Ocean Currents

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Ocean Currents

News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy


About George Leonard

George Leonard is Chief Scientist at Ocean Conservancy. With a PhD in marine ecology, he works to advance science-based solutions to the big challenges facing the future of our oceans. A long-time scuba diver, George knew he wanted to be a marine biologist at the age of 12. During his graduate work, he logged over 600 dives studying the undersea world off California and the East Coast. You can follow George on Twitter at @GeorgeHLeonard.

Inspiration at 30 Feet

Posted On November 20, 2015 by

I looked up just as the water above me darkened. Within an arm’s length, a massive whale shark passed over my head, its tail methodically propelling it forward. I caught its improbably small eye looking intently at me as it glided past. Directly behind came a second whale shark and then another.

But I wasn’t swimming in the ocean – I was 30 feet below the surface, at the bottom of the 6.3 million gallon Ocean Voyager exhibit at the Georgia Aquarium. As a marine scientist, I’ve logged a lot of dives in places from tropical reefs to temperate kelp forests. But I’d never been this up close and personal with the world’s biggest fish. In the wild, whale sharks can grow to 40 feet and nearly 50,000 pounds; those at the Georgia Aquarium are a relatively “small” 25 feet in length.

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Another Brick in the Wall: Plastics in the Seafood We Eat

Posted On September 24, 2015 by

Marine debris litters a beach on Laysan Island in the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge, where it washed ashore.

Photo: Susan White / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

If you have been reading my recent posts, you have noticed that I have been discussing the emerging science on plastic pollution in the ocean and exploring what we need to do to stem the tide. It started in February, when a groundbreaking study showed that 8 million tons (nearly 17 billion pounds) of plastic flows into the ocean each year, mostly from a small number of Asian nations where local waste management can’t keep up with rapidly growing plastic use. Then scientists estimated that nearly all the worlds’ seabirds will be contaminated by plastics by 2050 unless conditions don’t change.  And a study published only days later showed that half the globe’s sea turtles are likely to suffer the same fate. Today, we need to think carefully about the latest study, showing that plastics can be found in many of the fish that we eat. We don’t yet know if eating plastic-laden fish negatively impacts our health, but today’s study is another brick in the growing wall of scientific evidence that demonstrates that plastics are a major threat to the global ocean and ultimately, ourselves.

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Ocean Plastic Pollution: Groundhog Day, But This Time with Sea Turtles

Posted On September 15, 2015 by

Olive Ridley sea turtle. Photo by: Matthew Dolkas.

I got a kick out of Groundhog Day, the comedy starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell that was released in 1993. With Murray waking each day to relive Groundhog Day alongside Punxsutawney Phil and his co-anchor, the movie was lighthearted and fun. But the science of ocean plastic pollution is starting to feel a lot like Groundhog Day. And the storyline is becoming much more troubling with each new publication.

This week a new study in the peer-reviewed journal Global Change Biology calculates that over half of the world’s sea turtles have ingested plastic; this follows on the heels of a publication last month by some of the same scientists that predicted that nearly all of the world’s seabirds would be contaminated with plastics by 2050 unless action is taken soon. With each new publication, the case for a global strategy to stem the tide of plastics into the world’s oceans becomes ever more vital.

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Plastics in Seabirds: A Pervasive and Growing Problem That Requires Global Action

Posted On August 31, 2015 by

You have likely seen the pictures of albatross chicks chocking on plastics. These images are tough to look at and the death these birds suffer from ingesting plastics is gruesome and painful. Albatross consume a whole range of plastics that float in the ocean, from cigarette lighters, to toothbrushes to shards of plastics from a huge variety of other plastic products. As a conservation organization, Ocean Conservancy is deeply troubled by the impact of plastics on these magnificent birds. But how pervasive is this problem, really? A new paper in the peer-reviewed journal PNAS gives us a disturbing answer. It turns out plastics in seabirds is a very big deal. It is global, pervasive and increasing. And it has to be stopped.

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Take Action to Help Save Whale Sharks

Posted On July 10, 2015 by

September 4, 2015 update: Thank you to the more than 73,000 people who took action to protect whale sharks. We are currently in direct conversations with the cruise ship industry and we hope to share updates with you soon. Watch this space!

The largest fish in the ocean is one of the most majestic, too: the whale shark. These gentle giants are also in danger.

Right now, there’s a very simple way to protect them, and you can help. Off the coast of Mexico, thousands of whale sharks gather to feed and mate every year. Unfortunately, there are two cruise ship companies whose cruises currently travel through this important area where whale sharks congregate in large numbers and swim slowly at the surface of the water.

The beauty of this area is bringing more and more visitors each year, and unfortunately, they are having some negative effects on the whale sharks. There is an easy step to be taken in protecting whale sharks in this region, and we hope you’ll take just a moment to let Carnival and Royal Caribbean Cruises know how important it is to you that they adjust their course by 7 miles to protect these magnificent animals.

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Saving the Oceans from Plastic: A Field Report from Belize

Posted On May 20, 2015 by

Some people would call Belize paradise.  Having recently returned, I can’t say I disagree, but I also saw threats to the beauty on the surface. I spent a week in Belize researching the connection between waste management, plastic pollution and ocean health in this Central American country. As Chief Scientist, I’m working closely with our Trash Free Seas® team to build on our 30-year history of protecting our ocean from the growing threat of ocean trash.

I toured much of the country with independent consultant Ted Siegler from DSM Environmental Services, gaining a firsthand perspective on how recent investments in waste management systems in Belize are improving ocean health but learning how much farther the country needs to go. A former British colony, Belize is frequented by tourists for its beautiful beaches and tropical breezes. But Ted and I visited many sights never seen by these outsiders. The upshot? Trash is a major problem in Belize, as it is in many developing countries.  And it is increasingly clear that this has big consequences for the health of the ocean.

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Good News for the World’s Smallest Porpoise

Posted On March 9, 2015 by

Good news for vaquitas this week! The Mexican government will ban the use of gillnets in the Gulf of California, the only place vaquitas call home, for the next two years. This is a much-needed protection for the critically endangered vaquita. In fact, there are less than 100 left in the world.

This is a vital first step in rebuilding the population of the world’s smallest porpoise. Vaquitas are often caught as bycatch in gillnets, which ensnare and kill them.

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