ACOPS started out as The Advisory Committee on Oil Pollution of the Sea, established in 1952 by Lord Callaghan as one of the world's first environmental non- governmental organisations.  In 1982 it changed its name to the Advisory Committee on Pollution of the Sea, and later in 1990 it adopted its current name of Advisory Committee on Protection of the Sea.

ACOPS originally concentrated on encouraging international agreements to reduce marine oil pollution.  Since then, ACOPS has expanded its interests to include other vessel-based and land-based sources of marine pollution, marine mining, marine geo-engineering, as well as other aspects of degradation of the coastal and marine environment.