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Goal 14 - Life Below Water

Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources - The temperature, chemistry, currents and life of the world’s oceans drive global systems that make Earth habitable. Our rainwater, drinking water, weather, climate, much of our food, and the oxygen in the air we breathe, are all ultimately regulated by oceans. The ability of seas to continue this and act as conduits for trade and transportation depends on the sustainable use of their resources.

What is Goal 14?

Goal 14 of the Sustainable Development Goals aims to protect Earth's largest ecosystem: the oceans. An analysis of the targets underlying the Goal show its wide-ranging scope. These range from the prevention and reduction of marine pollution (14.1), and the minimisation of ocean acidification (14.3), to the regulation of harvesting and the elimination of destructive fishing practices (14.4), and the management and protection of marine and coastal ecosystems (14.2). Interestingly, the Goal specifically recognises the importance that oceans have in the life of small island developing States, by targeting an increase in the economic benefits to such states from the sustainable use of marine resources (14.7).

Why is Goal 14 important?

The protection of marine ecosystems is not only aimed at achieving conservation targets; it is also strongly linked to a concept that has been gaining traction over recent years: that of a "blue economy". According to the WWF, a sustainable blue economy is "a marine-based economy that: provides social and economic benefits for current and future generations; restores, protects and maintains the diversity, productivity, resilience, core functions, and intrinsic value of marine ecosystems; and is based on clean technologies, renewable energy, and circular material flows."

Goal 14 is also interconnected with the other Goals. For example, achieving the sustainable use of fisheries will assist in the achievement of Goal 2 (zero hunger); while combating climate change, as advocated by Goal 13, will help reduce the impacts of ocean acidification due to the proven connection between the two effects.

The development of sustainable fisheries will also help achieving Goal 8 (decent work and economic growth), Goal 1 (no poverty) and Goal 10 (reduced inequalities). Regarding this last point, it is important not to overlook the contribution that small-scale fisheries can give to the achievement of the Goal, as enshrined by one of the underlying means of implementation (14.b), which invites States to work towards providing "access for small-scale artisanal fishers to marine resources and markets".

How can companies contribute to Goal 14?

A study recently published by the Wildlife Conservation Society, shows that just 13% of the world's oceans remain untouched by the damaging impacts of human activities. According to the researchers, huge fishing fleets, global shipping and pollution running off the land are combining with climate change to degrade the oceans. While companies are undoubtedly part of the problem, they can also be part of the solution, through a wide range of different activities.

In order to reduce plastic pollution, thus helping to achieve target 14.1, apparel companies have started manufacturing lines of products using recycled plastic recovered from the ocean. In 2015 Adidas partnered with Parley for the Oceans, an organisation that provides a platform for designers, to focus on creating sustainable new products. The result of this partnership is the Parley line of products, which includes foot and swimwear made of regenerated 'Econyl' yarn - upcycled plastic waste, such as abandoned fishing nets, spun into chlorine-resistant fabrics. Similarly, Pentland Group's Speedo brand, one of the largest world producers of swimwear, has launched a new H2O Active range, which uses the same 'Econyl' yarn.

With regards to unsustainable fishing practices, retailers are adopting commitments to sustainably source the fish they sell, such as limiting their suppliers to MSC-certified fisheries. Marks & Spencer, for example, has a Seafood Sourcing Policy for wild-caught fish and shellfish, publishes an annual Wild-caught Fish & Shellfish Sourcing Transparency Report, and is a signatory to the WWF Sustainable Seafood Charter.

Similarly, Waitrose has adopted a fish sourcing policy which clearly defines the criteria that must be met in order for the product to be termed "responsible" (including full traceability from catch to consumer). Waitrose highlights the importance of traceability, as a means to fight the phenomenon of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. Indeed, this criminal activity causes serious economic losses, undermines conservation efforts in fisheries and damages the food security of nations and individuals.

Lastly, in 2017 Hilton Group acquired the fish processing business Seachill. This business runs a Quality Naturally programme based on three pillars; Sustainability - ensuring there are enough fish in the sea for future generations; Ethics - respecting people who work in its supply chains and factories; Authenticity - transparency and trust in its supply chain. The company is a member of the Sustainable Seafood Coalition and Sustainable Fisheries Partnership, and requires that wild catch species are independently certified to Marine Stewardship Council Standards where possible. Aquaculture species are independently certified to the Global GAP standard for good aquaculture practice or to the Aquaculture Stewardship Council's standard for responsibly farmed seafood.


According to the UN, up to 40% of the world population lives in coastal areas, while more than 3.5 billion people depend on the ocean for their primary source of food. Achieving Goal 14 is therefore a fundamental challenge, and companies have a primary role to play. At the same time, in the EU alone the blue economy is worth over € 566 billion, showing that protecting the oceans is not only a conservation problem, but makes good business sense too.