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SDG 14: Life Below Water

This article looks at SDG 14 and what we can do to help. By Eleanor Jew
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© University of York

The livelihoods of over 3 billion people are sustained by marine and coastal biodiversity, and fisheries employ over 200 million people. Deterioration of the condition of the oceans and coastal areas is not only bad for the environment, but it will also affect the development of people who depend upon them.

SDG 14 aims to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development. There are 10 targets to meet this goal, and they can be found in the link under Further Resources. These targets include conserving coastal and marine areas, making fishing sustainable, and reducing marine pollution.

In 2015 only 4% of the world’s oceans were protected. Target 14.5 is to increase this to 10% by 2020 – it currently stands at 7.44%. The majority of protected areas are in national waters, where it is easy for national governments to monitor them. The high seas cover 61% of the ocean, but only 1.18% are protected. This is because no one nation has sole responsibility for the management of this area.

What are national waters? National waters are the coastal area extending 200 nautical miles from the land of a coastal country. That country has jurisdiction over this area, the resources within it and those under the seabed.
What are the high seas? These are all the parts of the sea that are not included in national waters. They do not belong to any one country or state, and are therefore hard to regulate.

In Week 2 you learnt about Marine Protected Areas, and how they are designed to protect the oceans. But how do they affect fishers’ livelihoods? The majority of human activities are not allowed in these areas, so it is tempting to think that this would be disruptive to fishers. However, one hectare of protected ocean can produce at least five times the amount as an unprotected area, meaning that it is possible that these fish will ‘spillover’ into unprotected areas, resulting in increased numbers of fish outside the zone. But this on its own may not be enough to compensate for a loss of fishing grounds. Fish are able to grow to bigger sizes in protected areas, and larger fish produce more offspring, which can also enhance areas outside of the no-take zone.

It is critical that local fishers support MPAs, as enforcement of protected areas at sea is very difficult to manage, and therefore relies on self-regulation. There are 225 Marine Protected Areas in Indonesia, covering about 200,000 square kilometres, and their success is dependent upon the fishers who use the surrounding area. The development of MPAs should include the participation of local fishers, utilising their valuable knowledge and experience to ensure MPAs are developed effectively.

How can we help to achieve SDG 14?

There is a lot that we can do as individuals to help the marine environment. The outbreak of Covid-19 led to a rapid reversal in the gains that we had made to reduce single-use plastics. We can still make an effort at home to swap out plastics for sustainable alternatives, as well as pushing for our ‘new normal’ to be one that is single-use plastic free. Every little helps – refilling bottles where possible with whatever they were containing – water, shampoo, washing liquid etc. Can you take Tupperware to shops for them to fill rather than using new plastic bags?

Making active decisions about what we purchase is also really important. Sunscreen is vital, but so is checking the bottle to make sure that it is safe to use in water for marine life as well as for you. Clothes are quite necessary too! But can you buy fewer, better clothes? Ones that last longer and don’t contain plastics like polyester, nylon and acrylic?

Further resources

Find out more about Goal 14 here.

An interesting article from The Conversation on no-take zones is worth a look.

© University of York
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