The Sustainable Development Goals for the Ocean, Part 2
Our explainer series discusses the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals for the Ocean (SDG14) and translates them into easy-to-understand bite-sized pieces. Tasty!
By Phoebe Turner
If you missed it, read Part One of the series for an overall introduction to the SDGs…
Ocean acidification is sometimes called climate change’s evil twin. Both are the dangerous products of our excessive CO2 emissions, and both are causing significant environmental damage on a global scale. The ocean is — by far — the largest carbon sink on Earth. Over 30% of the CO2 released into the atmosphere is absorbed by our ocean. That translates to roughly 22 million tons of CO2 absorbed every day. Despite its size, the ocean can only process a certain level of atmospheric CO2 before underwater ecosystems begin suffering the impacts of changing water chemistry. Increases in anthropogenic CO2 emissions (emissions from humans) over the last 200 years have led to dramatic changes in the ocean’s carbonate chemistry. When CO2 dissolves in seawater, the ocean’s pH drops. This makes the seawater more acidic and reduces the availability of carbonate ions, from which corals, clams, oysters, and plankton build their protective shells and skeletons. Since the Industrial Revolution, seawater has absorbed approximately 525 billion tons of human-produced CO2 and as a result, has become 30% more acidic. Ocean chemistry hasn’t experienced such a rapid chemical change in over 50 million years!
This target has three specific indexes aimed at reducing global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Significantly reducing our greenhouse gases is a key component to hindering ocean acidification
First, international monitoring strategies would strive to oversee individual nations’ progress in preparing clear and comprehensive “de-carbonization” strategies with GHG reduction targets for 2020, 2030 and 2050. These strategies would demonstrate how their nation can achieve ample emission cuts, reduce energy consumption and remove carbon from the power sector, and electrification.
The second index suggests reducing emissions provided by transportation and power sectors. For the power sector, CO2 emissions would be measured per gram per unit of generated electricity in new capacities installed between two measured dates of the indicator. For the transportation sector, it would measure CO2 emissions per gram per kilometer traveled for new vehicles and per ton for trucks, also between two measured dates. By measuring the emissions, the index can monitor the progress of a nation’s collective attempt at reducing emissions. This would allow them to address concerns or demonstrate to struggling nations potential ways to mitigate reductions.
Ocean chemistry hasn’t experienced as rapid a change as this in over 50 million years.
Third, through practical and operational inventory methods, the total net of GHG emissions in agriculture, forest and other land use sectors would be monitored. Broken down by gas (CO2, N2O and CH4), forests, croplands, grasslands, wetlands, etc, would be individually measured. For the transportation sector, it would measure the reduction of emissions by the grams of CO2 per passenger per kilometer travelled for new cars, and per ton per kilometers for truck between two dates of measurement by the indicator. For the energy sector, it would measure the number of grams of CO2 per unit of generated electricity from new capacities installed, also between two dates of measurement of the indicator.
Growing market demand for seafood coupled with illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing practices (IUU) has decimated ocean ecosystems worldwide, robbing billions of people of an invaluable source of food, income, and culture. As of 2016, illicit fishing accounts for up to 26 million tons of fish a year, equal to over 15% of the world’s total annual fisheries output. With over 85% of the world’s fisheries currently classified as either fully exploited or critically overexploited, IUU fishing poses a serious threat to the future of both human and ocean life. IUU fishing impacts not only the natural balance of ocean ecosystems, but also the socio-economic stability and overall well-being of all dependent human communities.
Technological advances and inadequate fishery management/enforcement has led to humans catching sea life faster than it’s able to recover. The use of indiscriminate gear, like nets, kill large quantities of non-targeted and young fish and flattens corals as the equipment drags along the seafloor. Unsustainable fishing practices have enabled the vast overfishing of commercial fish stocks and resulted in fishermen accidentally capturing and killing large quantities of non-targeted sea life, known as bycatch. Every year, an average of roughly 7.3 million tons of sea creatures are caught, killed, then just thrown away. Although there exist protective laws and catch limits, more than 300,000 small whales and dolphins, 100 million sharks and rays, and 250,000 loggerhead and leatherback sea turtles are killed from bycatch every year. With so many people dependent on seafood, and so many fisheries currently overexploited, the fact that so much sea life is being killed and thrown away like trash is truly a tragedy of the commons.
This goal would be monitored by measuring the percent of fish tonnage within the maximum sustainable yield (MSY) of each UN member state. MSY is the potential largest available catch that can be taken from a species over a period of time. For instance, if the species population is low, the available MSY will be lower. MSY considers keeping the best possible environmental conditions while maintaining equilibrium exploitation rates of a species. By reporting their country’s MSY, information on the degree of exploitation of fishery resources and a nation’s progress towards greater sustainable fisheries management can be accessed and further examined to ensure healthy fish stock.
You might be wondering what exactly a Marine Protected Area (MPA) is. Well, MPA’s cover a wide range of conservation and oversight practices: from completely protected marine areas, sanctuaries, parks, wildlife refuges and research sites the habitats vary far and wide, from the open ocean to coastal zones. It’s crazy that in a world that’s predominately covered in blue, only about 3% of our world’s oceans are harbored as MPA’s. 3% is not nearly enough to protect beautiful coral reefs, colorful sea life, and majestic mammal populations. In addition to that, no way is 3% enough to protect fish stocks that the world relies on more than any other commodity! MPAs preserve cultures, economies and livelihoods intertwined with the ocean. They provide areas where fish can reproduce and grow into healthy adults, which leads to increased catches in surrounding fishing areas. They protect critical habitats from damage caused by fishing and tourism practices, and provide sanctuary for endangered species! So, it’s safe to say, WE NEED MORE MPA’s! Envision a beautiful, healthy coral reef, and while you’re scuba diving you see hundreds of vibrant life forms surrounding you – curious about your presence. Well, MPA’s can be critical to this vision. Marine protected areas also aid their surrounding areas, creating stronger ecosystems and increased biodiversity. So, it’s important to establish MPA’s in places in need of preservation, and where they can yield the highest benefits for both human and marine life.
An obvious way that this goal can be achieved is to emphasize the need to expand our protection to tropical coral reefs, seagrass beds, deep-water cold reefs, seamounts and coastal wetland ecosystems. These systems are essential for healthy oceans and healthy communities. This goal would be measured by doing just that: tracking how much coastal and marine territory is being protected, while defending species, habitats and populations.
Many global, or long distance fishery fleets receive subsidies (as well as fuel, discounts and payments) from their national governments that make the price of fishing much less costly than it should be. These subsidies seldom go towards boat maintenance, improved fishing equipment or other operative costs. Instead, these subsidies often provide discounts and additional payments for large fishing vessels. The problem is, these practices contribute to the vast problem of overfishing and other destructive fishing practices. Moreover, some subsidies end up supporting IUU fishing practices.
It is estimated that 80% of the world’s fisheries are overexploited and 90% of big fish, such as tuna, marlin and sharks are gone. How can we expect to have sustainable fisheries if governments are rewarding bad behavior? Often, these types of subsidies are violations of international trade agreements and customs; and can be challenged in front of the World Trade Organization. If challenged, and accepted as violations of international law, such subsidies will be prohibited. Consequently, it’s important to get out in front of these unethical fishing practices, and shine a light on nations that support such subsidies that allow fishing vessels to further contribute to overfishing.
Goal 14.6 Indicator: Progress by countries in the degree of implementation of international instruments aiming to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.
Essentially, the indicator that shows that a nation or region is on the right track, is the number and kind of systems a nation sets in place to prevent and discourage IUU fishing. These systems and instruments should be based on an international standard. The data from these systems should contribute to a global data set of fish stocks and IUU.
Stay tuned for Part Three in our SDG series!