On January 1, 2016 The United Nations identified 17 goals for the world to reach in order to achieve sustainable development on Earth. Goal number 14 is dedicated to the world’s oceans.
Breaking it down and reviewing the 16 other goals, it becomes apparent that the health of the world’s oceans is the root for the success of the other 16 goals, and the base for a sustainable and healthy planet.
SDG 1, No Poverty:
Our oceans are worth an estimated $24 trillion US dollars. With the value of coral reefs alone being $29.8 billion.
Fisheries and aquaculture assure the livelihoods of 10-12 percent of the world’s population with more than 90 percent of those employed by capture fisheries working small-scale operations in developing countries.
In short, a healthy ocean means a healthy economy, especially when the benefits received from the oceans go to local communities.
SDG 2, Zero Hunger:
Over 1 billion people around the world rely on fish as their primary source of protein.
Fish is often the only animal protein available to poorer areas of the world, and makes up 20-50% of the animal protein diet for people in low income food deficit countries.
With a cocktail of threats facing fish stocks around the world (including overfishing, climate change, pollution, habitat loss, and invasive species), this crucial source of nourishment is in danger.
Currently, more than 85 percent of the world’s fisheries have been pushed to or beyond their biological limits.
Aquaculture is the fastest growing food sector in the world, and now accounts for 50% of the world’s fish that’s used for food. Sustainable fisheries and aquaculture have the potential to feed the world’s growing populations if managed correctly.
SDG 3, Good Health and Well-Being
Naturally, fish protein is a vey healthy food source with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, high-quality protein, metabolism-friendly selenium, energy-boosting Vitamin B12, and inflammation-fighting Vitamin D.
However, fish aren’t as healthy for you as they used to be. Today, micro-plastics and organic chemicals such as mercury find their way into marine food webs, where they build up as they move along the food chain and eventually reach our dinner plates.
With so many people around the world relying on fish as their primary source of protein, this is worrisome to human health. Mercury is toxic to the central and peripheral nervous systems, and consumption of methylmercury in high concentrations can lead to mercury poisoning.
The oceans also influence climate. So with rising ocean temperatures and sea levels resulting from climate change, and intensifying storm systems, coastal peoples are at greater risk than ever of natural disaster.
Pollution from poor wastewater treatment in developed and developing nations is another threat to the health of the ocean, and of the people who live nearby. The organic chemicals and pollutants from industry, residences, and storm-water can be very dangerous to human health, causing illness and containing possible carcinogens.
SDG 4, Quality Education
Many sustainable solutions to ocean protection and conservation of marine animals involve educating local communities about the issues at hand.
By educating local peoples and investing into their futures with sustainable economic benefits such as jobs in eco-tourism, sustainable ocean farming, and enforcement, whole communities reap the benefits.
SDG 5, Gender Equality
In commercial and sustenance fisheries around the world, women play a crucial role from haul of the fish at its source, to refinement and sale of the fish. However, their role in this industry often goes unrecognized and is less understood.
By bringing the role of women in fisheries into the spotlight, not only could the management of fisheries be improved, but women can be recognized for the crucial role they play in sustaining a global system that so many people rely on.
Women in these industries generally perform jobs that men find difficult to complete.
SDG 6, Clean Water and Sanitation
70 percent of our world is covered by water, yet freshwater is one of the most limited resources on our entire planet. Less than 3% of Earth’s water is freshwater, and 68% of that is frozen in glaciers. Needless to say, it’s crucial for mankind to manage such a scarce resource responsibly so that it can support a growing population. Unfortunately, we pollute the freshwater that we need to survive all across the world.
As stated in SDG 3, wastewater enters our world’s oceans an alarming rate. These come from sources including Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs), outdated septic systems, cruise ship waste, and runoff.
For people living in areas that are polluted by wastewater and runoff, not only does drinking water become contaminated and bring risk of disease, but the pollutants entering these waterways almost always reach the ocean.
The big issue here for the ocean is that the nutrients from sewage and wastewater (specifically nitrogen and phosphorous) spark the rapid growth of algae. These algal blooms can suck the oxygen from the water column and block the penetration of sunlight, resulting in dead zone void of all life. There are currently over 400 of these dead zones believed to exist in the ocean today.
On the bright side, technologies are emerging to turn some of the endless supply of salt water on our planet into drinkable fresh water. This can be done by using de-salination processes in a sustainable manner without altering the chemistry of ocean environments.
SDG 7, Affordable and Clean Energy
When it comes to energy, the ocean is full of it.
From the raw power of massive ocean waves, to the constantly gusting winds that form those waves, the oceans offer massive amounts of clean energy to be harnessed by humans. Even the daily changes in tides offer scientists the opportunity to capture the power of moving water.
One of the most promising sources of clean energy has come in the movement towards offshore wind farms. Leaders around the world include Denmark pushing 40% of their energy produced by offshore wind, followed by Uruguay, Portugal and Ireland with well over 20%, Spain and Cyprus around 20%, Germany at 16%; and the big markets of China, the US and Canada at 4, 5.5, and 6% of their power from wind.
SDG 8, Decent Work and Economic Growth
As stated in SDG 1, the oceans offer an incredible value to global economies. Investing in the world’s oceans is investing in the future of a nation.
Commercial fishing is globally considered one of the most dangerous professions in the world. In regards to promoting decent work environments, the open ocean will always be a dangerous place to work, but by supporting tourism-based economies around ocean areas instead of more exploitive economies, jobs with better working conditions will come around.
Small-scale fisheries employ 90% of the world’s capture fishers, and these fisheries often don’t export their catches, as the great majority is used for local consumption and sustenance.
SDG 9: Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure
The Commercial fishing industry is a complex global system that has many problems, but there are also many solutions. From the ocean, to the fish market, and eventually to your plate, seafood often becomes mislabeled from its true identity somewhere in the process, often so that sellers can make more money.
Illegal fishing also undermines many efforts to conserve marine environments, and the by-catch of non-target marine species is a huge issue.
There are so many other industries that affect the oceans, such as shipping industry (noise pollution and whale-strikes), deep sea mining, tourism, waste management, energy, and aquaculture to name a few. These industries are all either directly dependent on the oceans for their operations, or affect the oceans in some way through these operations.
To protect the health of the oceans, it’s vital for the industries that are so connected to the ocean to adopt innovations and regulations that minimize their impact.
In the fishing industry, innovation comes in the form of more selective fishing gears being designed to more specifically catch only target fish. For example, Turtle Excluder Devices are being used around the world on trawl boats to give any turtle caught as by-catch an escape outlet in the trawl net to swim out of.
Innovation can also come from better science used to determine fishing quotas on certain species (especially those moving with climate change).
In other industries, more efficient planning can help to reduce mankind’s impact on adjacent marine environments. For example, eco-tourism that works with conservation efforts, or better spatial planning of waste management systems and design of marine protected areas.
Technological innovations in these fields are also incredibly important to industries such as the shipping, aquaculture, and ocean exploration. The oceans cover most of the Earth’s surface, yet we know so little about them. The only way to explore the 97% of the ocean that we know nothing about is through innovation.
Drones are currently being used to map more of the world’s remote places than ever before such as Antarctica, and the deep sea. More efficient design of shipping vessels and is also leading to reduced carbon emissions by these industries, and less noise pollution in the world’s seas.
For many of the changes discussed here to actually happen and better the world’s oceans, infrastructure needs to be in place to support such change and innovation. For example, in areas with limited resources and capital to invest in such innovations, it would be impossible to implement any change from the status quo.
SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities
The resources in the ocean (as mentioned in SDG 1) hold an incredible economic value. If these ocean resources can be managed properly and work with local communities and economies, then poorer areas can reap some of the benefits.
In many cases around the world it’s the poorest people who are affected most by society’s impacts on the environment, which is especially the case when it comes to the ocean.
Whether it’s the impacts of climate change on island nations who depend on the dying coral reefs for their livelihoods, or the highly industrialized commercial fishing fleets that deplete coastal fisheries that people rely on, a dying ocean hurts the poor worst.
One example of the perpetuation of inequality comes from examining the world’s high seas fisheries. These global, industrialized fisheries receive $35 billion a year in subsidies for cheap fuel, insurance and so on. The sum is over a third of the value of the catch. This type of federal funding allows these industries to continue to exploit a depleting resource against the natures of economics and ecology, and directly hurts smaller and more sustainable fisheries by depleting their shared resource.
SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities
Urbanization is a trend seen around the world today, where more people are beginning to live in cities rather than suburbs. With an exponentially growing human population, it makes sense to expand upwards rather than outwards.
Cities take up only 5% of Earth’s land, yet they contribute to 70% of both global energy consumption and greenhouse gas emission
For the ocean, sustainable cities and communities have the potential to solve the problems of ocean pollution. Whether it’s plastic pollution from stores and household items, or waste pollution that runs off into the world’s coastlines and creates dead zones where life struggles to exist, congregated areas of the human population with a modernized waste management systems are our best bet at reducing carbon emissions, plastic pollution, and waste pollution in our world’s oceans.
If we continue our trends of reckless pollution of our oceans, then by the year 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish, dead zones will suffocate coastal areas, and climate change will drastically change the chemistry of the world’s oceans.
SDG 12: Responsible Consumption and Production
Everyday people can absolutely make a difference in the fight to save our world’s oceans. The choices we make around what we spend our hard-earned money on play a critical role to the health of the oceans.
Some examples of the choices we can make at the consumer level to protect the ocean are to reduce consumption of single-use plastics like bags and water bottles, to invest in renewable energy (solar) to power your home, and to be aware of where your food is sourced from and whether or not your seafood was sustainably caught. Really any purchase decision that supports a more circular economy (an economy that recycles waste back into production), supports the good health of our oceans.
On the side of production, industries connected to the ocean need to adopt a more responsible approach to their operations. Traceability and transparency in business operations are crucial to making the world’s fishing industries more sustainable. Such a large percentage of seafood today is mislabeled (either as an entirely different species, or as wild-caught instead of farmed), and illegal fishing is a massive problem that undermines conservation efforts around the world.
SDG13: Climate Action
Climate change is directly linked to the health of our world’s oceans, and vise versa. The ocean is a natural sink for carbon dioxide, absorbing 26 percent of all emissions.
However, this uptake of carbon dioxide is changing the chemistry of the oceans, making them more acidic and inhabitable to some of our oceans most important life forms. Increasing global temperatures are leading to a warming and expanding ocean, which is causing sea levels to rise and placing low-lying countries at risk of becoming buried beneath the sea.
To make matters worse, the oceans are reaching their carbon saturation point, which means that more carbon dioxide will be released directly into the atmosphere, accelerating the effects we’re seeing.
SDG 14: Life Below Water
“The sea, the great unifier, is man’s only hope. Now, as never before, the old phrase has a literal meaning: we are all in the same boat.” – Jaques Yves Cousteau
SDG 15: Life on Land
Without healthy oceans, there can be no healthy land either. As the famous ocean explorer and advocate Sylvia Earle has proclaimed: “No Blue, No Green”.
The oceans produce 70 percent of all oxygen on Earth. Further, the oceans are a massive force in regulating the climate of our world. And increasing intensity of extreme weather events has the unfortunate potential to devastate coastal communities of both humans and animals. And it’s only going to get worse.
Without the ocean, life on Earth would not be able to exist. For humankind’s own self interest, it only makes sense to protect the oceans first above all else. Without a healthy ocean, there is no habitable climate. Without a healthy ocean, there’s no food for the world’s growing population. And without a healthy ocean, there is no hope for a future here.
SDG 16: Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions
By harming the world’s oceans, we make life on Earth more difficult. From the effects of natural disasters to the destruction of our ocean resources, if we continue to degrade the health of our oceans, the health of mankind will fade as well. And when people around the world suffer from catastrophe such as a hurricane/typhoon, or worsening drought from climate change, stability and peace become disrupted by the need to survive in a changing world.
A state of peace is crucial for the oceans to receive the attention they deserve. The oceans need funding and manpower dedicated to fighting for their health, and international conflicts directly influence these crucial factors.
To fight the issues of overfishing and other human impacts in the world’s coasts and high seas, it’s crucial for nations to have a strong authoritative presence and influence out on the water. Scientists can discover the most efficient way to manage our world’s oceans and solve the problems we are causing them, but this will be for nothing if solutions are constantly undermined by illegal activities.
SDG 17: Partnerships for the Goals
The problems faced by our world’s oceans: Climate Change, Overfishing, Pollution, Invasive Species, and Habitat Loss are all international issues that cross many political boundaries.
In order to solve many of these issues, nations must work together towards the same solutions, and in the end everyone will benefit. We cannot afford to fail our world’s oceans. Because if the oceans fail, the fate of mankind will surely follow.
Sign up today and become a citizen of our global ocean community by visiting us at: www.theterramarproject.org
Photo Credit: Ellmax Photos