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Explainer: What is World Ocean Day?

This year’s World Ocean Day, celebrated on 8 June, will focus on how the world can work together to protect marine health and biodiversity.

By Silvia Pellegrino

World Oceans Day. SDG14
Your waste, their threat. World Ocean Day on 8 June is used to promote solutions that protect our seas and marine life. (Photo by Rich Carey via ShutterStock)
  • World Ocean Day aims to remind us of the huge role that oceans play in our future.
  • It’s tied to SDG14, Life Below Water, of which one of the ambitions is to significantly reduce all types of marine pollution by 2025…
  • … But we are behind target. Of all the SDGs that are investable, SDG14 is the least funded.

World Ocean Day is an annual event organised by the United Nations (UN) in collaboration with the Division of Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea of the Office of Legal Affairs. Every 8 June, it aims to remind people of the vital role that oceans play in the survival of our planet overall.

This year’s theme is ‘Planet Ocean: Tides are Changing’. In particular, it will focus on how the world can work together to protect the ocean’s health and biodiversity.

What is SDG14?

Life Below Water is the name of the 14th Sustainable Development Goal established by the UN. Its main objectives revolve around eliminating pollution and overfishing in order to ensure the health of the oceans and the survival of marine life, both of which are key to global economic development and regulating the climate.

This goal includes ten targets:

  1. Significantly reduce all types of marine pollution by 2025.
  2. Protect and restore ecosystems by continuing to manage and protect marine and coastal ecosystems in order to maintain balance.
  3. Reduce ocean acidification by enhancing scientific cooperation.
  4. Promote sustainable fishing by regulating harvesting, overfishing and destructive fishing practices, and setting up science-based management plans.
  5. Conserve coastal and marine areas.
  6. End subsidies contributing to overfishing and recognise that appropriate treatment should be given to developing and least developed countries, which should be an integral part of the World Trade Organisation fisheries subsidies negotiation.
  7. Increase the economic benefits from the sustainable use of marine resources, with the objective to increase the economic benefits to small island states and less developed countries by 2030.
  8. Increase scientific knowledge, research and technology for ocean health following the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission Criteria and Guidelines on the Transfer of Marine Technology.
  9. Support small-scale fisheries.
  10. Implement and enforce international sea law.

Why do we need to raise awareness of ocean preservation?

According to the UN, there are several reasons why raising awareness of SDG14 and ocean preservation is important. First of all, the ocean regulates our climate and provides oxygen that makes up the air we all breathe. Water bodies produce 50% of our breathable oxygen while also absorbing 25% of carbon emissions. When it comes to climate, oceans regulate temperatures by absorbing over 90% of the heat. In short, climate action is directly linked to oceans, and vice versa.

The issue is that more than half of the marine industry use unsustainable practices, putting at risk the majority of marine ecosystems. Pollution is also a pressing issue, with 11 million tons of plastic being discarded in the ocean, costing $13bn annually in clean-up costs and financial losses in the fishing industry. If pollution does not ease, the livelihoods derived from the oceans might be in danger.

Raffi Schieir, director of Prevented Ocean Plastic, a recycling collection centre, told Capital Monitor: “Floating marine life ends up among ocean plastics. This marine life is a key part of the marine ecosystem, and ocean clean-up is interfering with their environments. That’s not to say that clean-up shouldn’t happen – obviously it should – but it makes ocean plastic prevention all that more important.

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“Once it’s in the ocean, sun and saltwater cause the plastic to degrade, but by catching it early we maintain its value and create a responsibly sourced circular economy supply chain.”

The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) estimates that up to $3trn per year, 5% of global GDP, derives from the market value of marine and coastal resources.

Tourism is also a vital element to the global economy with 80% of it primarily focused in coastal areas, producing $134bn every year. If the oceans are not preserved, over $12bn could be lost annually due to lower tourism numbers. In addition, ocean levels are rising alongside temperatures, putting at risk both coastal tourism and energy industries, as well as all the people living in the areas, which are projected to be one billion by 2050. 

If SDG14 fails by 2030, it could mean food, livelihoods and economic progress are other factors in danger too.

How much investment goes into SDG14?

According to a 2020 study by Johansen and Vestvik, at least $175bn per year should be invested in SDG14 if it is to be achieved by 2030. However, it is the least funded out of all the SDGs. The World Economic Forum (WEF) reported that between 2015–19, the cause received less than $10bn overall.

Further funding is also needed due to the fact that some of the targets of SDG14 have not yet been met and are behind schedule. For instance, the goal of conservation of at least 10% of coastal marine areas and the ban on harmful fisheries both had 2020 deadlines, but only 25% of the end goal was achieved in 2022. 

Schieir explained: “By academic definition, ocean-bound plastic exists in areas where there is no formal waste collection or infrastructure, so it’s obvious that governments alone cannot fix the problem. They need the investment of business, based on consumer demand, to make a positive change.”

Some of the investment that has gone towards SDG14 includes a combined total of $1.92bn from the top 25 official development assistance (ODA) providers in 2019, which corresponds to 1% of the required $175bn needed. 

Research from 2020 showed only 15% of the needed financing for SDG14 has been achieved, which jeopardises the achievement of every other SDG too since they are all heavily interlinked. As of after the pandemic, the financing gap for SDG14 stands at around 70%, corresponding to $1.7tn.

What technological opportunities are there for investors to support oceans?

Up until recently, the main ocean-based investments focused on fishing, oil and gas, which are not sustainable for our oceans’ ecosystems. However, the tides are changing now. 

Reece Pacheco, a partner at Propeller, told TechCrunch: “There is tremendous potential for the ocean to provide more food, more efficiently, with less environmental impact and even regeneratively.” This is why more companies are being founded with the preservation of marine ecosystems in mind, and investors are starting to be more interested in the conservation and enhancement of the ocean’s resources. 

There are a couple of projects from the marine field with a more practical approach. For instance, Carbon Kapture and SafetyNet Technologies. The former’s plan is to have one million metres of seaweed rope in the water by the end of 2024 in order to absorb CO2 and trap the carbon. The latter created a device, called Pisces, to avoid bycatch by emitting different types of lights to deter specific fish, estimating that it could reduce bycatch by 90%. 

From a recycling point of view, Prevented Ocean Plastic is also investing in a project called ‘25 by 2025’ for World Ocean Day, with the aim to build 25 high-capacity collection and aggregation centres in areas at risk of ocean-bound plastic pollution by 2025. The company has already received significant investments from the US Agency for International Development USAID and Circulate Capital.

Even though the funding of SDG14 and the blue economy is behind schedule, there are also some technological developments investors should keep their eye on to help preserve the oceans. 

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