Early History (1969–1995)

Oceanic Society was founded in 1969 by a group of San Francisco Bay Area sailors and scientists who were concerned about the state of the oceans and decided to take action. Inspired by the events of their day—like the Santa Barbara oil spill of 1969, the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, and growing public concern for the environment—they came together to form Oceanic Society, the first non-profit organization in America dedicated to marine conservation. Their aim was to bring greater public awareness and political action to issues of ocean health and to grow the global community of people working toward improved ocean stewardship. They succeeded, creating thousands of ocean advocates who shaped the ocean conservation movement that exists today. By 1982, Oceanic Society had more than 70,000 members in five chapters under the leadership of Chris duPont Roosevelt.

In 1972, Oceanic Society launched its innovative Expeditions program, combining tourism with science, exploration, and conservation on ship-based expeditions to important ocean regions worldwide. Early Expeditions included New Zealand, Australia, Europe, the Caribbean, South and Central America, and the California coast. As Oceanic Society’s membership grew, so did the demand for Expeditions, and the program was expanded to include many more destinations and departures.

By the late 1980s the conservation landscape had changed dramatically. There were dozens of effective organizations working for ocean conservation. In 1989, Oceanic Society and Oceanic Society Expeditions decided to merge with Environmental Policy Institute, which then merged with Friends of the Earth in 1991. Oceanic Society became a project of Friends of the Earth until 1995.

New Chapter (1995–Present)

In 1995, current and former staff of Oceanic Society negotiated with Friends of the Earth to revive and reincorporate Oceanic Society Expeditions as its own non-profit to focus specifically on pursuing ocean conservation through travel. Since 1995, Oceanic Society has carried on the original spirit of our founders and their dream to create a more oceanic society.

Our mission is to improve ocean health by deepening the connections between people and nature to address the root cause of its decline—human behavior.

To learn more about our current work, click here.


Our Accomplishments

Oceanic Society helped put ocean conservation on the public radar. Some of our many accomplishments include:

  • Creating the Oceanic Society Patrol and Farallon Patrol—The patrols were innovative programs that turned yacht owners into citizen scientists who monitored the seas and collected valuable ocean data.
  • Pioneering ecotourism and volunteer vacations—Our founders knew that building a “more oceanic society” would require first-hand participation by the public. They began the Oceanic Society Expeditions program in 1972, an effort we proudly continue today.
  • Inspiring a generation of ocean lovers through Oceans magazine—From 1974 through 1988, we published the popular Oceans magazine that was distributed to tens of thousands of people worldwide.
  • Leading the way in whale watching—Whale watching played an important role in helping society transition away from whaling. Among the first organizations to promote and lead whale watching trips, Oceanic Society ran our first whale watching trip in the early 1970s out of San Francisco, and soon began to offer regular whale watching trips out of Sausalito, Pillar Point, and Bodega Bay, California, and eventually to Baja California out of San Diego.
  • Responding to the Exxon Valdez oil spill—Our staff were instrumental in coordinating the response to the Exxon Valdez oil spill (1989) and advancing legislation that requires double hulls on oil tankers.
  • Co-founding the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, CT—Under the leadership of Chris duPont Roosevelt, Oceanic Society helped establish this top-notch educational facility, which opened in 1988 (as the Maritime Center at Norwalk).
  • Pushing for protection of Turneffe Atoll, Belize—We established a field station at Blackbird Caye in Turneffe Atoll, Belize in 2001 to bring a permanent environmental presence to the area, to do marine research for conservation, and to build an eco-tourism program that would demonstrate Turneffe’s value as a protected area. In 2012, Turneffe Atoll was declared a marine reserve, and our work played a major role in its definition.
  • Advancing community conservation in Ulithi Atoll—We worked alongside the community on Falalop in Ulithi Atoll (Micronesia) in their efforts to study and conserve sea turtles (starting in 2007) and to establish a locally managed marine area (starting in 2011).
  • Strengthening local sea turtle conservation, globally—Through our State of the World’s Sea Turtles Program, we have been supporting local sea turtle conservation efforts worldwide by partnering with hundreds of individuals and institutions to improve sea turtle science, set priorities for research and conservation, and provide needed resources to conservation projects since 2012.
  • Innovating a focus on behavior change—In 2014 we launched our Blue Habits program, an innovative effort that aims to go beyond merely raising awareness to deliver measurable behavior change that positively impacts ocean health. In partnership with Stanford University, we are now working to transform the nature-based tourism industry into a powerful force for motivating pro-ocean behavior change.