Ocean Ecosystems


Life Below Water 

Oceans cover 71 percent of the earth’s surface area and produce some of humanity’s most important resources. They play a key role in regulating many of the earth’s systems, including climate, and yet they are among the ecosystems most sensitive and vulnerable to global change. Centuries of human exploitation and pollution have degraded marine environments, and climate change is exacerbating these impacts. Our once seemingly limitless marine resources are now at risk.


A coral reef in the ocean surrounded by various fish.
A short-beaked common dolphin in the ocean
Three people on a boat; one with a radio transmitter for research purposes.


Our Approach 

Earthwatch’s ocean ecosystems programs take direct action to conserve biodiversity in marine ecosystems, including open oceans, seas, coral reefs, seagrass beds, kelp forests, and coastal areas, including estuaries, mangrove forests, and saltwater marshes. Our projects bring together scientists, citizen science volunteers, and members of local communities who rely upon marine resources. Our programs align with and contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)—specifically SDG 14 (Life Below Water) and associated targets and indicators, as well as helping to improve human livelihoods and supporting scientists in emerging nations.


Bluehead wrasse (Thalassoma bifasciatum) in a coral reef in the Atlantic Ocean.


Our Research Priorities

Safeguard critical habitats
Safeguard Critical Habitats

In Costa Rica, data collected by Earthwatch volunteers on the expedition Conserving Marine Mammals in Costa Rica, led by Dr. Lenin Oviedo, helped to convince the government to restrict heavy maritime traffic in Golfo Dulce in an effort to protect a humpback whale calving ground as well as a critical habitat for spotted and bottlenose dolphins. These data also informed the decision to create a marine sanctuary for critically endangered hammerhead sharks.

conserve biodiversity
Conserve Biodiversity

In The Bahamas, Earthwatch scientist Annabelle Brooks, supported by teams of volunteers, is assessing the spatial dynamics of endangered green and hawksbill sea turtles, as well as collecting critical data on fibropapilloma (FP) disease that is significantly impacting sea turtle populations. These data, collected by Earthwatch teams on the expedition Tracking Sea Turtles in the Bahamas, are informing efforts to conserve these species.

Promote sustainable livelihoods
Promote Sustainable Livelihoods

For nearly a decade, Dr. Demian Chapman has been studying and protecting shark and ray populations in Belize alongside teams of Earthwatch volunteers on the expedition Shark Conservation in Belize. As part of this project, Demian and his field staff began directly collaborating with shark fishermen, employing them to track sharks instead of land them. By providing an alternative livelihood for shark fishers, this partnership has helped to save thousands of sharks each year. 


Featured Stories

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Feature Article

A Killer's Charm

The story of a marine predator that has inspired both fear and fascination for generations.

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Feature Article

The Night Watch

In Playa Grande, Costa Rica, more than 20 years of egg poaching consumed a generation of leatherback sea turtles.

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Without Earthwatch and the assistance of the many volunteers, we would have never amassed 28 years of continuous demographic data on leatherbacks and convinced the Costa Rica government to protect this beach, create this park, and reject the development permits for lands adjacent to the park.

Dr. Frank Paladino Costa Rican Sea Turtles


Turn the Tide for Coral Reefs

Featured Expeditions

Ocean Health

            Very Active
Very Active
Sea of Giants: Marine Life of the Baja Peninsula

Search for dolphins, humpback whales, and whale sharks as you cruise through blue waters in Mexico.

North America & Central America : La Paz Bay, Mexico and Punta Lobos, Mexico
9 days (avg. $350 a day)
Starting at $3,150
Ocean Health

Tracking Sharks and Rays in Florida

Cruise Florida's warm waters to study shark and ray species as scientists address overexploitation.

North America & Central America : Sarasota, Florida
Lead Scientist
8 days (avg. $425 a day)
Starting at $3,400


Earthwatch depends on donations—above and beyond what we raise from volunteers who participate on our expeditions—in order to deliver our global conservation mission. In fact, volunteer contributions provide only half of the total resources Earthwatch needs to sustain over 40 field research expeditions, a wide variety of educational programs, corporate sustainability trainings, and more each year.




Be more than a tourist

Experience hands-on science in some of the most astounding locations in the world. Meet a community of like-minded travelers and return home with stories filled with adventure.

Browse Expeditions

Ocean Illustration