Oceans are the biggest ecosystems on planet earth, and they are essential to our survival. They cover 65% of the surface of the earth, generate nearly half of the air we breathe in and also 16% of animal protein, besides playing an important role in the global economy.
Over 3 billion people across the world depend on coastal and marine resources, generating many jobs in various industries such as tourism, biotechnology, fishing, and shipping. The ocean has a significant part to play in the worldwide development, and it can help fight poverty. However, marine ecosystems across the world are currently being threatened by our human activities. We must start protecting our oceans’ health if we are to prosper and survive.
Introducing SDG 14 on conserving the oceans
There is optimism that with the latest dedicated goal of ocean conservation under the Sustainable Development Goals, companies will acknowledge the value and importance of our coastal areas and oceans. In the previous Millennium Development Goals, oceans were covered in the broader target of securing environmental sustainability. The new SDGs, however, give oceans the important dedicated attention with distinctive underlying targets. Goal 14 seeks the conservation and sustainable use of marine resources, seas, and oceans.
Quantifying the ocean
One of the main challenges to ocean conservation faces is that estimating the true value of oceans and accounting for the exploitation costs is difficult. The WWF released a report about the Ocean Economy that estimates the financial worth of oceans is about $24 trillion. This high value of the ocean includes the direct outputs from the ocean like seafood, its contribution as an essential shipping medium, the worth of its vast coastline and also its capacity of absorbing nearly 30% of our total carbon emissions.
Nevertheless, this appraisal only based on current value of marketable services and goods; it does not consider the intangible worth of oceans, such as biodiversity, water filtration by wetlands and mangroves, as well as climate regulation. We must, therefore, move towards properly accounting the worth of our ecosystems, so as to deliberate the full benefits and costs in political and economic decision-making.
Key targets of SDG 14
The following targets were agreed upon by the UN member states to help guide decision making with regards to oceans:
- Prevent and considerably reduce all kinds of marine pollution, including nutrient pollution and marine debris.
- Sustainably protect and manage coastal and marine ecosystem to prevent considerable adverse effects, including through fortifying their resilience as well as taking restorative actions to attain productive and healthy oceans.
- Address and minimise ocean acidification through increased scientific cooperation from all levels.
- Effective regulation of harvesting and stopping overfishing, unregulated, unreported and illegal fishing and also detrimental fishing practices. Implement effective, science-based plans for restoring fish stocks within a short timeframe.
- Conserve roughly 10% of marine and coastal areas, in agreement with international and national law and using the latest scientific information.
- Prohibit certain types of fisheries subsidies that support overfishing and overcapacity, abolish subsidies that support unregulated and illegal fishing and desist from the introduction of such subsidies in future.
- Increase the financial benefits to least developed nations and Small Island countries from using marine resources sustainably, including through better management of aquaculture, tourism, and fisheries.
- Improve research capacity, scientific knowledge and share marine technology to not only enhance ocean health but also to improve the role of marine biodiversity in developing countries.
- Ensure easy access for the small-scale fishers to markets and marine resources.
- Improve the sustainable use and conservation of oceans through implementing the necessary international law, in agreement with the UNCLOS, which sets out the legal outline for these efforts.
Collaboration is important
Our oceans do not recognise political or international borders. Thus, we must deal with coastal and ocean issues internationally, using a collaborative strategy. Efforts by one company to prevent ocean pollution or control overfishing can have a very small effect if others are not contributing to the solution. For instance, an issue like the extensive garbage patch found in the Pacific Ocean, an area much bigger than Texas filled with plastic waste, is caused by several number of contributors internationally. The solution to such a problem will require simultaneous universal commitment.
Collaborative platforms are necessary to address ocean conservation. A good example is an initiative for sustainable shipping, which is a collaborative effort between the main players in the maritime industry that seeks to attain the vision of both a sustainable and profitable shipping industry. Collaborative efforts between leading companies in a certain industry will create an innovative space for related companies to start using a systematic strategy to resolving maritime challenges and also maximises impact.
Focus on solutions
It is critical for organisations to study this SDG 14 and identify the specific maritime issue that is most substantial to the company and emphasise on an exact solution. The various ocean issues, such as overfishing and acidification, require different strategies and businesses can maximise the impact through choosing solutions that are aligned closely with their expertise, supply chain or business model.
Existing business initiatives towards ocean conservation tend to emphasise on awareness raising, without offering a meaningful solution. For instance, the partnership between Adidas and Parley for the Oceans NGO illustrates the consumer-facing awareness raising approaches that businesses are taking. In this particular partnership, Adidas is designing shoes made from ocean waste. While this is commendable, it fails to clarify how the brand plans to stop actively footwear plastic from ending up dumped into the ocean.
In contrast, Project Ocean, a collaboration between Selfridges and ZSL, also seeks to raise awareness about ocean issues but reinforces the program with practical actions. For instance, they banned all water bottles and carrier bags made from plastic across all their department stores.
Also, the company has also removed all endangered species of fish from its menus. Even though these steps are arguably modest, they show just how organisations can move further than awareness raising to making real, tangible impacts.
It is about time governments, companies and citizens realised how valuable oceans are, both the intangible and tangible benefits. We must start taking action to enhance and protect our coastal areas and seas so that they can carry on enabling, supporting and improving our lives on earth.