Caring about the ocean can be super depressing. There's nothing like a picture of an adorable turtle wrapped in plastic or ice melting under a polar bear cub to turn on the waterworks.
But hopelessness really isn't your color, and no one looks good in despair.
Within our lifetimes, conservation efforts have given us plenty of reasons for #oceanoptimism. We've protected our spaces, harvested wisely, reduced pollution, restored habitats and saved species — and it's made all the difference! Let's take a minute to celebrate our successes.
We're too young to remember when there were only 50 otters left in
California (unless you happen to be 106), but the fur industry almost wiped them out from Baja to the Pacific Northwest. Without hungry otters in charge of population control, sea urchins overrun the kelp beds and destroy important habitat.
In 1977, the southern sea otter was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. It wasn't long before the Monterey Bay Aquarium started rescuing injured otters and raising and releasing abandoned otter pups.
Citizen scientists also volunteer their time to make sure visitors know not to get too close.
Today, there are thousands of otters in and around Monterey Bay. In spring, pups can be seen riding on the bellies of their moms, and there's hope that the next generation, and the next after that, will continue to repopulate the West Coast.
2. Steller Sea Lions
No one wants to be on the endangered species list. We're willing to bet that the eastern Steller sea lion was pretty excited when its population grew from only 18,000 in 1979 to more than 70,000 by the time its name (only the second ever!) was scratched off the list of impending doom.
Thanks to protection of their rookeries and limitations on commercial fishing, their recovery was so stellar, they probably didn't even care that the eastern population of North Pacific gray whales were removed first.
These predatory birds are all about the drama. From their distinctive patterns to their high-rise nests along the shore, there's nothing subtle about them. It's no surprise that the fall and rise in their numbers was just as dramatic.
Within 50 years, DDT knocked out most of the ospreys in New England. The pesticide affected the osprey's ability to transfer enough calcium to its eggs. As a result, the eggs were too fragile to incubate their young.
When DDT was banned in 1972, there were only a handful of nesting pairs left of the hundreds that had once dotted the Connecticut shore. But in 2010, thanks to the many scientists and volunteers who cared for the birds while the population rebounded, there were once again 235 happy couples!
This squishy-faced sea cow has stolen hearts with its gentle nature. But perhaps they're too trusting. There were only 1,200 Florida manatees back in 1990, when they were dying in record numbers from boating accidents and from the cold.
Manatees, much like our grandparents, can't survive in temperatures below 70 degrees. They swim south for the winter. But sometimes, warm water flowing out of power plants along the Florida coast would distract them. They'd get trapped as the water around the plant chilled with the change in seasons.
Oddly enough, as the northern Gulf waters have warmed in the past couple of decades, enabling more manatees to stay north in winter, they use the power plants like day spas, stopping for a dip in these manmade “hot tubs."
In the past 25 years, the state has put the brakes on boaters and made it illegal to harass manatees.
Now there are 6,620 of these gentle giants, and they've just been downgraded from endangered to threatened. Scientists say if we keep this up, their population might
double by the time your grandchildren come along!
5. Sea Turtles
Most of us don't like to be excluded. But for turtles, it's a matter of life or death. Turtle Excluder Devices, or TEDs, are specialized grates placed in shrimp trawling nets that allow captured sea turtles a chance at freedom.
It's mandatory for many types of U.S. shrimp boats to use TEDs; and in 1989, the U.S. banned all imported shrimp from fisheries that didn't take similar precautions. Lucky for turtles, TEDs are 97 percent effective!
Loggerhead turtle exits a fishing net through a TED. (Credit: NOAA)
Thanks to TEDs and to turtle habitat protection, last year, the green sea turtle's range-wide listing was removed, and three-quarters of what's called “distinct population segments" are listed as threatened rather than endangered.
Even the highly endangered, pensive-looking Kemp's ridley turtle has made a slight comeback since it was excluded from nets in the Gulf. The more types of nets that are legally required to use TEDs, the better off our turtles will be.
It's important to remember that sometimes the simplest solutions are the best. Another way fishermen are protecting sea turtles from entanglement is by attaching LED lights to their gill nets. This enables turtles to see the net before they get tangled up in it. Studies around Mexico and Baja, California have shown this is up to 60 percent effective in protecting green and loggerhead turtles.
OK, OK, it's not an animal, but some of our greatest ocean successes don't get the party they deserve.
Grass just isn't as cute as baby sea turtles. But seagrasses stabilize sand, filter water and provide hiding places and food for hundreds of species who swim in our bays.
Back in the early 1990s, Tampa Bay, Florida, seagrasses were down by 80 percent because of fertilizer and other chemicals in the runoff water draining into the bay. Residents and businesses banded together to keep runoff from the bay; and in 2015, Tampa Bay seagrasses returned to levels not seen since the 1950s! As a result, the water is clean, and everyone will reap the benefits.
So what can we learn from all this celebrating?
Much of this success came about when people like you decided to do something about an ocean animal they care about. Conservation hero Sylvia Earle says it best: "Not everyone can do everything, but everyone can do something to make a difference."
Water you waiting for??