The UN's Sustainable Development Goals are 17 encompassing objectives meant to address the world's most pressing health, educational, social and economic issues by 2030. This month, the UN General Assembly, as well as many of the governing bodies behind the UN's SDGs, will be convening and we'll be breaking down a goal a day.
SDG #14: Life Below Water
Over 70 percent of the earth's surface is reserved for oceans, and more than three billion people rely on marine systems for their livelihood. Yet, our ocean systems are on the decline, and it's largely due to human-caused pollution.
Oceans not only provide nourishment, economic opportunity, and cultural relevance to billions of people across the globe, but also a home to at least 200 thousand species of marine life and absorption for about 30 percent of human-produced carbon dioxide. It's up to us to pursue global and national policies and investments focused on ocean conservation and regulation in order to make our ocean resources resilient for current and future generations.
Beyond affecting scenery and wildlife in our marine ecosystems, ocean pollution can have a serious impact on human health at the individual level. Toxins from agricultural and municipal waste runoff, industrial pollutants, and plastic debris are easily ingestible by fish and other edible marine life, which may be bad news for humans when ingested at the next level of the food chain.
Many countries and seaside communities rely on fish as a staple of their diet, yet little international regulation exists for sea fishing and fish toxin levels often go under tested. Pair this with noticeable declines in oceanwide biodiversity and it becomes clear that both international and national policies are needed to increase protections for marine ecosystems across the globe.
The "You" Factor
Our oceans are in dire need of dedicated conservation efforts. Here's how you can get involved.
More than 75 percent of coral reefs are currently at risk across the globe. That's why organizations like Coral Reef Alliance work with reefside communities to develop innovative, community-focused reef protection plans, and help these same communities develop economic opportunities that shift the incentive away from exploiting reef resources.
At the regional level, Coalition Clean Baltic puts an emphasis on ocean clean up, sound fishing policy, and marine biodiversity, through a collaboration of Baltic-based NGOs. Through a combination of lobbying and field work, CCB has supported the passage of progressive fishing management legislation, organized beach cleanups across the region, and pushed for better ocean conservation policies in international bodies.
The Surfrider Foundation combines local, regional, and national chapters to address water and coastal preservation, reduce plastic pollution, and increase access to the world's beaches and oceans. Through their Blue Water Task Force, Surfrider has developed a national network of volunteer water testers responsible for alerting their neighbors to water quality concerns to combine crowdsourced data collection with community engagement. They're also currently running priority campaigns to save the EPA and prevent offshore drilling in the Atlantic Ocean.
The 5 Gyres Institute combines science, art, education, and outdoor adventure opportunities to fight plastics pollution in the world's oceans. 5 Gyres was a founding member of the Plastics BAN (Better Alternatives Now) List, and provides actionable guides on how to reduce the use of major plastic products including plastic bottles and straws. They also provide opportunities for citizen scientists to assist in field research for their comprehensive Global Estimate of Marine Plastic Pollution project.
To learn more about the SDGs, head to the Goalkeepers site created by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.