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



“The world’s oceans – their temperature, chemistry, currents and life – drive global systems that make the Earth habitable for humankind. How we manage this vital resource is essential for humanity as a whole, and to counterbalance the effects of climate change”.

“Over three billion people depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods. However, today we are seeing 30 percent of the world’s fish stocks overexploited, reaching below the level at which they can produce sustainable yields”.

“Oceans also absorb about 30 percent of the carbon dioxide produced by humans, and we are seeing a 26 percent rise in ocean acidification since the beginning of the industrial revolution. Marine pollution, an overwhelming majority of which comes from land-based sources, is reaching alarming levels, with an average of 13,000 pieces of plastic litter to be found on every square kilometre of ocean”.

(Sustainable development goals: United Nations Development Programme: Goal 14 Life Below Water)


Mineral Extractions threaten Ocean Habitat: Mineral extraction from the seabed has experienced a recent surge of interest from both the mining industry and marine scientists. The ecological impacts of mining in both the deep sea and the shallow seabed are poorly known (1). Sand extraction from rivers and beaches is an enormous disruption of water ecosystems and is expanding to threaten the ocean seabed. Dredging from river beds destroys the habitat of bottom-dwelling creatures and organisms. The churned-up sediment clouds the water, suffocating fish and blocking the sunlight that sustains underwater vegetation (2-3). Scientists have expressed serious concerns over the potential impacts of seabed mining, from the noise of the machinery affecting wildlife, to the activity killing animals and plants on the seabed (4). Oil spills continue to kill sea dwellers, shore birds, and amphibious fur bearing animals (5).

Pollutant Run-Off from Livestock and Mono Crops: The livestock sector is one of the top three contributors to the most serious environmental problems, and is number one in water pollution globally (6-7). Increases in animal and feed farming coincide with water pollution (8), animal farm waste, and mono crops. Mono crops are highly reliant on chemicals, inundate above and below groundwater ways (9-10), and filter into rivers, causing toxic algae blooms (11). Inevitably, the farm waste run-off (notably the main water pollution source), collects in river estuaries, bays (12), and gulf waters. Slowly shifting into ocean main bodies and spreading dead zones (13). Part of the excess nitrogen filtered into waterways is found in urine from the wastewater of cultures with high protein diets (14). Human feces and livestock manure produce phosphorus, both of which cause eutrophication, leading to ocean hypoxia and harmful algae (15).

Overfishing and Bycatch: Around 90% of the world’s stocks are overfished and production is set to increase further by 2025, according to an FAO report (16). The methods and magnitude of industrialized fishing for the food, medical, and other industries are reasoned appropriate in theory, yet not only severely threaten sea animal populations but destroy fish habitat, which proves these methods are unsustainable (17). “Despite new technologies and industry recognition of the issue, bycatch is still a major problem.” Current methods cause avoidable deaths and injuries, and can be harmful to the marine environments where they are employed (18). Estimates between 1 trillion and 2.7 trillion fish are caught up in fishing practices either as direct catch, bycatch, or through discarded gear and habitat loss (19).

Illegal Fishing and Threatened Sea Species: One of the most important species of the sea is the whale (20). Although the IWC issued a ban in 1986 on whaling in international waters, Iceland and Japan withdrew from the agreement in 2019. While Iceland has since vowed to end whaling in 2024, Japan is currently building up their whaling fleet (21). Of the 17,903 marine life ‘Red Listed’ by the IUCN, 1,550 are threatened with extinction, with climate change impacting 41% of those species (22). Threatened marine fish species can be legally caught in industrial fisheries, reported catch records showed 91 globally threatened species with 13 of the species traded internationally to be sold on open markets (23). One example of medical use exploitation of threatened ocean wildlife is the Horseshoe Crab, with 400,000 horseshoe crabs bled every year for pharmaceutical drug testing, 30% die during the blood collection process and another 25% after release, while the other factors of threat are intentional harvesting for bait and bycatch.(23).

Discarded Fishing Equipment and Other Hazards: Lost and abandoned fishing gear make up the majority of large plastic pollution in the oceans (24). Derelict fishing gear causes significant problems for our ocean, waterways, and Great Lakes, but it’s almost impossible to know how much is out there (25). ‘Ghost fishing” is a part of the global marine debris issue that impacts marine organisms and the environment, it can continue to trap and kill fish, crustaceans, marine mammals, sea turtles, and seabirds (26). Large ocean wildlife such as whales, dolphins, sharks, and sea turtles suffer slow deaths from entanglement in fishing nets and boat collisions (27), by ingesting plastics (28) and from unseen chemicals, noise and light pollution (29).

Fish Farming Harms: Factory farmed fish are fed high-protein pellets, called fish meal, made directly from large quantities of fish (approx. 30% of all marine life pulled from the sea) (30). Although the industry claims to be taking the burden away from ocean fish populations, in actuality it is increasing the spread of diseases, parasites such as sea lice, and astronomically increasing the level of pollution and waste in wild ecosystems (31).

Download the document below to read the full list of the latest citations of evidence as to how animal exploitation undermines the progress of SDG Goal 14: Life Below Water


Further Reading:

Goal 14 : Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform (United Nations website)

“Hidden ‘Dead Zones’ in The Ocean Have Quadrupled Since The ’50s, And That’s Really Bad” – (“The decline in ocean oxygen ranks among the most serious effects of human activities on Earth’s environment.”) (Nutrients like phosphorus from fertilizers can easily end up in rivers and estuaries, which creates algal blooms that drain oxygen from the water as they die and decompose.) FIONA MACDONALD, 5 JANUARY 2018 –

“Four Meat Giants Top List of Worst Water Polluters in U.S.” – A new analysis released last week by Environment America shows that meat giant Tyson released 104 million pounds of pollution into American waterways in 4 years, more than companies like Exxon and Dow Chemical. A substantial portion of Tyson’s discharges are nitrate compounds. Nitrates can contribute to algal blooms and dead zones, and also pose threats to human health, including “blue baby syndrome” for infants. 2016/2/11 –