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SDG #14

Protecting Life Below Water for a Sustainable Future

The vast oceans and seas are vital components of our planet's ecosystem, covering more than two-thirds of the Earth's surface and containing 97% of its water[1]. They provide essential services such as regulating climate, supporting biodiversity, ensuring food security, and facilitating economic activities like tourism and fisheries. However, the current state of the world's oceans and seas presents significant challenges and emerging trends that threaten their health and productivity.

One of the critical issues is marine pollution, which poses a threat to marine life and ecosystems. Overfishing is another concern, as it impacts food production and disrupts the delicate balance of marine species. Habitat degradation, caused by various factors, including human activity, further exacerbates the vulnerability of marine ecosystems. Additionally, the excessive absorption of 90% of the Earth's heat by the oceans contributes to widespread marine heat waves, endangering the ocean system and leading to the global loss of coral reefs


Acknowledging the importance of healthy oceans, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development includes SDG 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources for sustainable development. This goal aims to address the challenges mentioned above, among others, and emphasises the need to protect marine ecosystems, reduce pollution, end overfishing, and support sustainable livelihoods for coastal communities. To measure progress and guide efforts, specific targets and indicators have been established. These include the conservation of marine ecosystems, the reduction of marine pollution, the cessation of overfishing, and the promotion of sustainable practices.

These targets are measured through indicators such as the extent of marine protected areas, the abundance of fish stocks, the level of coastal acidification, and the management of plastic waste. By achieving these targets and implementing sustainable practices, we can work towards safeguarding the oceans and seas, preserving their biodiversity, and ensuring the well-being of both present and future generations.

Why it Matters

With over 3 billion people relying on the ocean for their livelihoods and more than 80% of global goods transported by sea, the ocean plays a vital role in various aspects of human life [3]. It contributes to poverty reduction, long-term economic growth, and food security. As the largest ecosystem on Earth, the ocean harbors nearly a million identified species and holds immense untapped opportunities for scientific exploration2. However, despite its critical significance, decades of unsustainable exploitation have resulted in a concerning level of degradation. The SDG 14 factsheet for 2022 provides insights into both emerging challenges and positive progress made over time in ocean conservation.

Ocean Acidification and Rising Temperatures


  • The ongoing process of ocean acidification and rising ocean temperatures poses a significant threat to marine species and disrupts marine ecosystem services.

  • These changes in ocean conditions are negatively impacting the delicate balance of marine life.

Coral Reefs:

  • Between 2009 and 2018, the world lost approximately 14% of its coral reefs.

  • Coral reefs are crucial ecosystems that provide habitat for numerous marine species and support the livelihoods of coastal communities.

Plastic Pollution:

  • In 2021, more than 17 million metric tons of plastic entered the world's oceans, accounting for 85% of marine litter.

  • The volume of plastic pollution entering the ocean is projected to double or even triple by 2040, exacerbating the environmental and ecological impact on marine life.

Marine Protected Areas:

  • As of 2021, marine protected areas covered only 8% of global coastal waters and oceans.

  • Expanding the coverage of protected areas is vital for safeguarding marine biodiversity and preserving critical marine habitats.


  • In 2019, over 35.4% of global fish stocks were overfished, marking an increase from 34.2% in 2017 and 10% in 1974.

  • Although the rate of decline has slowed down, sustainable fishing practices are essential to maintain fish populations and ensure long-term food security.

Importance of Small-Scale Fisheries:

  • Small-scale fisheries play a crucial role in supporting communities worldwide, with approximately half a billion people depending at least partially on them.

  • These fisheries account for 90% of employment in the fishing industry globally, highlighting their significance for livelihoods and local economies.

Interlinkages- The oceans are intricately linked to various aspects of sustainable development, and progress in SDG 14 has implications for achieving several other goals. Here are some examples of what protecting ocean health directly contributes to with other SDGs:

SDG 13: Climate Action

  • The health and resilience of oceans are crucial for regulating climate patterns and mitigating climate change impacts.

  • Oceans absorb a significant amount of carbon dioxide, helping to reduce greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere.

SDG 2: Zero Hunger

  • Sustainable fisheries and aquaculture play a vital role in providing food and nutrition security, especially for coastal communities.

  • Protecting marine biodiversity and ecosystems supports the productivity and sustainability of fisheries, ensuring long-term food production.

SDG 1: No Poverty

  • Coastal communities heavily rely on marine resources for their livelihoods, income generation, and poverty reduction.

  • Sustainable management of oceans and marine resources can contribute to poverty alleviation and economic development.

SDG 7: Affordable and Clean Energy

  • Oceans offer vast potential for renewable energy generation, such as offshore wind, wave, and tidal energy.

  • Developing sustainable marine energy sources can contribute to clean energy production and the transition to a low-carbon economy.

SDG 9: Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure

  • Sustainable ocean-based industries, such as sustainable tourism, offshore renewable energy, and blue biotechnology, can drive economic growth and innovation.

SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities

  • Coastal cities and communities benefit from healthy oceans, as they provide ecosystem services and recreational opportunities, and support tourism sectors.

SDG 15: Life on Land

  • Terrestrial and marine ecosystems are interconnected, and conserving marine biodiversity and ecosystems contribute to overall ecosystem health and biodiversity conservation.

SDG 17: Partnerships for the Goals

  • Collaboration and partnerships among governments, businesses, civil society, and stakeholders are crucial for achieving SDG 14 and promoting sustainable ocean governance.

These examples highlight the interdependencies and synergies between SDG 14 and other goals. Acknowledging and promoting these interlinkages is essential for implementing integrated approaches and achieving the broader agenda of sustainable development.

A Look Beyond the Challenges

The progress made in the conservation of oceans and seas has faced significant obstacles, hampering the achievement of its objectives. These challenges can be classified into different categories. Societal challenges involve issues such as the excessive exploitation of marine resources, unsustainable fishing practices, and pollution originating from land-based sources. Environmental challenges encompass the destruction of habitats, coral bleaching, ocean acidification, and the pervasive problem of plastic pollution. Economic challenges arise from the need to strike a balance between economic activities and the imperative to safeguard marine ecosystems while also supporting the livelihoods of coastal communities.

The preservation of healthy ocean environments is not only crucial for the survival of societies but also serves as a prerequisite for the long-term viability of businesses. Addressing the current challenges presents significant opportunities for businesses to thrive. Global markets for ocean resources, including energy, food, fresh water, minerals, and recreation, are expanding substantially. However, the lack of sustainable products, processes, and business models often renders many activities in these markets unsustainable[4]. To ensure the sustainability of these economic sectors, it is essential to develop and implement strategies that promote the responsible and sustainable use of ocean resources.

The global progress towards achieving SDG 14, which focuses on marine conservation and sustainable fisheries management, varies across different regions. While some regions have made notable strides in these areas, others continue to grapple with challenges associated with overfishing, habitat degradation, and marine pollution. Positive achievements can be observed through the establishment of marine protected areas, the reduction of illegal fishing activities, and the adoption of sustainable fishing practices. For instance, the degree of application of frameworks that recognize and protect access rights for small-scale fisheries reached the highest level globally in 2022, based on available data, scoring a maximum of 5 out of 5[5]. However, urgent and concerted action is still required to ensure the long-term sustainability of our oceans.

To address the negative impacts of human activities on the marine environment, good governance, an enabling environment, and sustainable practices on both land and sea are crucial. Adequate measures need to be implemented in an integrated, cross-sectoral, and multi-scale manner, aligning with the ecosystem approach and involving all relevant stakeholders[6]. Embracing technologies such as aquaponics, tidal energy, and energy-efficient desalination can contribute to addressing these challenges while also presenting significant opportunities to harness the benefits of sustainable use of ocean resources3. By leveraging such approaches, we can strive towards achieving SDG 14 and safeguarding the health and well-being of our oceans for future generations.

Call to Action: Each of us has a role to play in advancing SDG 14. As individuals, we can make a difference by reducing our plastic consumption, making sustainable choices when it comes to seafood, joining local beach clean-up efforts, and raising awareness about the importance of marine conservation. Engage with both local and global organisations dedicated to ocean protection, volunteer your time or donate to projects focused on preserving marine ecosystems, and support policies and initiatives that promote sustainability. Businesses, too, have a responsibility to contribute by adopting sustainable fishing practices, investing in research and development for eco-friendly technologies that aid in ocean restoration, minimizing plastic waste in their operations, and implementing solutions that value and respect natural capital. Civil society organisations are instrumental in raising awareness, advocating for policy changes, and spearheading community-based conservation initiatives. Every individual's contribution counts, whether it's making conscious seafood choices, reducing the use of single-use plastics, participating in beach clean-ups, or supporting local conservation organisations.

International collaboration, partnerships, and funding mechanisms play a crucial role in supporting the achievement of SDG 14. Collaborative initiatives such as the

Global Ocean Observing System, Global Partnership for Oceans, and the Global Funds for Coral Reefs facilitate cooperation among governments, organisations, and stakeholders. Prominent organisations like the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and the

World Wildlife Fund (WWF) actively work towards preserving marine ecosystems through a range of initiatives. Together, we can collectively safeguard the oceans for the well-being of current and future generations.

Concluding Thoughts

The call to action for SDG 14 extends to individuals, businesses, civil society organisations, and global partnerships. By taking concrete steps such as reducing plastic consumption, supporting sustainable practices, engaging in community initiatives, and advocating for policy changes, we can contribute to the conservation and sustainable use of our oceans. International cooperation, collaborations, and funding mechanisms are equally crucial in supporting the achievement of SDG 14. With combined efforts, we have the power to protect marine ecosystems, ensure the health and productivity of our oceans, and secure a sustainable future for all. Let us act now to safeguard our precious oceans for generations to come.


[1]Oceans and Seas | Department of Economic and Social Affairs


[3]SDG #14 – Life Below Water

[4]SDG Blueprint | SDG 14

[5]Goal 14 | Department of Economic and Social Affairs

[6]Oceans and Seas | Department of Economic and Social Affairs

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