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To some, the oceans are a workplace or a grocery store; to others, a prison and a cemetery. It is more urgent than ever to understand all that the seas do for us, and how lawlessness and environmental destruction are hurting it.

Dispatches from the Outlaw Ocean is a documentary series about the colourful characters of the marine world, from pirates and poachers to renegade conservationists and modern-day slaves. Watch the episodes below as they are released, and learn more in an opinion piece from Ian Urbina, director of the Outlaw Ocean Project, the non-profit journalism organization that produced the series.

1. Where Killers Go Free

Footage pulled from an abandoned cellphone shows four men clinging to wreckage at sea before being methodically gunned down. Follow Ian Urbina on his search for answers to the killings as he investigates the murky world of floating armories, mercenaries and pirates. (Content warning: This video contains images of violence and the use of firearms.)

The Outlaw Ocean Project

2. Bondage at Sea

Captains of fishing boats are increasingly turning to trafficked, debt-bonded and forced labour to make ends meet. In this episode, Ian Urbina goes onboard ships on the South China Sea to see how overfishing has created abuses that are hard to combat.

The Outlaw Ocean Project

3. Dreamers of a Floating World

The ocean has long been a metaphor for freedom – the ultimate escape from governments and other people. This episode begins at Sealand, a rogue micronation off the coast of England, and explores the people seeking to build new worlds in international waters.

The Outlaw Ocean Project

4. The Magic Pipe

Ships intentionally dump oil at sea and some luxury cruise ships routinely use attachments called magic pipes to get rid of toxic waste below the water line. This episode of The Outlaw Ocean looks at these and the broader history of dumping at sea the sobering ecological consequences of environmental crimes.

The Outlaw Ocean Project

5. Raiders of the Deep

Governments and corporations, driven by the green economy, are tussling over mineral riches on the ocean floor. Beyond regulation and independent oversight, a gold rush like no other has begun.

6. The Fish We Turn to Dust

The aquaculture industry, widely hailed as the best hope for slowing ocean depletion, is polluting waters, decimating fish stocks and threatening the lives of millions worldwide. Here, Ian Urbina investigates the impact of fishmeal factories and foreign trawlers in West Africa, exposing how a fifth of all marine life pulled from the sea ends up as food for farmed fish.

The Globe and Mail

7. Chasing Ghosts

More than 100 bodies are estimated to wash up on Japan’s shores each year. Almost all are North Korean fishermen. In partnership with Global Fishing Watch, and with the help of satellite tracking technology, Ian Urbina reveals what links North Korean boats to a plummeting squid population in the East Japanese Sea, and exposes the largest case of illegal fishing in maritime history. (Content warning: This video contains images of a body from a shipwreck.)

8. The Loophole Artist

For more than 20 years, one woman has taken advantage of the legal murkiness of international waters to administer abortions to women otherwise left without options. Ian Urbina joins Dr. Rebecca Gomperts aboard the Adelaide to witness how she uses the outlaw ocean to change lives.

The Globe and Mail