Making Waves: Ocean Action for SDGs

The evidence is clear. If we are to enjoy the benefits provided by the oceans and make progress on the 2030 Development Agenda, we must remember that we cannot achieve one Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) at the expenses
of others, we can leave no one behind in the implementation of the development agenda, and we must focus on actions that have multiple development dividends. The “Call to Action” that resulted from the UN Ocean Conference that took place in New York City, in June, echoed this message: oceans are critical to our shared future and common humanity and will help deliver the Sustainable Development Goals.

By restoring, protecting, and sustainably and equitably managing the world’s coastal and marine ecosystems, we are ensuring that coastal communities thrive, that we have reliable sources of protein, that coastal cities
and communities are buffered from severe storms, that marine tourism provides an engine of economic growth, and that millions of the world’s poorest community members have reliable livelihoods.

Today, 90 percent of global fisheries stocks are fully exploited, over-exploited or have fully collapsed. By 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. We have lost over half of the world’s mangrove forests, and of those that remain, more than half are degraded. How can we envision sustainable development when our development models are not sustainable?

The 1,380 Voluntary Commitments announced in the lead-up, and during the UN Ocean Conference are good first clues of how to meet human development goals while at the same time sustaining the ability of natural systems to provide the natural resources and ecosystem services upon which humanity depends. We cannot achieve sustained growth by depleting mangroves or overfishing. We cannot ensure inclusive development agendas if local and indigenous communities living in marine and coastal areas are deprived of food, shelter, and are affected by natural disasters. We cannot achieve universal development if the women and men from Small Island Developing States become climate refugees.

The task is daunting but I have hope. As an example, in the words of Dr. Cristiana Pașca Palmer “the world is on track to protect over 10% of the globe’s marine areas by 2020, and the total area covered by Marine Protected Areas globally has increased nearly twenty-fold since 1993, and has more than doubled since 2010”.  At the national level, the Seychelles committed to combatting pollution from plastic products by banning the import and use of plastic products, and Denmark committed to supporting Myanmar with $10 million for the promotion of sustainable coastal fisheries, and development of policy, capacity and practices in co-management of marine and coastal fisheries resources.

Indigenous Peoples and local communities (IPLCs) living in marine and coastal areas around the world are also proving the value of blue economic models: they are strengthening their livelihoods while conserving and restoring marine and coastal ecosystems. So, despite being disproportionately impacted by marine and coastal degradation, which threatens their food security and livelihoods and increases their disaster risk, IPLCs are investing in nature for sustainable development with impactful results. They are showing that actions on Goal 14, and in particular on sustainable fisheries, can help countries and communities simultaneously address many of the SDGs.

Space does not allow me to cover all of the goals that sustainable fisheries contribute to, so I would like to focus on three goals: Goal 1 (no poverty), Goal 2 (food security) and Goal 5 (gender equality), and share three examples from Equator Prize winning communities 1, who are advancing local solutions for global challenges.

As an example, on poverty reduction; fisheries provide a direct income for 55 million people around the world and sustain the livelihoods of over 925 million people – about one out of every 8 people on this planet fishes for a living.  Let me illustrate this with an example from Comunidad Indígena Manquemapu from Chile: the community is taking action on sustainable fisheries by creating a revolving loan fund that provides more than 100 women with access to microfinance, and secures the fishing rights for 60 fishers. In doing so, they have been able to generate livelihoods for 480 community members.

On food security, fish is the primary protein of 17 percent of the world, and supply 4.3 billion people with 15 percent of annual protein.  In addition, indigenous coastal communities eat 15 times more fish per capita than other communities –for them fish is life. Let me illustrate this with an example from the Philippines, from Trowel Development Foundation; by ending illegal fishing and restoring fish habitats, the community increased average fish catch from two kilograms (per eight-hour fishing expedition) to 30 kilograms, while multiplying local incomes three-fold.

On gender equality, although fishing is often associated with men’s work, women comprise a substantial segment of fisheries around the world, including much of the post-harvest work in fisheries. In Bangladesh, 60% of fish farmers are women; in Vietnam, it is 80%. In India, 60% of fish processing factory workers are women, and in Western Africa, women run 80% of the seafood markets. For example, Try Oyster Women’s Association from The Gambia secured fishing rights for 300 women, and in the process generated incomes for 500 women from 15 villages, through oyster harvesting, processing and distribution activities.

These initiatives understand that community action is an essential driver for the achievement of SDG 14. They are developing equitable, inclusive and sustainable pathways for addressing environmental pressures, and accelerating achievement across multiple SDGs. They clearly show how local actions on sustainable fisheries, including protecting and restoring sustainable fisheries’ habitat, securing rights, ending illegal and unsustainable fishing, and enabling access to credit and markets helps communities and countries achieve their own SDGs.

For humanity to capitalize on such services we must work collectively to reverse environmental degradation and make our oceans healthy again. Let us learn from what is working on the ground and support local and indigenous initiatives, such as those recognized by UNDP’s Equator Prize <sub>1</sub> that are investing in nature for sustainable development.


1UNDP’s Equator Prize recognizes community based initiatives that invest in nature for sustainable development


About the Author

Eva Gurría is a Programme Analyst of the UNDP’s Equator Initiative in New York.

Follow her on Twitter at @evagurria

To find more posts, visit the Equator Blog.

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