Our oceans are essential for sustaining life on Earth. They provide low-carbon blue foods, on which over 3 billion people depend for their survival. However, our oceans and the resources they offer are at risk. That is why sustainable development goal (SDG) 14, also known as “Life Below Water,” is crucial. Unfortunately, it is woefully underfunded, despite underpinning all other SDGs. As the Sustainable Development community gathers in New York on September 18-19, it’s important to heed the call from our oceans for help.
Investing in our oceans has numerous benefits, including climate mitigation, food security, community resilience, gender equity, and poverty alleviation. Yet, historically, the ocean has received minimal attention on the international stage, which is a grave mistake. This year alone, we have witnessed catastrophic events such as hot tub temperatures fueling unprecedented storm events, massive loss of coral reefs, and the threat of vital ocean currents collapsing. These crises illustrate the connections between a healthy ocean and healthy communities, both at the water’s edge and far inland. The ocean impacts every person on the planet.
The proposed 2023 SDG Summit marks the beginning of a new phase of accelerated progress towards the SDGs, with high-level political guidance leading up to 2030. To kickstart this new phase, we need to prioritize SDG 14, “Life Below Water.” Shifting emphasis in this way will have significant benefits for other critical goals, such as No Poverty, Zero Hunger, and Gender Equality.
Historically, “Life Below Water” has been the least-funded goal, resulting in a missed opportunity. By investing in this goal, we directly invest in small-scale fisheries, critical blue foods, and coastal and supply chain livelihoods. These investments will benefit the communities most affected by climate change.
Investing in the ocean also has climate change-related benefits. The ocean absorbs around a quarter of the world’s annual CO2 emissions through biological processes in coastal areas and open ocean environments. Additionally, blue foods and small-scale fisheries are crucial for food security, with over 3 billion people depending on them for their livelihoods. Ignoring the ocean means neglecting the livelihoods of billions of people.
Moreover, food from the sea provides the most carbon-efficient animal protein globally. It is also readily available for vulnerable coastal communities. Shellfish and seaweed foods play restorative roles for coasts and the climate. While funding for SDG 14 mainly focuses on plastic pollution, attention must be given to other aspects of ocean health, such as habitat protections and sustainable fisheries.
To tip the balance in favor of sustainable development goals, funded and well-managed fisheries and ocean protections are vital. Public and philanthropic funding can provide critical capacity at the community level, supporting ocean-based food systems. Additionally, investment opportunities associated with fisheries, climate solutions, and the blue economy need to be explored and promoted.
We call on the President of the General Assembly and donor governments to increase investments in the ocean. This includes bilateral and multilateral funding commitments. Investing in the oceans is not only crucial for their health but also for the success of all other sustainable development goals. We cannot afford to let our seas slip through the net. It’s time to take action and protect the ocean that sustains us all.