Hope Spots: An Actionable Plan to Save the Ocean

The immense problems facing the ocean often leave us feeling powerless. But what if there was a concrete, actionable strategy to nurse the ocean back to health? Dr. Sylvia Earle argues that there is. As a result, Mission Blue and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) are opening up nominations for ‘Hope Spots‘ – marine areas in a network targeted for enhanced protection that are critical to the health of the ocean.

Hope Spots
Click on the map to explore the existing Mission Blue Hope Spots

Hope Spots are areas in the ocean recognized by scientists for having unique ecological attributes that make them especially deserving of designation as marine protected areas. They may have an exceptional abundance and diversity of species such as the Coral Triangle Hope Spot in the Indo-Pacific. Or perhaps they have an ecosystem essential to marine life migration such as the Sargasso Sea Hope Spot in the Atlantic Ocean. Some are the refuges of threatened species. Some have historical and cultural significance. What unites them all is that, if we choose to protect them formally, they can form the seeds of tomorrow’s healthy ocean.

Mission Blue and IUCN will soon open up the Hope Spot nomination process to the public at large. Anyone in the world, whether scientist or citizen, will be able to nominate areas of the ocean to become Hope Spots. These nominations will undergo rigorous scientific analysis, and those that are accepted as official Hope Spots will be thrust into the world spotlight. Leveraging the growing chorus for more radical marine conservation, Mission Blue and IUCN will hold up these Hope Spots as beacons of actionable hope for the ocean – to global leaders, to policy makers, to scientists, to divers, to fishermen, to children in classrooms and so on.

The goal is to make the lifelong wish of Dr. Sylvia Earle, one of the foremost proponents of ocean conservation, become a reality: “I wish you would use all means at your disposal—films, the web, expeditions, new submarines, a campaign!—to ignite public support for a network of global marine protected areas, hope spots large enough to save and restore the ocean, the blue heart of the planet.”

The ocean is so vast that ancient navigators once questioned whether it had any boundaries at all. Today, thanks to amazing advances in technology, we know that the ocean is bounded by the globe we live on and covers 71 percent of it(1). With this in mind, one might be tempted to conclude that the Earth is more blue than green. What do you think?

Bahamian Reefs Hope Spot from Space. Photo courtesy of NASA
Bahamian Reefs Hope Spot from Space. Photo courtesy of NASA

Until recently, we humans also viewed the ocean’s natural resources as limitless. In the 20th century, artisan fishing gave way to factory trawlers that pull up thousands of pounds of marine life at a time. It was not until recent decades that the effects of industrial fishing became obvious. The United Nations estimates that 60 percent of the world’s major marine ecosystems have been degraded or are being used unsustainably(2). Take Pacific bluefin tuna, for example, whose populations have crashed over 97 percent from historic norms(3).

Beyond taking too much out, we are also putting too much into the ocean. Did you know that ships on the high seas routinely dump trash and sewage into the ocean? Or that plastic pollution has permeated the entire ocean forming massive gyres, with plastic pollution being found even in the once pristine Arctic Sea(4)? Beyond trash, man-made carbon dioxide is also dissolving into the ocean, making it more acidic, while rising global temperatures have caused widespread coral bleaching. For example, did you know the U.S. lost half of its coral reefs in the Caribbean in one year due to a massive bleaching event(5)?

Coral bleaching photographed by XL Catlin Seaview Survey
Coral bleaching photographed by XL Catlin Seaview Survey

With these problematic issues as immense as the ocean itself, we are often left feeling hopeless. Yet, there is cause for hope.

There are still tuna swimming in the ocean. Half of coral reefs are in pretty good shape. Many communities across the world are banning plastic bags and bottles. Consumers are waking up and saying “no thanks” to shark fin soup and other destructive human tastes. We still have time to turn the ship around. Yet, the next five years may be the most critical of the next 10,000 years – the last chance we have to save the great systems that sustain life on the planet.

Gulf of California Hope Spot – Mobula Rays Jumping at Sunset

The beautiful thing about the ocean is that humans don’t have to do anything to bring it back to health. All we need to do is stop taking so much out and putting so much into it. We can accomplish this by establishing marine protected areas (MPAs), places where resource extraction, whether of fish or deep-sea oil and gas, isn’t allowed. Science shows that marine life bounces back when we take the pressure off marine ecosystems and give the fish, sharks, coral and phytoplankton some breathing room to regenerate and thrive.

Networks of marine protected areas maintain healthy biodiversity, provide a carbon sink, generate life-giving oxygen, preserve critical habitat and allow low-impact activities like ecotourism to thrive. They are good for the ocean, which means they are good for us. Hope spots could make Dr. Sylvia Earle’s wish of saving and restoring the blue heart of the planet reality.







Background to this series of posts

Bold Plan for 50 Ocean Hope Spots


Exciting news came out of the 3rd International Marine Protected Areas Congress (IMPAC 3): Her Deepness Sylvia Earle, Mission Blue and IUCN launched 31 new Mission Blue Hope Spots — Marine Protected Areas — across the globe to massively scale up the level of marine protection that experts consider necessary for a sustainable future.

A Hope Spot is an area of ocean that merits special protection because of its wildlife and significant underwater habitats. Each Hope Spot can give the ocean a breathing space from human activities so that it may recover and flourish. Dr. Earle named these areas Hope Spots because they represent a real hope to restore the health of our imperiled ocean.

The 31 new announcements come in addition to the 19 Hope Spots that Mission Blue was already working to protect over the previous four years. Click on the thumbnail below to hear about Hope Spots straight from Sylvia.

Screen Shot 2013-10-21 at 11.53.17 AM

When Dr. Earle won the TED Prize in 2009, she implored ocean supporters “to use all means at your disposal – films, the web, expeditions, new submarines, a campaign! – to ignite public support for a network of global marine protected areas, Hope Spots large enough to save and restore the ocean, the blue heart of the planet.” Click on the thumbnail below to hear the TED talk.

Screen Shot 2013-10-21 at 11.54.43 AM

Read all the Voices posts in this series on Mission Blue Hope Spots

Keywords: Sylvia Earle, Mission Blue, IUCN, Mission Blue Hope Spots, marine protected areas, underwater habitats, TED Prize, oceans


  1. janet Bartram-Thomas
    Richmond Hill, Canada
    September 19, 10:45 am

    Bravo! What a magnificent voice for the oceans! I find my sense of hope slipping sometimes but when there are people like this who have really put their best selves on the line to protect the oceans, I can see light at the end of the tunnel. We need to mobilize and follow her marvelous example! Many thanks!

  2. Marica
    September 5, 6:39 am

    Why so few spots in the Arctic Ocean? There is a lot of animal life to preserve over there – penguins, seals, polar bears and fish! There’s too much interest in the oil that exist over there, isn’t it?
    Second of all, the entire ocean is a habitat! Fish move you know? Pollution also moves with the currents. Do you really think it’ll ‘stay away’ from the protected areas? Are we going to put some kind of protective barrier around the protected areas? Let’s be serious. We are just reducing the habitat of marine life and that also harms them… The ENTIRE ocean needs protection as does the land!

  3. Neil MacDonald
    September 4, 12:23 pm

    How about starting with ALL the communities on the shores dumping their RAW sewage. Sure not much said about that!

  4. Neil MacDonald
    September 4, 12:21 pm

    How about you/we start with ALL the communities on the ocean shores dumping their raw sewage into the waters. Sure not much said on that subject!

  5. Jerry Adams
    United States
    September 4, 4:48 am

    Huge dead zones in the oceans are caused, to a great extent, by fertilizers washing away from farmlands. A key sustainable solution is to embed soil organic matter (biochar) in the top 6″ of degraded farmland. A 1% increase in biochar in the top 6″ can conserve 25,000 gallons of water per acre, as well as reduce fertilizer runoff.

    Forests can be the source of the biochar. Forests are, by far, the greatest removers of CO2 from the air; forests are also one of the greatest sources of CO2 as trees decay or burn. Pyrolyzing tree waste prevents most of the carbon in the trees from becoming CO2.

  6. Andile Nyembezi
    south africa/Gauteng
    September 2, 10:48 am

    Stop destroying our oceans.

  7. penny waters
    essex england
    September 1, 3:49 am

    always happy to see people concerned about the damage we are causing world wide
    worried about the indigenous people who live in the blue spots – they have been the users and savers of the areas mentioned
    can we make sure they are allowed to live the way they have always done – from their surrounding environment that they have obviously looked after
    clever people and large organisations usually have no understanding of local ways
    missionaries in the early 1900 stopped island people from killing the first three children born to every issue – it was to maintain the carrying capacity of the island – religion – the opium of the people!
    easy to see from England how everyone said the vote to leave the ue was rascist and hysterical
    it was done from the measured perspective of ordinary people on how their environment and culture is being destroyed by greed
    penny waters

  8. Liz Packwood
    Perth Western Australia
    August 31, 10:34 pm

    This is a wonderfully powerful and important article. Listening to and watching Sylvia Earle inspires us to stand up and take steps. I am making films and using social media to spread this message. Vote NOW to protect over 30% of the world’s precious oceans and protect hot spots around the globe…please help!!