UN Sustainable Development Goals: Life Below Water
Updated: Sep 3
The ocean is vital to all kinds of life. The ocean is the largest ecosystem on this planet, providing a home for hundreds of thousands of marine species. The impact that the ocean has reaches far beyond the shores it touches. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal #14 states: to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development. The actions of humans threaten the largest ecosystem in the world. By overfishing and polluting the ocean, humans have damaged countless marine species and caused problems that will impact human populations around the world.
Overfishing is damaging to both marine species and humans. Overfishing can be the result of both small-scale fisheries and large-scale commercial fishing. Large-scale commercial fisheries are more destructive to the natural physical features of the ocean, like the ocean floor, and are much more prone to bycatch. Bycatch is viewed as one of the largest threats to marine species with hundreds of thousands of animals dying annually (Verutes et al., 2020).
Every year over ten million tons of plastic end up in the ocean (Almroth & Eggert, 2019). Plastic in the ocean can impact species in a variety of ways, but two of the most common ways marine species interact with plastic are through ingestion and entanglement. Entanglement will often lead to the death of an impacted organism. The ingestion of plastics, typically microplastics, can have adverse health effects on marine species and cause abnormalities in their body structure. Humans are also impacted when marine species consume plastic. One study conducted by Susanne Kuhn and Jan Andries van Franeker found 914 different marine species that were impacted by either marine debris ingestion or entanglement. Research on how widespread microplastic is in seafood that humans consume is still developing, but numerous studies have found evidence that many typical species eaten by humans still have microplastics in them when consumed by humans. An article by Gabriel Enrique De-la-Torre that was published in the Journal of Food Science and Technology even claimed that humans consuming seafood contaminated with microplastics is inevitable. The health impacts that this will have on humans is still unknown, but there is little evidence to say that it is a positive thing.
There is still time to change how humans impact the ocean. Overfishing is a problem that can be resolved if commitments are made. Practices to combat overfishing, like capping the number of fish that can be caught by an individual or entity, are already being put in place around the world. Canada, Iceland, New Zealand, and the Netherlands all have fishing quotas to help regulate how many fish can be caught. Increasing the number of small-scale fisheries is another way to combat overfishing. Small-scale fishies act in a sustainable manner and have added benefits of providing food security and employment opportunities in areas that typically are more disadvantaged (Verutes et al., 2020). Stronger national and international laws are still needed to help reduce the issue of bycatch by large-scale fisheries.
The issue of plastic pollution in the ocean is another problem that can be addressed. Many countries around the world, including Canada and Kenya, have begun to stop the use of single-use plastics, items that often ended up in the ocean. There are also multiple groups, like The Ocean Cleanup or the Ocean Conservancy, dedicated to collecting plastic out of the ocean and disposing it in a safe way. Research into the impacts of plastic pollution in the ocean must continue, but there also needs to be increased regulation worldwide on plastic use and disposal.
At Water&, we understand how interconnected the world is with Water. The ocean impacts every aspect of life and must be protected. A principle of Water& is to ensure clean Water for all, and that means that plastic pollution must be dealt with. As an organization, we have endorsed multiple bills that aim to prevent harmful pollutants from ending up in Water.
Carney Almroth, B., & Eggert, H. (2019). Marine plastic pollution: Sources, impacts, and policy issues. Review of Environmental Economics and Policy, 13(2), 317–326. https://doi.org/10.1093/reep/rez012
De-la-Torre, G. E. (2019). Microplastics: An emerging threat to food security and human health. Journal of Food Science and Technology, 57(5), 1601–1608. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13197-019-04138-1
Kühn, S., & Franeker, J. A. van. (2020, January 29). Quantitative overview of marine debris ingested by marine megafauna. Marine Pollution Bulletin. Retrieved August 30, 2022, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0025326X19310148
United Nations. (n.d.). Goal 14 | Department of Economic and Social Affairs. United Nations. Retrieved August 28, 2022, from https://sdgs.un.org/goals/goal14
Verutes, G. M., Johnson, A. F., Caillat, M., Ponnampalam, L. S., Peter, C., Vu, L., Junchompoo, C., Lewison, R. L., & Hines, E. M. (2020). Using GIS and stakeholder involvement to innovate marine mammal bycatch risk assessment in data-limited fisheries. PLOS ONE, 15(8). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0237835