Around the world, there is a phenomenon known as a ‘dead zone’. This is an area of the ocean that lacks the sufficient oxygen required to support marine life. In 2008 there were 400 of these, and in 2021, there are roughly double that. In effect, we are killing our oceans, though not intentionally.
Here’s what you need to know about life below water…
The Ocean Problem
The oceans have a huge problem, namely, humans. The ecosystems that sustain life below the water are at threat from human activities and their decline and degradation mean that many marine, coastal, and freshwater regions and their biodiversity need intervention. Yes, we need to intervene positively to stop the negative and somewhat accidental intervention that has damaged them. It’s complicated, and when you throw in factors like ocean warming, acidification, plastic (and other material) pollution, and sewage, it looks like this problem will continue snowballing.
The thing is, we need the oceans more than they need us! We need coastal protection, we need food, and we need the chemicals that live underwater for a number of uses (namely pharmaceutical). Because of humans, we see dead zones, among other issues, such as eutrophication and harmful algae blooms. As a result, regeneration is challenged.
Visualising the scale of the oceans’ problems is nearly impossible. On top of plastic waste, we have chemical waste and sewage leaking its way into the oceans too. The polluting of the oceans occurs at such as fast rate that slowing it down or reversing it seems an unlikely feat.
The UN has labelled the oceans as ‘Blue Economies’ and is encouraging governments to recognise and include ocean health in their post-Covid-19 recovery plans. Ecosystem protection will not be easy, but the UN has ambitious plans for saving it.
As we’ve alluded to above, one of the ocean issues that has arisen is the prevalence of mask and personal protective equipment (PPE) waste. So, what are the facts and the impacts?
In truth, the numbers are a mystery. As of yet, we have no idea what the effects of PPE will be on the oceans, but it has been confirmed by ocean and beach cleanups that masks are among the largest groups of waste that are forming. Evaluating the true consequences of this is borderline impossible to do with the data available, though we can be absolutely sure that it’s not resulting in healthy marine ecosystems. It’s estimated that the pandemic sees 129 billion face masks and 65 billion gloves used every month, with a lot of this ending up in water systems on their way to the world’s oceans.
One positive that came from quarantines and lockdowns was a quieter coastal tourism sector, which resulted in a lowered demand for seafood, which then led to less trawling. Sealife may have been able to recover some numbers, only to be faced with new threats in the form of masks and gloves.
So, what can be done?
Ocean Governance and Recovery
The Monaco Blue Initiative (MBI) suggests that oceans can be protected by governing them better. The MBI holds annual debates on themes such as ocean conservation and invites governance actors to explore challenges facing the ocean, as well as how to promote a sustainable blue economy. They feel that there should be an ‘evolution in the concept of the exclusive economic zone’. Essentially, governments must regulate better in order to develop and manage blue finance more sustainably. They must also invest more heavily in natural capital and healthy ecosystems, or risk destabilising many sectors that rely on the oceans in a time where pollution and climate change are already upsetting the natural flow of life.
Regarding private businesses, another essential component of recovery, the MBI suggests that the oceans play a much larger role in corporate social responsibility strategies, with businesses aligning their values with sustainable oceans development. Businesses also need to align better with the SDGs and use them to set meaningful targets.
Fiji as a bounceback case study
One country that is doing very well at tackling the SDGs and futureproofing itself is Fiji. To ensure that they reach their 2030 and 2050 targets, they’ve invested in incredible future-modelling software to look at all of the different scenarios.
You can read this case study here.
Five proposed solutions to help SDG 14 recovery
An organisation called the UN Global Compact holds an event called the Ocean Stewardship Annual Review, identifying critical actions for the ocean. They do this in support of the ‘Decade of Action’ and the ‘2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’. The event brings together more than 50 CEOs, policymakers, and leaders in civil society. Together they recognise the pivotal part that the ocean will play in our post-Covid-19 recovery and the delivery of the SDGs too.
Below are the five ways in which they believe the SDG14 can be achieved:
- Fully traceable sustainable seafood
- Decarbonized shipping (“set sail for zero”)
- Harnessing ocean electricity
- Mapping the ocean
- Ending waste entering the ocean.
Unlike life on land, the oceans are difficult to access. It’s a complicated and confusing endeavour to try and protect them or even restore them to their former glory. How can we undo the damage already done? Whether it is impossible, or simply overly ambitious, we have to try. We cannot give up on the oceans and must make them a priority because of how many people rely on them in their daily lives.