In September 2015 the UN General Assembly approved Sustainable Development Goal 14 – Life Below Water – as Member States’ commitment to address the crisis of the Ocean.
SDG 14 talks about various initiatives to address the alarming prospect of the decline of the ocean. In addition to marine protected areas (sanctuaries), it talks about government subsidies, excessive by-catch, illegal equipment, acidification, pollution, and warming, among many worrisome factors.
The only numerical goal in SDG 14 is Target 5: By 2020, conserve at least 10 percent of coastal and marine areas, consistent with national and international law and based on best available scientific information.
Marine protected areas (MPAs), or sanctuaries, limit the type and amount of fishing that can be conducted, and are vital to replenishing the ocean’s life. Numerous studies show that well designed and properly managed MPA’s can replenish and restore the fish population and other marine life. Data show that in a no take, well enforced sanctuary one can find 200% more large fish species, 840% more large fish, and 1990% more shark mass, compared to unprotected areas. In addition to serving as fish replenishment zones, sanctuaries are reservoirs of biodiversity, and help maintain the ocean’s resilience and ability to adapt to changing climates.
The Ocean Sanctuary Alliance (OSA) believes the establishment of “no-take” protected areas where commercial fishing cannot occur is the single most important of all the SDG 14 initiatives, and should be strongly supported by Member States responding to the need for urgent action. This must be considered against the background that the current situation of fish stock is deteriorating rapidly. Many commercial fisheries are quickly approaching collapse. It is possible to save them if action is taken soon.
Importantly, we believe the establishment of sanctuaries can be accomplished more quickly than any of the other actions contemplated by SDG 14. It takes the political will or decision of each Member State to establish the boundaries of protected areas. While the political process required to take such decisions varies among Member States, all have the capacity to take swift action in the face of an urgent need. Once the decision is taken, the protected area comes immediately into existence and its boundaries are known to all.
A global network of sanctuaries can stabilize fish stocks at a sustainable level and reverse the decline of marine life. If this opportunity is missed, the next occasion to debate these issues at the global level will be 2030, when the damage may be irreversible.