The ocean is big and blue. It covers over three quarters of our planet. It’s one of the largest sources of life. But do we really understand our water, our vast ocean network, and most importantly: “Life Below Water”?
The Pacific. The Atlantic. The Indian. The Southern. The Arctic. Together, this mass of interconnected water covers 361,132,000 square kilometres (over 70% of the earth’s surface).
But, how much do we really need it, rely on it, and depend on it? And what is being done to conserve it?
Life below water gives us life above water
The ocean is vital to human life. We rely on the world’s oceans to provide and regulate our everyday, fundamental needs.
Our five main oceans connect to spread across the entire planet. It’s this mass waterway that:
- generates rainwater and drinking water
- regulates our climate and weather
- forms, maintains, and breeds life into our coastlines
- provides a huge proportion of our food and protein supplies
- helps regulate and provide oxygen, while absorbing carbon dioxide
- provides transport, trade routes, and employment.
The UN’s facts and figures about our oceans detail just how crucial water is to us, but they also outline the grave dangers it currently faces.
Life below water is at risk
Our oceans are under threat. This threat stems mostly from human actions. What is it going to take for us, the global population, to be aware of the real consequences of our actions?
Right now the health of our planet’s water is suffering significantly.
- Overfishing in the oceans results in declining fish species and damaged coral reefs, which creates an imbalance in the ecosystem.
- Increased pollution and industry is raising temperatures, contributing towards melting ice caps and rising sea levels, which harms marine species and ecosystems.
- Nearly 25% of fishing in developing countries happens near a coral reef and more than 70% of the world’s fisheries are in danger.
- Industry and pollution are also contributing to increasing acidity levels affecting the health of the ocean.
- Pollution and eutrophication (increased nutrients in estuaries or coastal waters changing ecosystem structures) are damaging coastlines.
- Increased tourism in coastal areas is increasing pollution in the water and adding to coastal erosion.
Goal 14 is giving hope to “Life below Water”
Goal 14: Life Below Water aims to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources”.
This seems a reasonable aim. But is it achievable in the current environment of land-based pollution leading to coral reef bleaching, overfishing in the oceans, marine habitat degradation, ocean acidification and climate change?
Goal 14’s targets are clear. In short, they aim to:
- reduce marine pollution
- maintain and protect marine and coastal ecosystems
- reduce acidification of the ocean
- end overfishing in the oceans
- protect 10% of marine areas via Marine Protected Areas
- make fisheries, aquaculture and tourism more sustainable
- increase the science and research around ocean health
- enhance ocean conservation efforts.
But, how do we turn a goal into a reality?
Changing perceptions and habits is vital
Action is needed now in order to preserve our oceans, and ultimately, preserve human life as we know it. As fish species decline, the health of coral reefs decreases and marine ecosystems crumble. This decline of Life Below Water is negatively affecting our lives above water.
But, how do we prioritise this? How do we, as a global community, realise the importance of action now?
How do we make the link between the food we buy in supermarkets and the fish living below water miles away? How do we notice the difference in the quality of the air we breathe, or the impact of rising CO2 levels? The short answer is: we don’t – not enough anyway – and this is why changing perspectives and habits is so important.
Scientific research can give us information and answers that the individual is unable to access. This is why science and global goals, like the UN SDGs, are so vital. It’s these official targets that are now calling governments, and individuals, to take action. And they are.
What’s the progress towards Goal 14?
Governments and organisations across the world are showing commitment to achieving Goal 14: Life Below Water.
- Governments around the world are committing to more protected marine areas. There are currently 16,927 MPAs in total and the number is increasing by the week. The World Database on Protected Areas equates this to 8% or 28,189,691 kilometers squared.
- Globally, the average coverage of marine Key Biodiversity Areas (KBA) by protected areas has risen from 32% in 2000 to 45% in 2017, an increase of more than 40%.
- Overfishing in the oceans has decreased between 1974 and 2013 and is stabilising in some areas for some species. But it still threatens our fish stocks.
How can the individual make an impact?
It’s not just governments that can make a difference though.
For the last 15 years, GVI has been working in collaboration with, and alongside the Seychelles National Parks Authority to protect marine resources in Seychelles’ precious marine parks.
Now, celebrating 20 years of sustainable development, GVI recognises, more than ever, the need for similar collaboration. This work needs to spread across the world, in order to achieve the necessary ocean protection for Goal 14: Life Below Water.
You can be part of vital marine conservation to help save the oceans that regulate our planet. Join GVI marine conservation programs in Mexico, Thailand, Fiji or Seychelles to make your contribution to our precious Life Below Water:
- Learn to scuba dive to monitor coral reefs and fish species.
- Research coral bleaching.
- Gain hands-on marine research and underwater survey experience.
- Collect marine ecosystem data for local environmental organisations.
- Help raise awareness of ocean conservation in international coastal communities.
- Help educate partners in marine ecosystem health.
Emily Shelton is an intern at the GVI Writing Academy. The Writing Academy is a skills-development program that pairs development editors with budding travel writers. Learn more about the program here.