Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development

August 4, 2021

The oceans cover more than two-thirds of the earth's surface and contain an incredible 97% of our planet's water.

They are the source of life as the world's largest ecosystem, home to nearly a million known species.

They are also an enormous economic asset. Around 90 percent of the world’s goods are traded across the oceans. Hundreds of millions of people work in fishing and mariculture, shipping and ports, tourism, offshore energy, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics—all of which rely on ocean resources. By some estimates, the ocean economy directly contributes more than $1.5 trillion a year to the global economy.

And finally, as we tend to forget, the oceans 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. So it does not matter if we have a house on the beach or somewhere hundreds of miles inland, through its impact on the climate, the oceans have a profound impact on every living being on the planet.

But our attitude towards the oceans does not reflect their importance.

Over past decades, we have damaged many of the ocean’s assets and reduced the ocean’s natural ability to restore itself. Ocean health is on a downward spiral, jeopardising the future of everyone. The oceans are becoming warmer, more acidic, stormier, higher, more oxygen-depleted, less predictable and less resilient—and neither the problems it is facing nor the wealth it yields are distributed equitably.

Putting a resource this critical at risk is reckless.

In order to achieve a more sustainable use of marine habitats, researchers are now attempting, as a first step, to ascertain the current status of these habitats. Before targeted measures to improve them can be implemented, it is essential to have detailed knowledge of the extent to which a habitat is degraded and how close or far away it is to its original healthy state.

Researchers in the US, for example, have developed the global Ocean Health Index (OHI), a valuable tool which allows the status of diverse marine habitats to be compared. The OHI’s scores are based on environmental factors such as biodiversity, but they also rate regions according to socio-economic criteria, such as coastal livelihoods.

However, general indices of this kind are not an adequate basis for more focused environmental policy-making: this requires specific target values or caps. In Europe, these targets are currently defined in the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD), which aims to achieve or maintain good marine environmental status by 2020. The Directive requires all of Europe’s coastal states to develop and implement national marine strategies in order to achieve this goal.

Find out more on SDG 14: