Oceans, which gave rise to all life on our planet, play a vital role in sustaining all life forms, not least humankind. The ability of oceans to continue to do so is now under grave threat from human impacts.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), in 2012 the oceans provided more than 200 million direct employment opportunities along the food value chain, of which 58 million were in fisheries or aquaculture. They also estimated that the livelihood of roughly 12% of the global population (880 million people) was assured by the latter industries, for the same year.

The productivity of the ocean ecosystems is, however, threatened by a number of factors, including overfishing, pollution, and acidification. This is evidenced, for instance, by the WWF Living Planet Index (LPI) for marine populations, which is based on trends among 1,234 marine species, and shows a decline of 49% between 1970 and 2012. In addition, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) asserts that the three principal impacts of climate change on the world’s oceans – warming, oxygen depletion, and acidification – will substantially alter ocean ecosystems.


Just some of the impacts that the IPCC warns that climate change will have on ocean ecosystems are:

  • Global marine species redistribution and reductions in marine biodiversity;
  • Expansion of oxygen minimum zones and anoxic “dead zones” constraining fish habitat; and
  • Ocean acidification posing substantial risks to marine ecosystems, especially polar ecosystems and coral reefs

UN Sustainable Development Goal 14

Some of the measures associated with this ‘Life below water’ goal are:
1. Significant reduction in marine pollution of all kinds;
2. Minimization of impacts of ocean acidification;
4. Effective regulation of fisheries and ocean resource extraction activities;
5. Conservation of at least 10% of coastal and marine areas; and
6. Increasing scientific knowledge on the current state of  ocean health.


Implementing SDG 14 requires concerted cooperation among governments, commercial users of the ocean space, regulators, and scientists. An implementation roadmap based on a holistic system perspective must be accompanied by comprehensive ocean monitoring and reporting programmes using a spectrum of monitoring technologies, such as satellite-connected sensor-based buoys and AUVs.



The shipping industry moves more than 80% of world trade by volume and seaborne trade is also expected to grow in lockstep with, or possibly outpace, gross world product growth.

Photo credit: © AIDA Cruises

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Although shipping has significantly lower CO2 emissions per tonne-kilometre relative to road and air transport, the industry still accounts for a significant share of global emissions of CO2, NOX and SOX, giving it a substantial environmental footprint.

While NOX emissions are expected to remain at current levels, SOX emissions will decline sharply as a result of new IMO rules. Furthermore, DNV GL believes that CO2 emissions from shipping can be cut by 60% from present levels by 2050 without increasing costs. This can be achieved through deployment of a spectrum of abatement options, ranging from reducing speed, the use of hybrid-electric power systems and alternative fuels such as LNG and biofuels, technical measures covering improved hull and engine designs, as well as optimization of fuel efficiency through sophisticated monitoring and control systems.

Tourism is a rapidly expanding industry that generates close to 10% of the gross world product, and is a particularly significant component of the economy in many coastal communities – 80% of all tourism is based near the sea. Cruise tourism alone represents over 300,000 jobs and had a direct turnover of €15.5 billion in 2012. Although tourism offers opportunities for sustainable growth and development, its contribution to marine pollution and habitat destruction places increasing pressure on the world’s oceans and coastal environments. This places mounting pressure on the cruise shipping sector to reduce its environmental footprint.



Per capita consumption of fish has doubled the since 1960, and fish is the major source of protein for more than 3 billion people. But the global catch hasn’t increased much since the late 1980s.

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The current fish production model of both fisheries and aquaculture is clearly not sustainable. The FAO estimated that 28.8% of marine fish stocks were overfished at biologically unsustainable levels in 2011, and another 60% of marine fish stocks were fully exploited.

For mariculture, environmental sustainability concerns include genetic dilution of wild stocks, destruction of mangroves, and impacts on sensitive coastal areas.

Furthermore, for both fisheries and mariculture the proportion of total catch that is discarded is generally considered a wasteful misuse of marine resources. The total loss along the primary catch to human consumption value chain ranges from 30 to 50% across different geographical regions. This highlights a significant potential to increase the utilization of marine by-products to feed growing populations. Today, most of the by-products are used in the feed sector, but increasing volumes are used to produce high-priced ingredients for human applications, such as omega-3 in functional foods and dietary supplements, protein hydrolysates for bioactive applications, and medical food.



The world’s oceans have huge potential for renewable electricity generation.

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In addition to floating, anchored, or fixed offshore installations for wind power and solar power, and offshore geothermal power, the ocean water column holds an additional potential to generate 20,000 – 80,000 TWh.

The IEA estimates that offshore electricity generation has the potential to create 160,000 jobs and save 5.2 Gt of CO<sub>2</sub> emissions by 2030. Electricity generated can be transmitted to shore, or could be used to power offshore oil and gas installations and remote coastal or island communities, hence avoiding the need for onsite fossil fuel-based power generation or transmission of power from shore.



There is a growing interest in seabed mineral mining, owing to the fact that seafloor mineral deposits are generally much more concentrated than those on land.

Photo credit: Image courtesy of Submarine Ring of Fire 2002: Explorer Ridge

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This implies that less material must be moved in order to extract the same amount of usable minerals. The main types of seabed mineral deposits are:

  • Polymetallic sulphides such as copper, cobalt, zinc, lead, silver and gold;
  • Polymetallic nodules such as manganese, nickel, copper, cobalt, iron, silicon, and aluminium; and
  • Cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts attached to substrate rock.

The establishment of regulations based on scientific knowledge to avoid significant negative impacts on the oceans and ocean ecosystems from seabed mineral mining will be essential. This includes minimizing direct effects on the seabed (infauna and epifauna) by collection machinery, and negative impacts from discharges to the water column, such as discharge of wastewaters, materials, and exchange of oligotrophic, low-nutrient, deep-sea water and sediments with other zones.

The International Seabed Authority (ISA) has been established to regulate mining of marine minerals in the international seabed area (defined as the seabed and subsoil beyond the limits of national jurisdiction). The ISA is an autonomous international organization established under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and its 1994 Implementing Agreement relating to deep seabed mining. The Mining Code issued by the ISA comprises a comprehensive set of rules, regulations, and procedures to regulate prospecting, exploration, and exploitation of marine minerals, and guidance for contractors on the assessment of the environmental impacts.

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