SDG 14: Conserve And Sustainably Use The Ocean And Marine Resources

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Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources

Three quarters of the Earth’s surface are covered by water. The ocean drives global systems that make our planet 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.

Being the world’s largest ecosystem, the ocean represents 99% of the living space on the planet by volume, containing nearly 200,000 identified species with actual numbers possibly lying in the millions. It absorbs about 30% of carbon dioxide produced by humans and more than 90% of the excess heat in the climate system, mitigating the impacts of global warming. As much as 40% of the ocean is already heavily affected by pollution, depleted fisheries, loss of coastal habitats, and other human activities which is especially fatal for the over three billion people whose livelihoods depend on marine and coastal biodiversity.  In order to protect the oceans it is crucial to reduce and prevent pollution of waterways, protect maritime ecosystems, end over-fishing and illegal fishing while supporting fishing communities in developing sustainable fishing practices, foster scientific cooperation with regards to increasing knowledge, improving technologies, and minimizing ocean acidification, as well as make and maintain international laws related to the protection of the world’s water resources.

Key action points and progress

The Action Platform ‘Sustainable Ocean Business’ has identified five tipping points crucial for the achievement of the targets under SDG 14.

The first among them is fully traceable sustainable seafood, fundamental to achieving SDG 2 (Zero Hunger), which is dependent on transparency and traceability across the value chain.

Under the slogan “Set sail for zero” the second tipping point calls on public-private-partnerships to de-carbonize shipping supply to secure sustainable global trade and growth. Electric power from ocean wind, currents, tides, and waves will play a vital role in halving emissions by 2030 to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C, making harnessing ocean electricity another tipping point.

Mapping the ocean for data collection is another crucial point to understand how the ocean’s vast resources can be used responsibly and sustainably to meet the demands of a growing world population.

Finally, ending waste entering the ocean is key to mitigate the harmful effects of plastic pollution and poor waste(water) management and keep marine ecosystems healthy and productive.

Despite the critical importance of conserving oceans, decades of irresponsible exploitation have led to an alarming level of degradation. Current efforts to protect key marine environments and to invest in ocean science are not yet meeting the urgent need to safeguard this resource. The drastic reduction in human activity brought about by the COVID19 crisis, while rooted in tragedy, is a chance for oceans to recuperate. It is also an opportunity to map a sustainable recovery path that will ensure economic livelihoods as well as long-term ecosystem health.

International perspective

Increasing levels of debris in the world’s oceans have a major environmental and economic impact. Every year, an estimated 5 to 12 million metric tonnes of plastic enter the ocean, costing roughly $13 billion per year in clean-up costs and financial losses for fisheries and other industries such as tourism. About 89% of plastic litter found on the ocean floor are single-use items like plastic bags and water bottles. The health of the ocean is linked to human health and our socio-economic livelihoods.

Local initiatives towards achieving SDG 14

The UAE still has room for improvement in achieving SDG 14. For instance, the target “coverage of protected areas in relation to marine areas” currently measures 30% achievement according to the official portal for the SDGs in UAE.

The fisheries sector constitutes only a small part of the UAE’s economy, however, over-fishing over the years has led to declining in stocks. Some studies have shown that there has been a decline of 88% in the period 1976 to 2011, mainly due to increasing demand accompanying population growth which resulted in over-fishing. Other factors include coastal development projects and construction in fishing waters, using recreational boats for commercial fishing purposes, and high levels of pollution and degradation of natural habitats in coastal areas.

The main legislation regulating fisheries dates to 1999 and is concerned with the exploitation, protection, and development of living aquatic resources. In recent years, proactive steps have been taken to respond to current challenges, strengthening the protection of the marine environment through policies, legislation, and regulations as well as investments in research and development. In the framework of the Ministry of Climate Change & Environment’s strategy 2017-2021 for the sustainability of natural ecosystems and preserving marine life, the UAE is rehabilitating the degraded coastal areas through the restoration of coral reefs which are considered natural habitats and multi-dimensional community structures for marine organisms, the cultivation of mangroves which serve as nursery and feeding ground for many aquatic creatures, as well as artificial reef deployment to support the marine environment.

The UAE has been working towards its emergency response by developing a Coastal Oil Spill Clean-up Guide and an Oiled Shoreline Assessment Guide, which aim to help decision-makers, field teams, and volunteers to respond quickly and adequately to beach pollution.  Furthermore, the UAE established the world’s first research facility in 2016 to explore the commercial viability and scale-up potential of an integrated, sustainable bio-energy system that produces food and fuel, without using arable land or fresh water in a desert environment. Successful development of this technology could support global food security, mitigate carbon emissions, and reduce water pollution from industrial aquaculture operations.

Examples for impactful business action

To combat issues such as marine and nutrient pollution, resource depletion and man-made climate change and promote ocean sustainability, innovative solutions that prevent and mitigate negative impacts on marine environments are essential. Global businesses must also work to protect marine species and support the people who depend on oceans globally.

Key themes related to SDG 14 that need to be addressed by businesses are marine biodiversity, ocean acidification, environmental investments, spills, sustainable sourcing, as well as water and waste discharge to oceans. To protect marine biodiversity, companies need to prohibit practices that put marine species and resources at further risk of harm, exploitation, or depletion. Significantly reducing marine pollution of all kinds, particularly from land-based activities including marine debris and nutrient pollution, is one of the main targets under SDG 14. Businesses of all kinds are called upon to investigate the value chain of their products with the goal to minimize water pollution and incorrect disposal of – often unnecessary – waste much of which ultimately ends up in the ocean where it has horrendous and long-lasting impacts.

Featured local organization: Azraq

Locally, a lack of information on species diversity, distribution, biological data, composition, and quantities of catches due to a limited number of dedicated research programs has been identified by government institutions as a main hindrance for the conservation of maritime species. Limited awareness concerning the importance of biodiversity within related industries as well as the public can lead to misuse or overuse of species and their habitats.

Azraq is a non-profit marine conservation organisation registered with the Community Development Authority in the UAE which responds to this lack of awareness surrounding maritime issues. Its mission is to end the destruction of habitat and slaughter of wildlife in the world’s oceans in order to conserve and protect ecosystems and species. By educating through awareness programs and community presentations, they aim to motivate individuals, organisations, and communities at large to make a difference and get them to take action by offering a range of activities on, in and around the ocean.

Azraq is an initiative dedicated to the UAE specifically and not only focusing on the protection, defence, and conservation of marine life, but enabling the formation of partnerships with governmental and non-governmental entities, schools, corporates, and individuals for the good of the local marine environment. Among their core activities are marine debris, dolphin and turtle protection, and mangrove rehabilitation – topics that are central to ocean-related sustainability in the UAE – and through Azraq’s campaigns, companies have the opportunity to get involved as part of their CSR efforts.

Featured local company: EcoCoast

EcoCoast is a for-profit company with offices in the UAE and the UK, pioneering solutions for sustainable coastal and marine developments. The team specializes in engineering, manufacturing, and installing custom solutions for companies that are seeking technical expert advice and purpose-specific marine solutions for environmental, navigational, safety, and security applications. 

Their main fields of work are coastal development and protection (creating, protecting, and maintaining safe and healthy beach, sports, and other leisure areas), aids to navigation (a complete range of marine buoys, lanterns, and mooring to aid safe navigation worldwide), marine protection and demarcation (design, manufacture, installation, and maintenance of marine protection and demarcation products), and marine safety and security (heavy-duty Bolina Booms for the safety and security of water ways). 

EcoCoast is committed to and ethical business conduct, ensuring Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) strategies are embedded in a formal, structured way. Building on the company culture of integrity, transparency, and collaboration, ESG principles are fundamental to all internal and external business processes. The ESG framework of EcoCoast focuses on three areas that represent the foundation for scalable impact and sustainable growth, being EcoCoast’s six pillars of sustainability (environmental, material, ecosystem, people, community, corporate), the SDGs, as well as MSCI ACWI’s five actionable impact themes design for use by investors who want to steer capital towards businesses providing solutions to major social and environmental challenges. Furthermore, the company strives to practise Good Governance. Since the UAE does not have formal regulations on Corporate Governance requirements, EcoCoast abides by the principles of the UK Corporate Governance Code. Their Corporate Governance reporting provides details on how the company complies with the principles of the code and in areas where the principles are not applied, a detailed explanation of the underlying reasons.

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Carolin Hussein

Carolin started her career at a grassroots NGO in Cairo working on various projects ranging from economic development and community empowerment to health and social inclusion.

Since coming to the UAE in 2009, Carolin has balanced working at the country’s biggest German-speaking publication and completing her Master’s degree in Sustainable Development Cooperation.

Carolin’s goal is to make a difference for the public. For her that means working on a few key issues, with an emphasis on social and environmental projects that can foster new ideas, establish cross-sectoral partnerships, and achieve tangible results that serve the public interest.

Carolin joined Goumbook in 2020.