Season of Giving: 25 Ways to Protect Oceans, Rivers and Water

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season-of-giving-1You CAN make an impact on major environmental issues, and protecting the world’s waters is in everyone’s best interest. Last week we brought you “19 Ways to Support Land Conservation”. The week before we brought you “34 Ways to Support Climate Action”. This week we continue our Season of Giving series by highlighting terrific organizations fighting to keep water clean, plentiful and healthy enough to support life on earth.

Water issues

Water truly is the essence of life — not only for humans, but for all organisms on the planet that humans depend on for our food chain, our clothing, our medicines and much more. Besides supplying us with vital hydration and irrigation, healthy and plentiful water also gives us coral reefs to explore and to sustain our seafood supply, rivers to fish, waterfalls to visit, rapids to float and lakes to canoe. Unfortunately, when water gets contaminated, polluted and depleted, the resulting damage to ecosystems causes a ripple effect that harms everyone from microorganisms to humans.

Contamination – Contamination occurs when toxic chemicals leach into water sources and destroy large quantities of available freshwater. Contamination happens when industry dumps untreated wastewater directly or indirectly into rivers; when landfills leach toxic leachate into the ground; when rainfall rinses toxins off of mountains of coal that is stored outside before being burned for energy; when agricultural pesticides, chemical fertilizers and runoff from massive manure piles seep into the ground; when fracking pumps wastewater into groundwater supplies or causes them to become salinated; when acid rain falls; when oil tankers, pipelines and rigs leak and spill; when sewage and contaminated drainage runs into the sea; and when water treatment facilities are unable to clean all the chemicals from our everyday products out of our water.

Pollution – Water pollution covers any harmful substance that ends up in water, from chemicals to trash. Plastic is a particularly large problem, with 8 million tons (and growing) of plastic trash entering the oceans each year, 270,000 tons of plastic floating on the surface and billions of plastic microfibers in each square kilometer of deep sea and 5 gargantuan ocean garbage patches that take up 40% of the ocean and 1/3 of the planet’s surface. The threat to marine life from pollution is colossal. Water pollution and contamination cause health risks to humans due to the plastics and chemicals in the fish we eat. Economic impacts include damage to fishing, shipping and tourism industries.

Depletion – Contrary to what some people think, clean drinking water is not in endless supply. In fact, only 2.5% of the Earth’s water is fresh water, and less than 1% is directly available to humans in lakes, rivers and groundwater. Only this 1% of water is replenished by annual rain and snowfall and is therefore a sustainable water source. However, pollution contaminates our sustainable water and decreases our drinkable water supply more and more every year. At the same time, population growth creates a constantly increasing demand for this shrinking resource. Excessive withdrawal, overconsumption and inefficient water use causes dramatic depletion of bodies of water like the Colorado River and the Aral Sea, underground aquifers and wetlands across the globe. 20% of freshwater fish species are endangered or extinct from these overuses of water.

Climate Change – One of the biggest crises facing the world today is climate change, which has a number of damaging effects on water. Increasingly severe and numerous droughts are drying up water sources and making vast areas of land around the world completely uninhabitable, reducing the viability of agriculture and threatening mass extinction of plants and animals on land. As oceans absorb the massive amounts of CO2 emissions in the air, they become increasingly acidified, which is killing coral reef ecosystems and threatening mass extinction of marine plant and animal species.

Wildlife – The collective toll of all these water issues on marine species is absolutely colossal, with millions of marine animal deaths every year, increases in endangered and extinct species and impacts on land ecosystems as well. 20% of all coral reefs have already been destroyed, with 24% more under imminent threat from human activity and an additional 26% under long term threat. Losing these vital reefs means losing homes for 25% of fish species, sources of medicine, storm surge protection and economic benefits from tourism. Freshwater habitats are also dangerously threatened, with salmon populations decimated in the rivers of the Northwest, trout threatened in Montana, waterfowl threatened in wetlands, and many, many more species of land and aquatic life threatened around the country. In fact, freshwater species are declining at an alarming rate of 76%. With so many species seriously affected, our own food chain is under threat from extinction and contamination.

How to support water protection organizations

  1. Donate – Environmental action groups need funding to operate and make an impact, so donations are the most important way to help these organizations. Remember, one-time donations are wonderful, but monthly donations are the best way to keep these organizations working effectively and efficiently.
  2. Participate – Signing petitions, calling your representatives, attending rallies and protests, attending community meetings and legislative sessions, writing letters to the editor, listening to organization podcasts and reading news updates, volunteering to work and spreading the word on social media and elsewhere are all great ways to help out local and international environmental organizations.
  3. Reduce your water abusing and polluting habits – Become water conscious and take steps to reduce your water footprint. Reduce your use of plastics, including avoiding plastic bottles, plastic bags and synthetic clothes made from plastic fibers, which end up in water sources and break down into microparticles that infiltrate our food chains. Stop buying products that add great amounts of toxins to our water supplies, like many types of clothing and foods produced with pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Support renewable energy over fracking, mining and drilling operations that devastate streams, rivers and ocean habitats as well as drinking water sources.
  4. Buy green goods from water protectors – Buy memberships to conservation-oriented aquariums. Buy goods from water charity shops. Adopt coral reefs and marine life. Not only do these items make great gifts to yourself and loved ones, they support the organizations fighting to keep our water clean and plentiful and our marine life healthy.
  5. Visit – Trips to certain aquariums, marine sanctuaries, wetlands, whitewater rapids, flyfishing hotspots and underwater landscapes not only grow your appreciation for water ecosystems but also funnel funds through entry fees, tickets, trip fees, permits and so on to the organizations that manage and protect rivers, streams and oceans.

Ocean protection groups

1. This Guide To Environmental Nonprofits by Mother Jones is a fantastic and thorough list of environmental groups with marine campaigns, groups focused on protecting the ocean, groups focused on protecting whales and marine mammals, groups protecting fish and promoting sustainable fishing, groups working on marine law/policy/education, groups working on environmental economics, groups working on environmental research, and also anti-environmental groups with deceptive names and mission statements. Please read this list! But in case you don’t have time to read them all, here are some of our favorites from the Mother Jones list:

2. The Ocean Conservancy – This group advocates for healthy ocean ecosystems and opposes practices that threaten marine life, such as pollution leading to climate change and ocean acidification. The group uses research, education, and science-based advocacy to empower people to speak and act on behalf of the oceans. Its website features congressional action alerts, petitions, a quarterly magazine, and free e-cards. Charity Navigator Rating: 4 stars / 90.87 score / 73.0% spent on the programs and services it provides.

3. Global Coral Reef Alliance – This coalition of volunteer scientists, divers, environmentalists and other individuals and organizations is committed to coral reef preservation by focussing on coral reef restoration, marine diseases, and other issues caused by global climate change, environmental stress, and pollution.

4. Earthjustice – This non-profit public interest law firm is dedicated to protecting oceans, land, and wildlife “because the earth needs a good lawyer.” They take on critical environmental issues and bring about positive change by protecting the wild, promoting healthy communities and fighting for clean energy and a healthy climate. The EarthJustice website has an explanation of major cases concerning the ocean that are currently underway. Charity Navigator Rating: 4 stars / 93.25 score / 79.6% spent on the programs and services it provides.

5. Oceana – This group of marine scientists, economists, lawyers and advocates work in North America, South America and Europe for policy changes to lessen cruise ship pollution, eliminate destructive fishing practices, reduce seafood contaminants, and prevent the collapse of fish and marine mammal populations. Ted Danson is a board member. Charity Navigator Rating: 3 stars / 87.12 score / 72.4% spent on the programs and services it provides.

6. Bluewater Network – This group is known for their campaigns to stop environmental damage from cars and cruise ships and fights to protect public lands and to stop global warming.

7. Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution – This independent non-profit organization is dedicated to ocean research, exploration, and education. The WHOI team of scientists and researchers and it’s four ocean institutes are committed to understanding all facets of the ocean as well as its complex connections with Earth’s atmosphere (and climate), land, ice, seafloor, and life—including humanity. WHOI’s goals are to ensure society’s long-term welfare and to help guide human stewardship of the environment, to train future generations of ocean science leaders, to provide unbiased information that informs public policy and decision-making, and to expand public awareness about the importance of the global ocean and its resources. Charity Navigator Rating: 4 stars / 90.08 score / 91.0% spent on the programs and services it provides.

8. Greenpeace: Besides being a major actor in the fight for climate action, this international organization has long been a warrior for wildlife protection. Over 30 years ago, Greenpeace started the Save the Whales movement. Since then, protecting oceans has been one of their main objectives worldwide as they work to preserve deep sea life and protect oceans from pollutions and oil spills. Charity Navigator Rating: 3 stars / 88.01score / 82.6% spent on the programs and services it provides. Rated by Fundraiser Insight as one of the Top 12 Environmental Organizations Who Use Their Donations Well.

9. World Wildlife Fund (WWF) – Principally known for protecting animal species, the WWF also addresses the environmental issues of fresh water and oceans across the globe. WWF’s unique way of working combines global reach with a foundation in science, involves action at every level from local to global, and ensures the delivery of innovative solutions that meet the needs of both people and nature. Charity Navigator Rating: 3 stars / 86.04 score / 74.2% spent on the programs and services it provides. Rated by Fundraiser Insight as one of the Top 12 Environmental Organizations Who Use Their Donations Well.

Other groups working to protect the ocean

10. National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) – This non-profit uses law, science, and the support of its members and online activists to protect the planet’s wildlife and wild places and to ensure a safe, healthy future. NRDC protects wildlife, resources and unspoiled lands from the threats of industrial development, commercial exploitation, pollution, and climate change. NRDC also works on climate change, oceans, water, health, food and community issues. Charity Navigator Rating: 4 stars / 96.35 score / 86.35% spent on the programs and services it provides.

11. The Nature Conservancy – The only environmental charity listed among the 50 biggest U.S. charities. TNC’s priorities include worldwide efforts to protect water, take action on climate change, save oceans, conserve land and transform cities using their staff of hundreds of scientists, a network of local branches across 69 countries, partnerships with companies and strategic conservation and financing. Charity Navigator Rating: 3 stars / 84.35 score / 71.2% spent on the programs and services it provides.

12. Coral Reef Alliance – This group takes a multi-pronged approach to restoring and protecting coral reefs in partnership with the communities living nearest the reefs by reducing local threats to reefs like overfishing and poor water quality, helping communities benefit socially, culturally, and economically from conservation, improving reef management, working directly with the tourism industry to decrease its environmental footprint and to educate visitors about the beauty and importance of coral reefs, and sharing knowledge to make a global impact. Charity Navigator Rating: 4 stars / 95.58 score / 83.5% spent on the programs and services it provides.

13. The Ocean Cleanup – This exciting company is working on the first feasible massive ocean cleanup technology, harnessing the ocean currents to clear millions of tons of plastic trash from the ocean by 2020. The technology is still in the testing phase, but has made excellent success so far. Though the company is itself not non-profit, the testing and development phases are being funded by non-profit organizations. To help fund the project from America, make a tax-deductible donation via the Netherland America Foundation.

14. Surfrider Foundation – A non-profit environmental organization dedicated to the protection and enhancement of the world’s oceans, waves and beaches through conservation, activism, and engagement of their scientists, lawyers, environmental experts and network of chapters and clubs. Focuses are on beach access, coastal protection initiatives, clean water initiatives, protecting the ocean from offshore drilling, harnessing renewable ocean energy, marine spatial planning and cleaning up and preventing ocean plastic trash. Charity Navigator Rating: 3 stars / 88.92 score / 82.9% spent on the programs and services it provides.

15. Heal the Bay – A non-profit environmental group working to restore the Santa Monica Bay by advocating for legislation and enforcement against water pollution and trash, wetland restoration, watershed protection and helping L.A. become more water independent through stormwater capture and water recycling. This group is a program of the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium. Charity Navigator Rating: 3 stars / 84.45 score / 76.7% spent on the programs and services it provides.

Groups protecting rivers and wetlands

16. Waterkeeper Alliance – The largest and fastest growing non-profit solely focused on clean water, this alliance joins 300 Waterkeeper organizations in 34 countries to protect waterways around the world and ensure that every community has swimmable, drinkable, fishable water. This group uses grassroots leaders to protect rivers, lakes and coastal waterways on 6 continents. Support the national alliance or find a local Waterkeeper organization to support by clicking here. Charity Navigator Rating: 4 stars / 94.28 score / 87.3% spent on the programs and services it provides.

17. International Rivers – This group is an international network of dam-affected people, grassroots organizations, environmentalists, human rights advocates and others who are committed to stopping destructive river projects, promoting better options and working towards a world that values healthy rivers and the rights of local communities. Charity Navigator Rating: 3 stars / 85.58 score / 74.5% spent on the programs and services it provides.

18. American Rivers – This group works across America to protect wild rivers, restore damaged rivers, conserve clean water, fight for clean energy and provide solutions and education. The group publishes an annual list of America’s Most Endangered Rivers, highlighting ten rivers whose fate will be decided in the coming year, and encouraging decision-makers to do the right thing for the rivers and the communities they support. Charity Navigator Rating: 3 stars / 88.18 score / 74.9% spent on the programs and services it provides.

19. National Wildlife Federation – One of NWF’s top goals is to protect water in the nation’s wetlands, streams, rivers, floodplains, coasts and Gulf by advocating to restore the Clean Water Act’s protections, prevent stream and wetland destruction and pollution, convince agencies to consider global warming and wildlife impacts when making decisions affecting water, promote nonstructural flood solutions that save humans and wildlife, promote econimcally and environmentally sound water project solutions and enact new national water planning guidelines.

20. Ducks Unlimited – This non-profit focuses on wetlands, waterfowl, and wildlife conservation in the U.S. and Canada, working since 1937 to protect 13 million acres and counting. DU conserves land through acquisitions, conservation easements and revolving lands strategy. They provide support to waterfowl hunters to promote sustainable and responsible hunting.

21. Environment America – A federation of state-based citizen-funded environmental advocacy organizations researching the challenges confronting our environment, educate the public about what’s at stake and helping members make an impact on climate change solutions and renewable energy, pollinators, land conservation and clean water. Environment America is fighting for clean waterways and wetlands by fighting to keep the Clean Water Act working.

22. Grand Canyon Trust – This group is devoted to protecting the Grand Canyon, Colorado River and Colorado Plateau, working in four states on land, air, water, forest, river, energy, tribal and wildlife issues. The Trust safeguards the Grand Canyon’s seeps and springs, fights to protect threatened rivers, restores watershed health through the reintroduction of beaver, and opposes water-intensive energy extraction that threatens water quality and quantity in the Colorado River Basin. Sign their petition to protect the Colorado Plateau from uranium poisoning today. Charity Navigator Rating: 4 stars / 90.11 score / 79.8% spent on the programs and services it provides.

23. Riverkeeper – For the past 50 years this group has been defending the Hudson River, stopping pollution, protecting ecology, safeguarding drinking water and restoring waterways along the Hudson River and in NYC watersheds. Charity Navigator Rating: 4 stars / 92.86 score / 87.3% spent on the programs and services it provides.

24. Western Rivers Conservancy – This group protects river ecosystems throughout the western United States by acquiring land to conserve critical habitat, providing public access for compatible use and enjoyment, and cooperating with other agencies and organizations to secure the health of whole ecosystems.

25. Friends of the Yampa – This Steamboat Springs group’s mission is to protect and enhance the Yampa River’s environmental and recreational integrity through stewardship, advocacy, education and partnerships.

For Utah locals

For those of you in my home state of Utah, please consider supporting any of the following organizations via donations, calls to take action, volunteerism and more.

Utah Rivers Council, Utah Trout Unlimited, Colorado Riverkeeper (Living Rivers)Utah Clean Water PartnershipUtah Chapter Sierra ClubSwaner EcoCenter, Cottonwood Canyons FoundationSummit Land Conservancy, Wild Earth Guardians, Western Resource Advocates and Sustain Utah.

Be sure to sign the Grand Canyon Trust’s petition to protect the Colorado Plateau in southeastern Utah from uranium poisoning. To find out more, watch this 12-minute documentary “Half Life: America’s Last Uranium Mill” on the White Mesa Mill just south of Moab and next to the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation.

What can you do today?

Engage in environmental issues by devoting some of your annual donations to water protection, educating yourself about water issues, making efforts to reduce your own water use and reduce your use of water polluting, contaminating and depleting products, and encouraging others to do the same. Be sure to spread the word about organizations you are supporting and why, information you are discovering through those organizations and ways that others can help. Use this home water use calculator to figure out just how much water you are using so you can find ways to save. Support the transition to 100% renewable sources for energy to stop contaminating and depleting water through electricity production and climate change.

Featured resource of the day: Everyday Earthiness cares deeply about water issues. For more information on issues effecting the world’s water supply and what you can do about it, visit our posts:

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