SDG 14: Life Below Water focuses on the critical role played by oceans, along with coastal and marine resources, in contributing to human well-being as well as economic opportunity. The oceans provide food for the world’s growing population, and our rainwater and drinking water are ultimately provided and regulated by the sea. However, ocean health and marine life are threatened by overfishing, pollution and acidification. SDG 14 is further refined by targets that can be more readily translated into actions. These targets highlight the interconnected nature of the goals: for example, strategies to support Life Below Water are intertwined with strategies that support SDG 3 (Good Health and Well Being), SDG 10 (Reduced Inequalities), and SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth) – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests. Below are a series of synergies that can come from providing access to products, services and systems that address Life Below Water.

Invest in Access to Sustainable Sources of Food and Nutrition

More than 3 billion people depend on the oceans as their primary source of protein1 making oceans the world’s largest protein source. Fish accounts for 17% of the global population’s intake of animal protein.2 Sustainable fishing practices, including responsible fisheries and aquaculture, offer opportunities to reduce hunger and improve nutrition. 3 According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, aquaculture is the fastest-growing food sector and has the potential to produce the fish needed to help meet the demands of a growing population.4 The FAO forecasts that almost three-quarters of the growth in demand for fish between 2017 and 2026 will come from Asian countries with rapidly growing populations. 5 The global share of marine fish stocks that are within biologically sustainable levels declined from 90% in 1974 to 69% in 2013.6 Marine protected areas need to be effectively managed and well-resourced, and regulations need to be put in place to reduce overfishing.7 As of January 2018, just 16% (or approximately 22 million square kilometers) of the marine waters under national jurisdiction—i.e., 0 to 200 nautical miles from shore—were protected.8

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Invest in Access to CleanWater, Sanitation and Hygiene

Our rainwater and drinking water are ultimately provided and regulated by the sea.9 Approximately 70% of Earth’s surface is covered in ocean water. When water at the ocean’s surface is heated by the sun it gains energy. With enough energy, the molecules of liquid water change into water vapor and move into the air. This process is called evaporation. 10 Rising temperatures will intensify the earth’s water cycle, increasing evaporation. Increased evaporation will result in more storms, but also contribute to drying over some land areas. As a result, storm-affected areas are likely to experience increases in precipitation and increased risk of flooding, while areas located far away from storm tracks are likely to experience less precipitation and increased risk of drought. 11

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SDG 14: References




The global ocean covers 71% of the planet and generates USD 2.5 trillion a year of goods and services — making the ocean the 7th largest economy in the world.

Sustainable use development of the dynamic, interconnected global ocean presents unique opportunities and challenges for the private sector. As ocean health and resources decline, ocean industries are being increasingly held responsible for their impacts. As a result, private sector access to ocean resources, services and space — even by companies with the best environmental record — is at risk from the loss of the social license. There are many efforts by responsible companies to differentiate themselves from poor performers and try to do business more sustainably. However, the efforts of one company or even a whole sector are not enough to address collective global impacts by a diverse range of industries in a shared global ecosystem.

The private sector is well placed to develop and deliver solutions in response to society’s demands that marine ecosystem use is responsible and industry impacts are minimized. A cross-sectoral ocean business community of leadership and collaboration is needed to address marine environmental issues, differentiate good performers, create collaboration with like-minded companies within and across sectors, engage ocean stakeholders — and attract investment to those companies leading the way in ocean sustainable development.

Industry leadership is essential to ensuring both the long-term health of ocean and responsible industry use of marine space and resources. Responsible industry performers are well positioned to develop and drive business-oriented solutions to marine environmental challenges and to collaborate with other ocean industries and stakeholders in ensuring the health and continued economic use of the seas. There is business value in ocean industries engaging in a coordinated, systematic approach to addressing the challenges affecting the future of ocean business, creating opportunities for collaboration and economies of scale in developing solutions.

To address ocean sustainability issues and opportunities critical to business, the World Ocean Council (WOC) was established, creating an unprecedented global, cross-sectoral industry alliance for “Corporate Ocean Responsibility.” The WOC brings together the diverse international ocean business community (i.e. shipping, oil and gas, fisheries, aquaculture, offshore renewable energy, seabed mining, etc. — including investment companies) to catalyze leadership and collaboration in addressing ocean sustainable development, science and stewardship. In addition to its 80+ WOC Members, the WOC network includes 35,000+ ocean industry stakeholders around the world.

Many companies do want to address marine environmental issues, differentiate themselves from poor performers, collaborate within and across sectors, and engage other ocean stakeholders. Now, with the World Ocean Council, there is a structure and process for companies to work on complex, intertwined, international ocean sustainable development issues. The WOC is harnessing this potential for global leadership and collaboration in ocean stewardship by responsible ocean companies that are well placed to develop and drive solutions to address cross-cutting issues in support of responsible business, reduced risk, continued access and sustainable development.

Protecting the seas to protect your business makes good business sense, e.g. through the economies of scale that can be achieved in joint research on shared problems. A growing number and range of companies share the WOC vision of a healthy and productive global ocean and its sustainable use and stewardship by responsible companies.

The WOC is creating international multi-sectoral/multi-stakeholder “platforms” to tackle cross-cutting priorities for ocean sustainable development, e.g. ocean governance/policy, marine spatial planning, marine sound, pollution, the Arctic, marine invasive species, marine debris, marine mammal impacts, port reception facilities, the adaptation of ports and coastal infrastructure to sea level rise/extreme weather events, data collection by ocean industries (ships/platforms of opportunity).

Many of the environmental and sustainable development challenges facing the ocean industries can be addressed by innovative solutions. The WOC has been working to create business opportunities for companies that are developing solutions by raising awareness among the large ocean industry operators of these solution providers and bringing the parties together.

The WOC is launching the “Ocean Investment Platform” in 2016 to bring together: 1) Investors, 2) Leadership companies from major ocean use sectors, e.g. fishing, aquaculture, shipping, offshore energy, etc., and 3) Enterprises that provide the solution innovations, technology or services. The global, cross-sectoral Ocean Investment Platform will catalyze interaction among investors, ocean industries and solution providers. The platform will provide a common process to identify, articulate and evaluate ocean industry investment opportunities and risk.

The Ocean Investment Platform will provide 3rd party information that characterizes the issues affecting major ocean users, identify the kinds of technology solutions needed, elaborate and evaluate the investment opportunities, and foster and facilitate investment community interaction with ocean users and the technology developers/providers. Initial investment portfolio areas under consideration for the Platform include: port infrastructure adaptation to climate change, port reception facilities (for shipborne plastics and other wastes), sustainable aquaculture, and offshore renewable energy. Additional areas will be evaluated, e.g. technology for ocean data collection, solutions for biofouling and invasive species.

The WOC is pulling together a growing cadre of individuals from across the investment community to collaborate in the design and setup of the Ocean Investment Platform. We will convene this group of interested parties and begin the work of developing the Platform in 2016. Parties from the investment community interested in the ocean/blue economy and the WOC Ocean Investment Platform are invited to contact the WOC CEO to participate in the group. The Ocean Investment Platform will be a major feature of the 2016 Sustainable Ocean Summit (SOS), Rotterdam, 30 Nov-2 Dec. The SOS is the only global gathering of the multi-sectoral ocean business community around the challenges and opportunities for growing the responsible ocean economy – including investment.

Paul Holthus is founding President and CEO of the World Ocean Council. He works with the private sector and market forces to develop practical solutions for achieving sustainable development and addressing environmental concerns, especially for marine areas and resources. His experience ranges from working with the global industry associations or directors of UN agencies to working with fishers in small island villages. He has been involved in coastal and marine resource sustainable development and conservation work in over 30 countries in Europe, Asia, the Pacific, Central America and Africa.


The global challenges that we face as a human race will require collaboration from parties that can find common ground. This type of collaboration will many times involve the use of data so that all parties can have an agreed-upon baseline from which to develop plans to address a particular issue. We all have our own frames of reference and agendas that we bring to the table. Different parties may interpret data quite differently. Leveraging data and then using language to get a message out in a powerful and coherent way — and recognizing the inherent challenges that come from our own points of reference as potential roadblocks — is important to truly understanding an issue thus developing effective solutions.

An example of how a standard report that is meant to serve as baseline data has been interpreted in multiple ways is the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ (FAO) annual report, “The State of the World Fisheries and Aquaculture.” The most recent report, from 2014, shows that 10% of the world’s fisheries were “under fished”, 61% of the world’s fisheries were “fully exploited”, and 29% were “over exploited.” The terms under fished, fully exploited, and over exploited are scientific terms that indicate whether fisheries are within their biological sustainable levels. So the word “exploited” in scientific terms means that a fishery has the stock available for capture and of the quantity that is available for capture whether they have been under captured, fully captured, or over captured. In reviewing the infographic provided by the FAO, they interpret the data as meaning “71% of the commercially important marine fish stocks monitored by FAO are fished within biologically sustainable levels.”  This 71% is an improvement from the 2012 report, when the sustainable stock fished within biologically sustainable levels was at 68%. Still, 29% of the fisheries being over exploited is something we need to continue to work on.

When using common spoken language, the terms “fully exploited” and “over exploited” sound extremely alarming relative to the scientific definition. It’s very understandable to see some conservation groups use these terms to support their cause with their constituents. This paints a picture suggesting that 90% of wild fisheries are over captured. Unfortunately, this interpretation does not recognize the efforts of those organizations working so hard to maintain sustainable fisheries. It becomes demoralizing to know that their efforts are not viewed as making a difference. So when we work with multiple stakeholders with diverse backgrounds, it’s imperative that we understand how they are using language to convey their concepts. This builds a case for multi-stakeholder efforts to be open to possible meanings from data that had not considered before.

We had an excellent interaction in reaching out to another non-profit conservation group on their interpretation of the FAO report. They listened to our explanation of the scientific meaning behind the term “exploited” and updated their interpretation of the data by recognizing the scientific definition. In turn, we learned from them that the data collection is a global effort and that there are imperfections to the report. This particular non-profit is raising awareness that improvements need to be made to the actual data collection process.

Our oceans are our lifeline and we need to do everything in our power to protect them and leave them in a better state for our future generations. As we work to address human health and environmental health, we should be mindful of how we are interpreting data to support issues that we are addressing. Some questions to consider: Are we viewing the data from all perspectives that could impact the development of solutions? Are we solving the right problems in the right ways? Are we asking the right questions? We can tell the story we want to tell based on our interpretation of data from our own lens. It will take courage to understand the story the data is trying to tell us.

 Linda Cornish is Executive Director for the Seafood Nutrition Partnership. She has held leadership and management positions with Arthur Andersen, Hitachi Business Consulting, Harrah’s Entertainment, Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce and the Bill of Rights Institute.