June is an important month for the ocean. Here in the ‘States, it’s National Ocean Month, kicked off by June 8th, World Oceans Day (officially recognized by the United Nations in 2009). 2017 marked the first ever World Ocean Festival, which was held in New York City to coincide with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 14: Ocean Conference.

So what are the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals are just that, goals for the sustainable, continued development of life on our planet. They cover everything from increasing quality education (SDG4), to ending poverty (SDG1), to fighting climate change (SDG13), to gender equality (SDG5).

The Sustainable Development Goals, including SDG14, are pragmatic, well-drafted and have been signed onto by 194 nations. The SDGs succeeded the Millennium Challenge Goals, which were largely based on the G7 countries telling the rest of the world “what we are going to do for you.” Instead the SDGs are our common goals, written collectively by the global community of nations to focus our collaboration and guide our management objectives.Mark J. Spalding, President of The Ocean Foundation

There are Goals 17 in total, each with its own list of targets. There are 169 individual targets across all 17 goals, AND each of those targets has its own indicators of whether or not a nation is on track. The SDGs are monitored nationally, internationally and geographically by various types of indicators (guides). Nations are dramatically different from each other in circumstance and resources, so these guides vary substantially in number and type for each target.

In this multi-part series, we’ve broken down each of the SDG14: ocean goals, targets, and indicators to hopefully to make them a little clearer for those of us who don’t work at the UN, or in international ocean policy.

SDG14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.

Let’s dive in!

SDG14.1 – By 2025, prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, from land-based activities

Most ocean pollution starts here on land. This goal seeks to mitigate the effects from land-based pollution by monitoring the biggest culprits of marine pollution: plastics and agricultural runoff. 

Over the last 50 years, global production and consumption of plastic has spiked. In 2015 alone, around 300 million tons of plastics were produced. Yet every year around only 5% of that plastic is recycled worldwide. Carried by winds, drains, people, and other such vessels, a massive amount of our trash finds its way to the ocean. Studies estimate that our ocean is teeming with roughly 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris. Steeped in toxins and slow to biodegrade, plastic is waste with dangerous staying power. Plastic has turned out to be an unfortunately effective vector for delivering toxins, viruses, and bacteria into the ocean food chain. Every form of sea life, no matter how big or small, is threatened by our waste.

Agricultural runoff causes a dense growth of plant life that eventually results in the death of marine habitats and life. Basically, the excess fertilizers and chemicals used on plants and crops washes into streams and rivers, and eventually finds its way into the ocean, causing algae growth that has detrimental effects to most other life. The algae releases toxins that affect human health, as well as blocks sunlight imperative for aquatic life’s survival. What’s worse, when the algae decomposes, it consumes all the oxygen in the surrounding waters, which results in widespread habitat destruction and the death of hundreds or thousands of fish. These are referred to as “dead zones.” Dead zones pose a real problem to human and marine health and safety, as well as threats to the fishing industry.

SDG14.1 Indicator: Index of coastal eutrophication and floating plastic debris density

“The Inter-Agency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators (IAEG-SDGs) would monitor this goal by systematically measuring coastal eutrophication (amount of runoff nutrients) and floating plastic debris.”  On a geographic scale, this indicator will track the progress of eliminating land-based pollution by encouraging better, more sustainable practices in crop and livestock production.

By striving to reduce marine pollution by 2025, the guidelines for this target could have the potential to escape the prediction that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.

Goal 14.2: By 2020, sustainably manage and protect marine and coastal ecosystems to avoid significant adverse impacts, including by strengthening their resilience, and take action for their restoration in order to achieve healthy and productive oceans

Try saying that three times fast. This goal addresses one of the biggest gaps under current climate change mitigation efforts; marine ecosystems have been exceedingly overlooked in climate change adaptation and CO2 reduction. Assessing ecosystems as whole, rather than focusing solely on the health of individual species; this goal has the potential to be quite beneficial for ocean health and productivity.

Coastal wetlands only account for a small fraction of the sea floor, and their value in storing carbon (for more information please check out SeaGrass Grow) cannot be matched by any other system. Over 60% of the world’s population lives within 60 miles of the coast. Moreover, coastal zones form an estimated 50% of the world’s fisheries supply – constituting the basis of the world’s fishing grounds. Needless to say, coastal zones are imperative for economic development, food security and jobs.

They provide vital nutrition for close to 3 billion people, while also providing 50% of the total of animal protein and minerals to 400 million people of the least developed countries in the world. Coastal ecosystems rank among the most economically valuable of all ecosystems. Globally, the market value of marine and coastal resources and industries is estimated at $3 trillion per year. Yet, coastal ecosystems are one of the most rapidly disappearing places on Earth.

SDG14.2 Indicator: Proportion of national exclusive economic zones managed using ecosystem-based approaches.

This target’s progress would be monitored on a global and national level to seek to protect the existing (well-governed) coastal and marine areas and economic zones that are successful in defending species, habitats, and populations. Further, it would strive to expand those zones, through sound supervision and ecological practices to “improve the status of biodiversity by safeguarding ecosystems, species, and genetic diversity.”

Stay tuned for further coverage of the rest of the SDGs. The next SDG topics include: ocean acidification and illegal fishing.


  • https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdg14
  • http://indicators.report/indicators/i-15/
  • Blue Carbon : The Role of Healthy Oceans in Binding Carbon : A Rapid Response Assessment.”