The 2015 Oceans and Us report by Neumann et al. outlines how the successful achievement of 10 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is contingent on global ocean health (SDG 14).
The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aim to provide a blueprint for achieving economic, ecological and social sustainability for all.
Oceans cover over 70% of the Earth’s surface and contain 97% of the earth’s water. Oceans produce half of the oxygen we breathe, and from it emerges much of the food we eat. They enable global transport and world trade, and are a source of employment for many millions of people across the globe. We’ve always depended on the sea as a species, some scientists even believe our high body fat for mammals was an adaptation to help us stay warm when in water. Oceans are intertwined with all manners of human life and wellbeing and are therefore their health is instrumental to our health.
Studies in the last decades have found that human activity has damaged every part of the oceans except in some remote Pacific areas and the poles. A combination of damaging fishing practices, shipping and pollution running off our land has left a trace in ~87% of the largest ecosystem we know of.
Here is a brief insight into some of the ways in which healthy oceans support a number of other Sustainable Development Goals:
SDG 1: No Poverty
- More than 3 billion people depend on oceanic and coastal resources for a significant portion of their livelihood.
SDG 2: Zero Hunger
- The Future of Food from the Sea report by Costello et al (2020) finds that approximately 17% of global food currently comes from the sea. But with better ocean and sea management, we can boost current yield by 36-74% percent.
SDG 3: Good Health and Wellbeing
- A healthy ocean is necessary to sustains the marine plants which produce 50% of the oxygen we breathe
SDG 5: Gender Equality
- Women account for approximately half of all workers in global fisheries, proving them with steady employment and access to a means of financial independence.
SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth
- Oceanic resources and industries account for 5% of the global GDP, valued at about US$3 trillion per year.
SDG 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
- A number of ingredients used to treat life threatening diseases such as cancer and alzheimers are sourced from the ocean.
SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities
- Regulating the fishing industry will prevent overfishing by large corporations, thereby facilitating more equitable access to natural marine resources.
SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities
- Over a third of the world population lives in coastal areas, all of whom depend on healthy oceans to sustain ecosystems as well as the local economy.
SDG 13: Climate Action
- The Earth’s oceans are carbon sinks, absorbing 31% of our excess carbon and over 90% of the excess heat we produce.
SDG 16: Peace, Justice and Institutions
- Healthy oceans are key to avoiding fishery collapses and avoiding subsequent conflict between states over scarce marine resources.
These connections are not always visible, and as a result, oceans have been critically undervalued. This week it was reported that Japan is considering dumping treated radioactive water from the destroyed Fukushima plant into the ocean. And the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in increased marine plastic pollution due to the rise in single use medical equipment.
Ambitious initiatives are underway, such as the 30×30 project, aiming to protect 30% of the world’s ocean area by 2030. Past cases have shown that creating protected zones benefits both ocean life and ourselves, and the rebounding fish populations then provide greater yields for less energy expenditure. The definition of a win-win.
Neumann, C., T. Bryan, L. Pendleton, A. Kaup, J. Glavan (eds). 2015. The Ocean and Us. AGEDI Abu Dhabi, UAE/GRID-Arendal, Arendal, Norway. 56pp
Costello, C., Cao, L., Gelcich, S. et al. The future of food from the sea. Nature (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-020-2616-y