Oceana — a nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated to protecting and restoring the world’s oceans — launched its new ship Ranger from Marina del Rey January 14th.

Ranger is on a journey to document marine wildlife and habitat and the threats posed to them by pollution and destructive industrial fishing practices, according to Oceana officials.

“We need to have a better understanding of what happens below the surface and this information will help us with legislation,” says Dana DuBose, Oceana Southern California director.

With a traditional champagne christening and send-off by Oceana board member and actor Ted Danson, the vessel began its 11,000-nautical-mile, five-month voyage to — among other areas — Mexico, Costa Rica, Miami and the Alboran Sea, which is between Spain and Morocco and the Western Mediterranean.

Ranger has now completed the first half of its data-gathering expedition, having traveled to remote islands in the Pacific, through the Panama Canal and up the east coast of Central America, stopping in Florida to prepare for its Atlantic crossing.

“The sublime submarine images our staff is capturing will give us a baseline from which to protect ocean habitat and marine wildlife, which belong to the world,” says Andrew Sharpless, Oceana chief executive officer.

The marine conservation group’s transoceanic expedition is led by marine biologist Xavier Pastor, vice president of Oceana’s Europe office.

Ranger is a 71-foot-long, 35-foot-wide catamaran that is carrying a crew of Oceana staff, videographers, divers and invited journalists.

“Ranger will enable us to record visually the wonders of the deep as well as the horrors of what is happening to our oceans and the marine life they sustain,” Danson says. “If we can make all this come alive in people’s living rooms, we may get them to join our worldwide campaign to save the oceans.”

Oceana was formed in 1999 when a number of charitable institutions with common goals joined forces to create a team of marine scientists, economists, lawyers and advocates who would educate policymakers and the public about threats to the ocean and the need for changes in policy to protect ocean resources.

Campaigning for concrete policy changes, Oceana works to inform and influence decision-makers around the world to get laws in place that will reduce ocean pollution before irreversible damage to fish populations and other sea life takes place.

In 2002, Oceana merged with American Oceans Campaign, a nonprofit environmental organization founded by Danson.

American Oceans Campaign worked to promote such things as sustainable ocean-friendly fishing practices and to protect the public from polluted beach water.

Its goals complemented Oceana’s and, according to Oceana, the merger has strengthened Oceana’s work and influence, bringing several strong advocates to its Washington office.

Hoping to further strengthen that union with a local presence, Oceana opened an office in Santa Monica last year.

Encouraging the public to get involved, Oceana promotes the necessity to protect and restore the world’s oceans by informing the public about issues that affect everyone, DuBose says.

Examples of Oceana’s campaigns include support of federal legislation to reverse the growing problem of pollution from cruise ships.

According to Oceana, cruise ships generate up to 25,000 gallons of sewage from toilets and 140,000 gallons of sewage from sinks, galleys and showers each day.

In addition, Oceana says that state and federal anti-pollution laws allow cruise ships to dump untreated and inadequately treated sewage from toilets in state waters, putting coastal environments at risk from bacteria, pathogens and heavy metals generated in these waste streams.

But DuBose says that new equipment is available now and cruise ships can upgrade their technology to treat sewage and waste water.

She adds that a few cruise ships have upgraded their equipment and that, due in part to Oceana’s efforts, the Royal Caribbean International cruise line has committed to installing advanced wastewater treatment equipment on its entire fleet, showing that all cruise ships can help protect our oceans.

She adds that Oceana supports the federal Clean Cruise Ship Act of 2004. If passed, the act would, among other things, prohibit discharges of any sewage within 12 miles of the U.S. shore and establish uniform treatment standards for sewage discharges outside of 12 miles.

Other advocacy work includes the Seafood Contamination Campaign, started after an Oceana analysis of industry and government data revealed chlorine plants using outdated equipment were emitting mercury, which could be remedied through existing technology.

“Pollution into the ocean affects everyone,” DuBose says.

Oceana believes that the Ranger’s documentation of the damaging effects of pollution and destructive fishing practices will give the organization more credible information with which to pursue its goals.

Having figured out what it does well, DuBose says, “Oceana is a campaign-based organization and we look at issues that we think we can have an impact on and put our full force into that.”

Information and to follow Ranger’s progress, www.oceana.org

Julie Kirst can be reached at juliekirst@yahoo.com