Earth’s oceans are crucial to sustain all life on our planet – including, of course, ourselves. They ultimately regulate weather, rainfalls, provide drinking water and oxygen. Healthy oceans are also necessary in the fight against climate disaster – after all, they absorb about 30% of carbon dioxide produced by humans. A large part of our food comes from the oceans and thanks to them we can keep in touch with other continents. However, what the seas and oceans give us, we take for granted too often. We exploit them excessively and pollute them drastically. Because of the importance of the oceans for all life, we have to come to our senses as soon as possible. That is why, among the 17 Sustainable Development Goals according to 2030 Agenda, there is a goal 14, which advocates that “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources”. What is the problem and is such a formulation of guidelines by the UN sufficient?
Problem big like the ocean itself
Oceans are huge not only in their sense, but also in size. They cover ¾ of the Earth’s surface, contain 97% of the water available and provide the greatest space for the development of a diverse life among all ecosystems on the planet. Although human science has already known and described 200,000 species of animals inhabiting this amazing space, it is estimated that their number may reach millions.
Still, some of them will probably not even be here for us to see in the near future. Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, the acidity of the oceans has increased by 26%. For many species it’s simply unbearable. Due to pollution caused by sea transport, as well as pollution flowing down from the mainland through rivers and rainfalls, the so-called dead zones emerge. They are barren sea wastelands deprived of any life. Coral reefs also trasform into such wastelands at an alarming rate – they are being destroyed both by changes in the chemical composition of waters and by excessive fishing, for example, for shrimp. In addition, as a result of intensive fishing, many valuable for ecosystems, often protected species of animals are caught in accidental fishing nets as so-called “bycatch”. Let’s not forget about sea poaching, illegal killing of cetaceans, sharks, turtles and others for consumption or medical purposes. And, of course, plastic and microplastic.
What the UN suggests in Sustainable Development Goal 14, then?
In the 2030 Agenda, which was signed by more than one hundred countries from around the world, the problem of oceans is fairly well exposed. The signatories have pledged that under the Sustainable Development Goal 14, in the next years they will try:
- preventing and reducing marine pollution of all kinds, in particular on land activities, including biogenic pollution;
- managing sustainably and protecting marine and coastal ecosystems by strengthening their resilience, and taking action to restore them in order to achieve healthy and productive oceans;
- minimize the impact of ocean acidification, including through enhanced scientific cooperation at all levels;
- effective regulation of fishing and the end of overfishing, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and destructive fishing practices and the implementation of science-based management plans to restore fish stocks in the shortest time possible;
- protection of at least 10% of coastal and marine areas, in accordance with national and international law and based on the best available scientific information;
- prohibiting certain forms of payment for fisheries which contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, eliminating subsidies contributing to illegal fishing and refraining from introducing new such subsidies;
- increasing economic benefits for small island and developing countries from sustainable fisheries, aquaculture and tourism management;
- enhancing scientific knowledge, research capacity development and transfer of marine technologies to improve the health of the oceans and increase the contribution of marine biodiversity to development in developing countries;
- providing small fishermen with access to marine resources and markets; enhancing the conservation and sustainable use of oceans and their resources through the implementation of international law reflected in UNCLOS, which provides a legal framework for such activities.
Sustainability is not enough
The United Nations, in the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, aimed to protect the oceans primarily through the fishing sustainability. Indeed, it seems necessary when we think about nearly three billion people relying on the “resources” of the coastal waters. For some, catches from uncontrolled fishing are the most important or even the only source of food. However, let us leave these people alone – from the position of a privileged European, it’s not ethically possible to evaluate their activities. But what about us, who have alternatives, who eat fish and seafood not from necessity, but from frills?
It seems that the moral absolution in this matter is no longer relevent in our case. Wouldn’t it be better, instead of buying fish from sustainable sources (if in the current state of exploitation of the oceans we can call it sustainable at all) – just refrain from their consumption? It would be more ecological, ethical and, in many cases, simply healthier solution. Governments can give us suggestions, but it is because of our consumer behaviors, that they have no space to move. If we really want the change, it’s worth starting with ourselves.