocean-wilderness zones where no fishing, drilling or dumping is allowed. In 2006 President Bush, arguably the worst environmental president, nonetheless established America's first great wilderness Park in the Sea, the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in Northwest Hawaiian waters, plus three more Pacific MPAs at the end of his term. In 2014, President Obama tripled the size of those three monuments, adding almost half a million square miles of protected waters, an area six times the size of California (a state that recently protected 16% of its own waters). In recent years, a national competition has emerged, particularly in the Pacific, to create larger ocean reserves. Thanks to new MPA designations by nations like Kiribati and the United Kingdom, these biological reserves have tripled in size over the last five years.

While there is much more to do, there is also hope and determination. We don't know if we'll be able to protect and restore the other 71% of our environment before it's too late. All we know for certain is that, if we don't try, we lose. And frankly, this salty blue marble planet of ours is just too thrilling, awesome and sacred to lose.

David Helvarg is an author and Executive Director of Blue Frontier, an ocean-conservation and policy group. His latest book is "Saved by the Sea -- Hope, Heartbreak and Wonder in the Blue World."

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in partnership with Ocean Unite, an initiative to unite and activate powerful voices for ocean-conservation action. The series is being produced to coincide with World Oceans Day (June 8), as part of HuffPost's "What's Working" initiative, putting a spotlight on initiatives around the world that are solutions oriented. To read all the posts in the series, read here.