SDG #14: Life Below WaterOur oceans provide the air we breathe, food we eat, recreation, transportation and climate regulation.
Without a healthy marine ecosystem, not only will marine life suffer, we will too.
Can we create balance again in the deep blue oceans?
Sustainable Development Goal #14: Life Below Water
Oceans heal and provide life. They support the global population’s economic, social and environmental needs.
If we continue to destroy marine biodiversity at the current rate, we will witness the massive extinction of many different species, including our own. Not today, but another day.
Current efforts to protect marine environments are being made, however, they are not yet meeting the urgent need to safeguard these places. These efforts need to be accompanied with action from individuals and businesses. From you and me. We can no longer rely on the government to fix all of our problems. We all have the opportunity and responsibility to take action on Sustainable Development Goal #14: Life Below Water.
That may sound overwhelming and scary, but it isn’t. We, the people, have the power, resources, knowledge to heal and protect marine ecosystems. It’s all about passion and fun learning. For you and your family. Our oceans are our children’s life support.
Let’s protect marine life!
So much about our deep blue oceans remain a mystery, filled with stories of our imagination, written in books, fairy tales, songs, poems, etc.
With the equipment we have today, we’ve already solved many mysteries and are discovering new species on a regular basis. With our scientific knowledge, we can now see the danger we put ourselves in.
What’s at stake in our deep oceans:
- Ocean Acidification
- Illegal Fishing
- Marine Life Crimes
When the pH levels in an ocean decrease over a long period of time, this is called acidification. This mainly occurs when there’s an increase of CO2 in our atmosphere.
The industrial revolution over 200 years ago has caused a tremendous increase in CO2. Because of this, the pH level in our oceans has dropped to 8.1 pH units, which is a .1 decrease. This may not seem like a big difference, but it means an approximate 30% increase in acidity which is huge.
The oceans themselves can absorb about 30% of the CO2 released in the atmosphere, however, as the levels in the atmosphere rise, so do the levels in the oceans. Chemical reactions then occur in salt water causing an abundance of hydrogen ions and a scarcity of carbonate ions.
What happens when oceans acidify?
- Calcifying life forms such as oysters, clams, sea urchins, corals and calcareous plankton struggle with building and maintaining shells or their calcium carbonate structures. A sea urchin’s exoskeleton, for instance, is made of calcium carbonate.
- Non-calcifying life forms are affected as well. Certain fish species such as the clownfish, can no longer detect predators in more acidic waters, increasing the risk for them and the entire food chain.
- Unless things change, by the end of this century, a pH level of 7.8 is projected. The last time the ocean pH was this low was during the middle Miocene epoch, 14-17 million years ago. This will drive many species into extinction.
According to the IUU Watch, the International Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter, and Eliminate Illegal Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (IUU) defines IUU as “activities that contravene national laws and regulations, the conservation and management measures of Regional Fishery Management Organisations (RFMOs) and, where relevant, international law”.
What happens when fish are exploited?
- 11 – 26 million tons of fish amounting to $10 – $23,5 billion are caught illegally each year. Not just fish, tens of millions of sharks and rays are killed as well.
- Illegal fishing depletes fish stocks and challenges conservation and management efforts since regulation is extremely difficult to manage in the vast open sea.
- Ethical small scale fishers who are large contributors to developing economies become marginalized. Their livelihoods are being threatened the most by COVID-19 due to restrictions in market access.
Marine Life Crimes
Not only is marine life stolen from their homes to be sold on the illegal food market or for our own entertainment (think of aquariums in large parks, restaurants, hotels and living rooms), larger predators and protectors of the oceans are being painfully killed for their parts at an enormous rate. We’ll just explore two renowned crimes: shark finning and whaling. Unfortunately, there are more marine life crimes!
Shark finning is the act of cutting off the fins of sharks only to thrown them back into the ocean left to die slowly from blood loss, predation or suffocation, whichever comes first. Sharks have to continuously swim to be able to pump oxygen-bearing water into and carbon dioxide out of their gills and without their fins, they can’t breathe.
Shark fins are used in TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) and also as an expensive delicacy to make soup. Their fins are made of cartilage which virtually has no nutritional value.
An estimated 100 million or more sharks per year are killed in this way, upsetting ocean biodiversity and driving many species into extinction.
Source: Shark Stewards
Photo: Gerald Schömbs on Unsplash.
Keeping the Balance
With over 500 different species, sharks are top predators and vital members of many different marine ecosystems around the world. They prey on many different kinds of weak, ill and old fish because they’re easy to catch. This helps prevent the spreading of disease and keeps fish populations healthy, ensuring the survival of the fittest principle. Because their diets are diverse, they don’t deplete entire species, but move on to where food is plentiful.
They also maintain seagrass meadows, hunt harbor seals to prevent them from driving the walleye pollock into extinction, protect coral reef systems, maintain carbon cycle in the ocean and much more.
Source: Our Endangered World
By 2021, almost all known shark species have been assessed on a global level using the IUCN Red List categories and criteria.
Sharks are amongst the oldest animals on Earth, having swum our oceans for over 400 million years. They survived the dinosaurs and yet, many species are now facing extinction and one reason is finning!
Although commercial whaling was banned in 1986, this extremely old tradition is still being practiced in Norway, Japan and Iceland, killing nearly 40,000 large whales since then.
Minke, Humpback, Sperm, Western Gray and the endangered North Pacific Right whales face a terrifying death to hunters in the ocean. Their oil, meat and blubber are sold for medicine and pet and human food. It’s big business and also very dangerous for those who try to get in the way of a whaler ‘doing his job’.
An additional 100,000 dolphins (over 56 different species), small whales and porpoises are also killed worldwide each year. Their body parts are used for food for humans and as bait in fisheries. In Taiji, Japan, young cetaceans are taken to be held in captivity for human entertainment.
Source: Whale and Dolphin Conservatory
Whales are important to keep the balance in an ocean, just like sharks. They have also taught us about the way they communicate, through echolocation and other language forms. The Humpback Whale uses a mating song when the time is ripe!
There are several Critically Endangered (CR) whale species including the North Atlantic Right Whale and Beluga on the IUCN Red List.
No US American will forget the ad campaign about pollution from Keep America Beautiful called “The Crying Indian” (even though the actor was Italian) which ran from 1961-1983. Its TV commercial debut was on Earth Day 1971. The intention was to spread awareness and inspire action and it certainly was successful. The simple and true slogan: “People Start Pollution. People can stop it.” This one ad helped reduce litter by 88% across 38 states, but, it didn’t stop it completely.
Just that one word sends a chill down many people’s spine. It seems that everyone on this planet is now aware of the problems of plastic which is a good thing. How can such a incredibly versatile and easy-to-make material become a main killer of marine life?
Shouldn’t we have seen this coming? What goes up, must come down. What isn’t biodegradable, will pile up. That certainly makes sense, but what we didn’t realize is just how much waste ends up in our oceans.
In the 1960s was when plastic was discovered to be the perfect packaging material and bam, it was commercialized. Today, it’s estimated to be 300 million tons of plastic produced every year and although we’ll never know for sure, it’s estimated to be around 150 million metric tons of plastic swimming in our oceans. A metric ton is 1000 kg (2,205 lbs), making it a number I can’t even write out, it’s so long! That’s an unfathomable amount of garbage!
In 2018, it was estimated that 808 trillion plastic microbeads went down the drain every day in the US, with ‘only’ eight trillion passing through water treatment plants to land in lakes, rivers and oceans. Plastic microbeads and microfibers are found in many different products: Clothes (polyester), toothpaste, personal care products for exfoliation, in the medical field, etc.
TOXINS & CHEMICALS
Not only does plastic kill marine life, we’ve also seen what oil spills have caused. Thousands of oil spills occur each year in US waters, but we usually don’t hear about them. They are ‘small’ and happen when refueling a ship. Oops! Unfortunately, they cause damage to beaches, mangroves and wetlands.
Dangerous spills occur when a pipeline breaks, oil tanker sinks or something goes wrong during drilling. Recovery for all wildlife after a huge spill is impossible because it’s difficult to locate and catch animals in order to clean and rehabilitate them. Some are just too big, like whales, and the affected area is so large.
Advances are being made in the way of prevention and cleanup knowledge, but we’re far away from stopping them 100%.
Blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) is a deadly bacteria that has been known to kill water-loving animals, including dogs. It’s caused by climate change as well as human sewage and fertilizers running into lakes and rivers. It’s the reason why Florida has forbade swimming in certain beach areas and deemed the summer of 2013 as the ‘Toxic Summer’. At least one manatee as well as fish and shellfish died and made those humans who’ve touched it, ill with diarrhea, vomiting, etc.
Other toxins in our oceans include mercury caused by vehicle exhaust from boats and cars as well as coal-fired power plants. Dolphins and humans are most affected by mercury poisoning.
There are more than 100,000 chemicals manufactured by humans which land in our oceans some way or another. And so, when we read about mass graves of marine life, many times, we find out it’s due to chemical poisoning.
And let’s not forget about noise pollution in the form of military sonar interference that detect sound waves to identify underwater objects, identify large areas of natural gas or oil reserves, map out the ocean floor, etc. Animals who are sensitive to intense sound waves, such as whales, dolphins and porpoises are in danger. This interference of their natural world disrupts their breeding and feeding patterns, and even migrations. Whales have been known to swim hundreds of miles to escape these intense sound waves and in doing so, they’ve abandoned their pods or calves, and have even beached themselves, which sadly looks and feels like suicide.
If we fail to reach SDG #14: Life Below Water, upcoming generations won’t be walking on the same planet that we live on today.
Live below water will suffer tremendously or die and life on Earth will be very challenging.
The UN set ten targets for the Sustainable Development Goal #14: Life Below Water:
- Prevent and drastically reduce all marine pollution by 2025.
- Sustainably manage and protect marine and coastal ecosystems by 2020.
- Minimize and address the impacts of ocean acidification.
- Regulate harvesting and end overfishing and illegal fishing (IUU) and implement science-based management plans to quickly restore fish stocks by 2020.
- Conserve at least 10% of coastal and marine areas by 2020.
- Prohibit certain forms of fisheries subsidies which support overfishing and illegal fishing (IUU) by 2020.
- Increase financial benefits of the use of sustainable marine resources for small island developing states and least developed countries by 2030.
- Increase scientific knowledge, develop research capacity and transfer marine technology to the development of developing countries.
- Provide access for small fishers to marine resources and markets.
- Enhance conservation and sustainable use of oceans and their resources by implementing international law.
Source: United Nations
Not all targets have been met by the dates prognosed above and yet, some progress has been made:
- As of December 2019, over 17% of waters were protected under national jurisdiction.
- Global mean % of protected areas of key biodiversity areas increased between 2000 to 2020 from 28% to 44%.
- Between 2018 and 2020, managing IUU fishing has improved worldwide. Almost 75% of states implemented relevant international instruments in 2020 compared to 70% percent in 2018.
- In 2019, 13 countries with active assessment and management systems in place have reported increased fish stocks higher than the world average of 65.8%.
- As of 14 February 2020, the number of parties to the Agreement on Port State Measures – the first binding international agreement that specifically targets this type of fishing – increased to 66 (including the European Union), up from 58 the year before.
- Globally, chlorophyll-a (the pigment responsible for photosynthesis in all plants and algae) anomalies in decreased by 20% from 2018 to 2020.
Source: United Nations
Fun and Easy Actionable Steps
Since much more action is needed to reach this goal, each and every human on this planet is called to step in and do their part. This may seem overwhelming, however, there are easy steps to take that can make a big difference in the grand scheme of things.
The key here is to take one step at a time and always remember that you are not alone.
All of these steps below start with a positive mindset. Let your creative juices flow while asking yourself critical questions and have fun with it.
This is a communal effort. so please involve your family in the planning and decision making process. Especially your children no matter how old they are. These are activities the entire family can enjoy together.
Fun and easy things you can do:
- Set a goal according to your passion and skills: Before embarking on a new endeavor, especially when diving into conservation efforts, it’s important to combine your knowledge with your passion. This is a marathon, not a sprint, so you want to make sure your heart is in it before putting your valuable time and energy into it. To be able to figure out how you can help the most, you could first choose a particular species or area you want to focus on. Do you have a favorite marine animal or do you love to go scuba diving in the coral reefs or are you most concerned about plastic pollution or oil spills? Is there a particular area you already have vast knowledge in or want to expand, such as chemistry or biology? If so, you could help decrease chemical waste in our oceans. There are so many possibilities and it starts with your heart.
- Reduce your plastic use and eliminate single-plastic use altogether: Most everyone seems to already be on board with this idea and are taking the necessary steps. Plastic packaging has been reduced and people are more conscious about plastic when they shop. Many people bring their own totes to pack their groceries in instead of using dozens of plastic bags. You can take this further and make your own products. There are hundreds of DIY recipes for hand cream, lip balm, deodorant, shampoo, etc. I haven’t bought body/hair care items from stores since 2018 or so and don’t plan to ever again. This will also save you tons of money! I don’t, however, make my own soap because it’s a chore for me, so instead, I buy bars of soap from Dr. Bronners and bar shampoo and conditioner from Alverde.
- Get involved with your local government: As mentioned in tips to help reach Sustainable Development Goal #13: Climate Action, you can join join a local group to help clean up the city/forest/beach. Or you can do this on your own. For instance, on your daily (dog) walks, you can pick up trash. Don’t forget to use gloves to protect yourself during the pandemic.
- Vote for politicians who care about our oceans: We need people in power who understand how important marine life is for our survival and wellbeing. Vote and advocate for them.
- Support an organization: Research ocean conservation organizations to find the one that fits your values. If you can, volunteer your time. This will give you valuable experience for your resumé as well as increase your knowledge on this subject. If you prefer to financially support an organization, make sure you support one that is fully transparent about how your money will be spent. They should provide this information on their website. You can also check their credibility on sites such as Charity Navigator and Charity Watch. You can also become a member of an organization such as 1% for the Planet or B1G1 that performs this kind of vetting research. It cost a yearly fee but may be worth your time.
- Start the conversation: Everyone has a network of business partners, friends and family. Learn and talk about ecocide, “mass damage and destruction of ecosystems – harm to nature which is widespread, severe or systematic” and become an Earth Protector. As soon as we all understand that protecting our home is as important as protecting each human being (think of genocide) and any individual or company who commits this horrific crime on our home will face consequences, is when we will be able to create change on a global level.
- Start your own project: Use your creativity and passion to start a project. If you like to make jewelry, you can make them from recycled plastic from the ocean. That’s how the 4 ocean bracelets started.
- Eat consciously: Please research what kind of fish is best to eat in your area. Local catches will always be better than transporting them frozen. Any fish who’s caught illegally, with huge nets or is endangered are obviously not the most helpful choices either. Read labels, understand what the badges mean, read the brand’s website on how they catch their fish and ask around. Just be careful of greenwashing. What you may be told may not be the truth as many marketers just want to make a sale. Or … better yet, go vegan! Even eating just one vegan meal a week will help.
- Buy clothes made of natural materials: Just like with all purchases, please assessing first whether you really need that new shirt or dress before you buy new clothes. If you do buy new clothes, please read the labels and research the brands beforehand. Polyester is plastic and with each wash, tiny microfibers land in our waterways which get eaten up by marine life. There are washing machine filters to catch these fibers, but since you want to reduce your plastic consumption, it’s best to buy clothes made of natural fibers such as organic hemp, linen, cotton, cork, etc.