Marine Biologist and Biological Oceanographer Joins Saving Ocean Wildlife (SOW)

Ocean animals are going extinct at a rate twice that of land animals  Nature 2019

This is a shocking tagline for sure. Few people realize just how sensitive ocean wildlife is to human activities, but a growing body of scientific evidence indicates that the rate of extinction for marine species is much higher than land species. Perhaps more shocking is how much we could do as individuals to stop this, but we don’t.

Hello to all you friends, fans, donors, volunteers, and other concerned citizens involved in Saving Ocean Wildlife (SOW).  My name is Michael Atkins and I recently partnered with SOW to increase awareness of important issues threatening ocean wildlife and to talk about how each one of us can make a difference to save it. I will be writing a series of blogs, doing podcasts, and other forms of community outreach with SOW to discuss the issues with you and figure out how we can tackle some of these problems together through personal and collective action. SOW connects you with tools to save ocean wildlife through identification, reporting, and monitoring of animals at sea and along the coast, as well as personal actions you can take in your daily life and volunteer activities to become involved in protecting marine animals.


I am a marine biologist (studying living things in the oceans) and a biological oceanographer (studying how the oceans affect living things). I am particularly interested in big-picture connections between seemingly unrelated things—like how climate change can give rise to new infections harmful to marine mammals, how toxic chemicals we dump in the oceans can lead to illness in humans who eat seafood, and how chemicals in car tires are killing salmon and likely other aquatic animals. Everything, big and small, is connected in some way, and there is much we can do as individuals to reduce our negative impacts and increase our positive ones to protect marine species. Even relatively small personal actions can have big impacts if enough people choose to act.


2020 was a global wake-up call to take action

I joined SOW specifically because 2020 was a global wake-up call for me to take more action and to motivate others to get involved. For decades scientists and citizen activists have been warning of the consequences of human activities for life on Earth and 2020 was the year Mother Nature made us pay attention. Although a global pandemic, destructive fires around the world, methane craters in the Russian tundra, and marine mammal strandings may seem like unrelated events, they all come from human activities resulting in severe climate and ecosystem disruption with the potential for mass human and wildlife casualties.


Because ocean wildlife is not as visible to us as life on land, we can’t see these effects as easily, but scientific studies and reports from NGO’s and citizens at sea are saying the same thing: human activities are harming ocean wildlife more than life on land. Human activities create environmental stress in the form of toxic chemicals, micro and macro plastic pollution, harmful algal blooms, pathogens, man-made disasters, habitat destruction, and so much more—all of which affect the overall health of our oceans.


As a biological oceanographer, I am very concerned about the health of the oceans affecting the health of the animals living in it, as well as humans. Take ocean acidification as just one example: ocean microbes and algae produce more than 50% of the oxygen on Earth and—along with seawater itself—store 50 times more carbon dioxide than is in the atmosphere. But excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has made the oceans more acidic, which is having a negative impact on living things throughout marine food webs. This in turn can affect the amount of oxygen produced for us all to breathe—on a global scale.


I think we are way over the tipping point and will see more years as bad as or worse than 2020. This is because changes on a planetary scale take years to observe and change. The good news is that COVID-19 restrictions in 2020 resulted in the largest reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in recorded human history, showing us that we can have an impact on climate change if we try. The time has come for us all to get more involved and do something to reverse course. We don’t need to wait for governments or organizations to act first. There really is a lot we can do as individuals—especially those of us who live in coastal environments— that collectively can add up to significant change for the better.


If you, like me, feel deeply passionate about the state of our oceans and ocean wildlife but often feel overwhelmed with everything that’s going on and wonder how one person can make a difference, I completely understand. It’s really hard keeping up with all the issues let alone understanding all the science and politics, even for a marine biologist and oceanographer actively engaged in it.


My goal in working with SOW is to help you make sense of the most pressing issues and the science so you can make more informed decisions if you choose to take action. Personal action in saving ocean wildlife is extremely important. If we all consume less, use less, travel less, eat less (or lower on the food web), reuse more, plant more, and strive to be more sustainable in our everyday lives, we will make a difference. Take a stand and make a difference. Don’t hope science and technology will somehow fix this. The environment we all live in needs YOU to act now. My particular skill set is in science and science advocacy. But we need people who can help us connect with, inspire, and motivate others to make this a movement.


I am looking forward to engaging with all of you through SOW to make a difference together. I believe ocean wildlife deserves our efforts.



Keywords: ocean wildlife, climate change, sustainability, citizen action


This blog is dedicated to our dog Jake who passed away January 5, 2021. Jake motivated me to write from the heart about animal issues that really matter. We miss you Jake!

FREE Ocean wildlife guide!

Click here for your free guide to learn about the animals and find out which are endangered.


Report Ocean Animals Dead or in Distress
If you see it, PLEASE say it! Use our handy reporting tool any time you come across a dead or distressed ocean animal. This will immediately notify NOAA so they can get the appropriate organization involved to help remove or free the animal in need!


Ten Personal Actions You Can Take
Whether it is through a donation of time, money or resources or picking-up plastic trash, here are ten ideas for your personal action plan to save ocean wildlife!

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