Oceans, seas and coastal areas form an integrated and essential component of the Earth’s ecosystem and are critical to sustainable development. They cover more than two-thirds of the earth’s surface and contain 97% of the planet’s water. Oceans contribute to poverty eradication by creating sustainable livelihoods and decent work. Over three billion people depend on marine and coastal resources for their livelihoods. In addition, oceans are crucial for global food security and human health. They are also the primary regulator of the global climate, an important sink for greenhouse gases and they provide us with water and the oxygen we breathe. Finally, oceans host huge reservoirs of biodiversity.
Oceans and marine resources are increasingly threatened, degraded or destroyed by human activities, reducing their ability to provide crucial ecosystem services. Human well-being cannot be achieved without the protection and conservation of the Earth’s ecosystem. To maintain the quality of life that the oceans have provided to humankind, while sustaining the integrity of their ecosystems, a change will be required in how humans view, manage and use oceans, seas and marine resources.
The importance of oceans for sustainable development is widely recognized by the international community and embodied in Chapter 17 of Agenda 21, the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation and various decisions taken by the Commission on Sustainable Development. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment emphasizes that all humans depend on the Earth’s ecosystems and the services they provide.
In the Rio+20 outcome document, Future We Want, Member States called for “holistic and integrated approaches to sustainable development that will guide humanity to live in harmony with nature and lead to efforts to restore the health and integrity of the Earth’s ecosystem”. In this context, they stressed, among others, the importance of “the conservation and sustainable use of the oceans and seas and of their resources for sustainable development, including through their contributions to poverty eradication, sustained economic growth, food security and creation of sustainable livelihoods and decent work…”. Accordingly, the Proposal of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals submitted to the United Nations General Assembly in August 2014 contains sustainable development goal (SDG) 14 which aims to “Conserve and sustainability use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development”.
The world’s oceans – their temperature, chemistry, currents and life – drive global systems that make the Earth habitable for humankind.
Our rainwater, drinking water, weather, climate, coastlines, much of our food, and even the oxygen in the air we breathe, are all ultimately provided and regulated by the sea. Careful management of this essential global resource is a key feature of a sustainable future. The importance of our oceans is listed below.
- Oceans cover three quarters of the Earth’s surface, contain 97 per cent of the Earth’s water, and represent 99 per cent of the living space on the planet by volume
- Over three billion people depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods
- Globally, the market value of marine and coastal resources and industries is estimated at $3 trillion per year or about 5 per cent of global GDP
- Oceans contain nearly 200,000 identified species, but actual numbers may lie in the millions
- Oceans absorb about 30 per cent of carbon dioxide produced by humans, buffering the impacts of global warming
- Oceans serve as the world’s largest source of protein, with more than 3 billion people depending on the oceans as their primary source of protein
- Marine fisheries directly or indirectly employ over 200 million people
- Subsidies for fishing are contributing to the rapid depletion of many fish species and are preventing efforts to save and restore global fisheries and related jobs, causing ocean fisheries to generate US$ 50 billion less per year than they could
- As much as 40 per cent of the world oceans are heavily affected by human activities, including pollution, depleted fisheries, and loss of coastal habitats
Many environmental agencies like our own our actively working together to help sustain our oceans by doing the following
- By 2025, prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, in particular from land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient pollution
- By 2020, sustainably manage and protect marine and coastal ecosystems to avoid significant adverse impacts, including by strengthening their resilience, and take action for their restoration in order to achieve healthy and productive oceans
- Minimize and address the impacts of ocean acidification, including through enhanced scientific cooperation at all levels
- By 2020, effectively regulate harvesting and end overfishing, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and destructive fishing practices and implement science-based management plans, in order to restore fish stocks in the shortest time feasible, at least to levels that can produce maximum sustainable yield as determined by their biological characteristics
- By 2020, conserve at least 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas, consistent with national and international law and based on the best available scientific information
- By 2020, prohibit certain forms of fisheries subsidies which contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, eliminate subsidies that contribute to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and refrain from introducing new such subsidies, recognizing that appropriate and effective special and differential treatment for developing and least developed countries should be an integral part of the World Trade Organization fisheries subsidies negotiation
- By 2030, increase the economic benefits to Small Island developing States and least developed countries from the sustainable use of marine resources, including through sustainable management of fisheries, aquaculture and tourism
- Increase scientific knowledge, develop research capacity and transfer marine technology, taking into account the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission Criteria and Guidelines on the Transfer of Marine Technology, in order to improve ocean health and to enhance the contribution of marine biodiversity to the development of developing countries, in particular small island developing States and least developed countries
- Provide access for small-scale artisanal fishers to marine resources and markets
- Enhance the conservation and sustainable use of oceans and their resources by implementing international law as reflected in UNCLOS, which provides the legal framework for the conservation and sustainable use of oceans and their resources.