Oceans are our planet’s life support and regulate the global climate system. They are the world’s largest ecosystem, home to nearly a million known species, containing vast untapped potential for scientific discovery. Oceans and fisheries continue to support the global population’s economic, social and environmental needs. Despite the critical importance of conserving oceans, decades of irresponsible exploitation have led to an alarming level of degradation. Current efforts to protect key marine environments and small-scale fisheries, and to invest in ocean science are not but meeting the urgent need to safeguard this vast, yet fragile, resource. The drastic reduction in human activity brought about by the COVID-19 crisis, while rooted in tragedy, is a chance for oceans to recuperate. It is also an opportunity to chart a sustainable recovery path that will ensure livelihoods for decades to come in harmony with the natural environment.