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The Ocean is Dying on all of Us: Could the UN SD Goal 14 Be Enough?

The UN held the first Ocean Conference to energize efforts in promoting ocean sustainability

This conference attempted to galvanize attention for their Sustainable Development Goal 14, which calls to save oceans, seas, and marine resources for sustainable development. Afterwards, a declaration was signed, but would that be enough and on time?

US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement gave a boost in one area: the media attention to the oceans.

From June 5th to June 9th, the United Nations held their first ever Ocean Conference, a conference that promoted specifically how climate change and micro plastic has affected our oceans. With topics that ranged from marine protected areas, overfishing, acidification, climate change, underwater robotics, plastics and marine debris- there’s no shortage of issue areas to galvanize action on.

However, most countries called for reducing single-use plastic. Swedish Deputy Prime Minister Isabella Lövin, whose country co-chaired the five-day conference with the small island of Fiji, said: “We know what needs to be done. We know the ocean is broken.” She noted that the oceans are now 30 percent more acidic than in pre-industrial times, big predatory fish stocks have declined by up to 90 percent, the surface waters are getting warmer and in some areas there are more micro plastics than plankton. At a press conference on the opening day of the Ocean Conference, UN Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, said, “there are many important reasons why we should have this conference. We need to galvanize action and not just in New York, but take it to country level because whether you feel like you’re affected by the oceans or not, you are.”  

UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed on a boat cruise during the World Ocean Festival (UN photo / Ariana Lindquist)

Of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals created, the UN created a plan known as Sustainable Development Goal 14 that highlights the need to use our oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development. SDG 14 outlines some solutions for reaching this goal including preventing and reducing marine pollution, minimizing ocean acidification, ending overfishing and unregulated fishing, and increasing time the economic benefits to small island developing states through the sustainable use of marine resources. UN Secretary-General António Guterres stated that “decisive, coordinated global action can solve the problems created by humanity.” Peter Thomson, from Fiji and the current president of the UN General Assembly, said, “This is not just about UN bureaucrats or government officials or taking action. This is about, all of us, are in this.”

Unfortunately, small island countries are the most affected by illegal fishing. Many small islands share a similar experience with Nauru’s President Baron Waqa, who describes his country hosting just 10,000 people, which is the smallest member of the United Nations. He said his country is 99.99% ocean, but tuna has made his tiny nation an economic player. Nauru and other small island neighbors have agreed to a tuna sustainability agreement to improve regulation of the valuable fish stocks. However, the Nauru leaders appealed for international assistance to the police 300,000 kilometers of a special economic exclusion zones established to protest tuna stocks. Waqa said, “We do not have the people, the boats or the technology” to apprehend illegal fishing ships and police the zones. Low-lying islands face rising seas and beach erosion. The countries meeting at the United Nations promised to establish a “call to action,” and dozens of voluntary commitments to help the island countries and others who co-exist with oceans.

Secretary-General António Guterres (center right) meets with Baron Divavesi Waqa (center left), President of the Republic of Nauru, the day of the Ocean Conference opening (UN photo / Eskinder Debebe)

In addition to countries voicing their concerns, Mission Blue was proud to be voluntarily committing to the creation of 30 new ocean Hope Spots by 2020 in support of United Nations SDG 14. Hope Spots are about recognizing, supporting and empowering individuals and communities around the world in their efforts to Protect the ocean. To date, a total of 85 Hope Spots sono stati designated. Hope Spots these include current and future Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) worldwide, and existing Hope Spots were the catalyst for the decisions on many MPA Designations. Awareness and engagement with the concept of Hope Spots strengthening is every month, and Mission Blue commits to the designation of 30 additional Hope Spots by January 1, 2020.

The Ocean Conference opened with a traditional Fijian welcome ceremony (UN Photo / Mark Garten)

Additionally, the first World Ocean Assessment promoted at the conference provided an important scientific basis of ocean issues by governments, intergovernmental processes, and to policy-makers and others involved in ocean affairs. The incredible 970-page assessment, which carried more like a textbook, reinforces a science-policy interface and establishes the basis for future assessments. These assessments are important not only to connect the scientific community with policy makers, but also helps craft policy that is grounded in fact rather than political opportunism. 

In its concluding remarks made at a final press conference on the Ocean Conference, the President of the UN General Assembly, Peter Thomson, told journalists that, “the bar has been raised on global consciousness and awareness of the problem in the oceans.” Participating Heads of State and Government and senior representatives signed a 14-point Call for Action  that they claimed would “affirm our strong commitment to conserve and sustainably use our oceans, seas and marine resources tor sustainable development.” In addition to the political Call for Action, participants – who also included thousands of civil society representatives, academics, artists, financial institutions and other practitioners and activists – pledged other actions to conserve and sustainable use the oceans, seas and marine resources.  The week-long conference, where some 6,000 people participated, was the first time the UN brought everyone together to discuss the challenges facing the world’s oceans. “When it comes to the ocean, it’s the common heritage of humankind. There’s no North-South, East-West When it comes to the ocean, ” Thomson said. “If the ocean is dying, it’s dying on all of us.”


All of the information stated at the conference was incredibly relevant and allowed for a very informative dialogue about protecting our oceans. However, the question left is how we, ordinary Civilians, can take the Necessary steps in making changes to help our oceans at home. During a High Level Dinner Reception hosted by the Permanent Mission of Italy on Marine Protected Areas, American marine biologist and explorer, Sylvia Earle, stated that “there is 4% of the ocean That we still need to protect. We are truly interconnected and interdependent. There are no amount of governments or countries to save us in our quest for the first marine sanctuary. “   

There are simple things you can do in your home such as taking shorter showers, not rinsing your plates before you dish wash them, bringing your own bag when you shop, and using a refillable water bottle or coffee cup to work / school just to start . It is important that the policies proposed during the UN Conference Ocean be implemented in society. Having a clean ecosystem should not be a dream. It should be a reality worth striving for.   

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