Sustainable Development Goal 14: Life Below Water


The ocean is essential to life as we know it. In 2019, over three billion people relied on marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods. Three million people depend on the ocean for their primary sources of protein, and over two million people work in marine fisheries. However, government subsidies are giving money to fisheries that fish unsustainably, or exceed healthy catch levels. Coastal waters are also deteriorating due to pollution and eutrophication, or excessive growth of algae. Eutrophication is expected to increase by 20% in large marine ecosystems by 2050. In order to improve oceanic safety, the United Nations created Sustainable Development Goal 14.

The Goal 

SDG 14 aims to conserve and sustainably use the world’s oceans, seas, and marine resources for sustainable development.

Targets and Indicators 

SDG 14 has seven targets, or subgoals that track progress towards sustainable ocean use and its conservation. Target 14.1 aims to prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution, especially land-based pollution by 2025. Another target, 14.4, aims to regulate harvesting, end overfishing, and restore fish stocks as quickly as possible by 2020. 

Targets are also tracked by indicators, which are numbers that tell us our progress towards each goal. Target 14.1’s indicator is the index of coastal eutrophication and the density of plastic debris. Similarly, target 14.4’s indicator is the proportion of fish stocks that fall inside biologically sustainable levels.

What’s Already Being Done

While progress is being made towards SDG 14, there is still a long way to go, especially due to the pandemic. However, from 1974 to 2015, there was a 23% decrease in overexploitation of fish stocks globally. This illustrates that Target 14.1 was headed in the right direction. Although protection of marine environments has grown, it is critical for coverage to reach important biodiversity areas. A binding international agreement has curtailed illegal fishing somewhat, but countries need to do more to make sure unregulated fishing stops threatening the sustainability of fisheries everywhere.

However, organizations are helping to spread more sustainable fishing practices. In the United States, the Marine Stewardship Council, or the MSC, works to educate people on the effects of fisheries and provides information on certified products. To earn certification, fisheries must meet a comprehensive list of sustainable checkpoints. This keeps the fish industry sustainable and closely monitors fish stocks. The priorities of MSC align directly with the targets of SDG 14. 

Applying It: How Everyone Can Help

How can everyone help our oceans? Be aware of how your choices can affect the ocean. When shopping for fish at the grocery store, search for certified products. The MSC provides an entire list of sustainable fish to eat. The blue MSC logo lets you know a product is certified.

We can also minimize our plastic use. Things like plastic bags, single-use water bottles, and soda can rings can end up in our oceans. Try using reusable bags and water bottles to reduce ocean pollution. We can also clean up litter to minimize the size of landfills. By taking measures to make sustainable food choices and minimizing litter, you can help achieve SDG 14.

Think Further

  1. What is the impact of marine pollution on sea creatures?
  2. What are some areas in your town or city that have a lot of litter? How can you help decrease it?
  3. What is one action your family can take to protect the oceans?


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Learn More

  1. “Oceans – United Nations Sustainable Development.” United Nations, United Nations,
  2. “Goal 14: Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform.” United Nations, United Nations,
  3. “Fishing Subsidies Are Speeding the Decline of Ocean Health.” The Pew Charitable Trusts,
  4. “Sustainable Fish to Eat: Marine Stewardship Council.” Sustainable Fish to Eat | Marine Stewardship Council,