Endangered Oceans Project


The yellowtail snapper is now more abundant in the waters of the Florida Keys, thanks to protected nursery areas.

Grant Recipient: Natural Resources Defense Council
Project Support: Endangered Oceans Project
Term: 2011 – 2013

The Natural Resources Defense Council’s purpose is to safeguard the Earth: its people, its plants and animals and the natural systems on which all life depends.


This giant clam rests undisturbed off the shores of Maug Island.

They work to restore the integrity of the elements that sustain life — air, land and water — and to defend endangered natural places.

NRDC seeks to establish sustainability and good stewardship of the Earth as central ethical imperatives of human society. NRDC affirms the integral place of human beings in the environment.

They strive to protect nature in ways that advance the long-term welfare of present and future generations.

Reviving the World’s Oceans

Powerful forces have pushed the world’s oceans to the brink of ecological collapse. NRDC believes marine vitality can be restored by ending overfishing, creating marine protected areas and improving oceans governance. By focusing on these solutions, we can achieve the broadest, most long-lasting benefits for our oceans and those who rely on the more than 2 million oceans-related jobs in America. NRDC will also combat emerging threats, such as carbon pollution that has caused ocean waters to become overly acidic and climate change that has led to ice melts which expose the Arctic Ocean to fishing, shipping, drilling, and mining.

Without swift action, ocean ecosystems will continue to deteriorate — and so too will the sustenance, jobs, and recreational pleasures they provide.

Many of the most popular fish — like cod, snapper, and tuna — are dangerously depleted, yet continue to be overfished.

More than half of global fish populations are fully exploited and about one-third are overexploited or collapsed.

Studies estimate that overfishing costs about $50 billion per year in lost fishing opportunities — about half the value of the global seafood trade.

It’s not too late to get our fishing practices back on track. Using smart laws, policies, incentives, and market demand, we can help sustain fish populations at healthy levels for years to come.

The Endangered Oceans Project – Update

Now in its second year, NRDC’s Endangered Oceans Project is intended to increase the use of the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) to end overfishing and protect ecologically important marine habitats. The Project identifies appropriate species for which ESA listing should be sought, develops listing petitions, and supports the listings following submission. NRDC believes the Project will produce significant new legal tools for battles to curb unsustainable marine fishing and habitat damage. Even though the ESA provides strong protections for listed species, these protections are triggered in limited instances because so few marine species are listed: out of close to 2000 listed species, only ~80 (or ~4 percent) are marine species.


Rocky reefs provide important habitat for many seaweeds, invertebrates and fish.

The Endangered Oceans Project started with a wide-ranging investigation intended to identify a large slate of species for listing petitions that fit the Project’s parameters, i.e., species that we believed not only met the legal criteria for ESA listing but also for which listing was likely to lead to measures to curb harmful fishing practices or to protect important marine habitat. This investigation included a review of relevant existing species lists (such as those maintained by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature or IUCN, the NOAA Fisheries Service’s “Species of Concern” list, and U.S. coastal states’ endangered/threatened species listings); outreach to approximately one hundred government and independent experts; and review of government reports, studies and data, the peer-reviewed technical literature, and other information sources, including from the experts we contacted.

A list of more than 300 marine fish, bird, and invertebrate species, as well as 71 marine mammal species consisting of 210 stocks (as defined by NOAA or shown by recent scientific studies), was ultimately reduced down to a list of fourteen species that NRDC determined should be priorities for petition development. The fourteen species included three shark species, three invertebrates, three fish species, two seabird species, and three marine mammals.

NRDC is now developing listing petitions for the highest priority of the 14 case file species. They are prioritizing based primarily on the following factors: (1) the weight of evidence that the legal listing criteria are met; (2) the likelihood that listing will help curb harmful fishing practices or protect important marine habitat; (3) the important role played by the species in the ecosystem; (4) potential allies (and likely opponents); and (5) other strategic considerations, such as public appeal of the species. NRDC also plans to develop a petition for the designation of “critical habitat” for the already-listed Atlantic sturgeon. As part of petition development, they are conducting additional research and outreach to experts.


Brad SewellBrad Sewell, Senior Attorney – Most of his advocacy is focused on protecting and restoring ocean and coastal resources in the mid-Atlantic and New England regions, particularly around the NY/NJ harbor and bight. He has also worked to save the Florida Everglades for the last fifteen years. Brad is an adjunct professor at Columbia University’s School of Law and Columbia’s School of Public Health, Division of Environmental Sciences. He has a JD and MPH from Columbia and a bachelor’s degree from Stanford University.

Michael JasnyMichael Jasny, Senior Policy Analyst – Michael grew up in an industrialized part of New Jersey, unconcerned about environmental issues (or, indeed, nature) until he read one of John McPhee’s books on geology and had a late conversion experience. He has been to law school and graduate school, and worked in human rights law before joining NRDC. In the last few years he has focused on marine mammal conservation.

Lisa Suatoni, Senior Scientist – Has a PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Yale University and a masters from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Lisa works with NRDC’s ocean programs to preserve and restore ocean ecosystems where she helps take scientific discoveries and turn them into laws that will protect the ocean. She is a scientist within a team of policy experts, lobbyists, and lawyers providing advice about various aspects of marine science.

David NewmanDavid Newman, Oceans Program Attorney – First joined NRDC as a litigation fellow, working on fisheries and offshore oil and gas issues. After some time working on bioenergy issues in Kenya, he rejoined NRDC’s Ocean Program in New York in June, 2010. His current work involves using law, policy, science, and public outreach to restore the Nation’s wild fisheries to sustainable levels. David also work on issues related to sustainable seafood, marine spatial planning, and addressing the natural resource damage from the Gulf oil spill.

Ocean explorer Philippe Cousteau narrates this short video about the urgent need to protect the precious and mysterious underwater canyons and seamounts of the Atlantic Coast.


nrdc-logo.jpgNRDC Website

Comments are closed.