Back to Goals

14 Life Below Water 14. Life Below Water

Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.

Opportunities & Challenges Technology in action
Life Below Water

Goal 14 aims to reduce ocean pollution and preserve fish stocks for future generations. Oceans are under threat from pollution, acidification and eutrophication, primarily caused by land-based human activities. Plastic waste consistently makes up a significant proportion of all marine debris. The ocean absorbs roughly 26% of the CO2 added to the atmosphere each year, and since the industrial revolution, ocean acidity has increased 100 times faster than it has during the last 20 million years.

Almost 90% of global marine fish stocks are overfished or fully exploited. Seafood makes up 16% of the animal protein humans consume, and this is expected to double in the next two decades. According to the World Bank, about 11% of the global population relies on fisheries and aquaculture as their main source of income. Globally, 1 in every 5 fish is illegally caught, and the total value of illegal and unreported fishing losses is between $10 billion and $23.5 billion annually.

1 in 5Fish are illegally caught
€10bnEstimated cost of illegal fishing by 2020
90%Of global fish stocks are overfished
More about this Goal

Opportunities & Challenges

A lack of data has long hindered improvements in ocean and fisheries management. Transnational cooperation and a more sophisticated approach to supporting ecosystems and wildlife are necessary to protect our oceans.

Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU): Seafood traceability is critical to addressing the issues of overfishing and IUU and needs to be expanded so that consumers can choose seafood that is legal and sustainable. At every point in the complex seafood supply chain, a new actor handles the fish and ‘creates’ data. However, data on fishing and fish stocks is poor, and 80% of captures are in countries with inadequate or no fisheries data.

Smarter fisheries management: According to WEF, humans ate more farmed fish than wild in 2014, and new technology will be important to prevent pollution and disease caused by coastal fish farms. We need to improve accuracy and availability of information about fish stocks (e.g. the number of fish, the species, data on reproduction and harvesting) in order to manage stocks sustainably. Only 350 of the world’s 10,000 fisheries have full stock assessments. Policymakers and fishing fleets need this information to reduce bycatch of other species and reduce discards and waste.

Ocean pollution: Satellites, sensors and other technology are being used to advance our understanding of the breadth of debris polluting the oceans. Yet undeveloped or nascent technologies (e.g. The Ocean Clean Up) will likely play key roles in ridding the world’s oceans of plastic.

Marine planning: A high proportion of the oceans lie outside any national jurisdiction, making it hard to manage fish stocks, pollution and the impacts of climate change. A coordinated national and international effort is needed to collect, analyze and interpret marine data for better policymaking. Emerging technologies like open source mapping can help bridge information gaps and provide new tools that could make management and enforcement of protected areas easier.

Ocean acidification: The decrease in the pH of the Earth’s oceans, caused by the uptake of CO2, poses one of the greatest threats to overall ocean health, and the capability to monitor and address acidification needs to be further developed. As of yet, technological solutions in this space are limited, and channeling funding into this critical area is a challenge.

Deciphering data: Translating the vast amount of raw data collected through new digital tools into actionable science and compliance monitoring data poses significant challenges. Cultivating the data analytics skill-sets amongst marine biologists, conservationists and seafood professionals across the value chain will be essential to implementing technological solutions.

Connected sensors could make monitoring something as vast as the ocean much more accessible. Philip Sparks, Arm

Technology in action

Digital technology will play a key role in addressing these challenges:

Traceability and identification of species: Tracking and identifying species to monitor fisheries, stocks and habitats is currently time and resource intensive. Digital tools like facial or species-recognition software can also be used to track and monitor whales and other endangered species more easily for conservation efforts. RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) and barcode scanners in supply chains, as well as fish identification applications, can help thwart the sale of endangered or at-risk species.

Sustainable aquaculture: As demand for fish protein grows, so will the reliance on aquaculture rather than wild fish stocks. Aquaculture presents an opportunity to better trace fish and seafood from farm to plate and with the help of intelligent tracking systems, sensors and barcodes. This can inform the market and support efficiencies such as limiting or increasing fish stocks based on demand trends while additionally reducing seafood fraud. Sensors can also improve water quality and streamline feeding protocols (e.g. automatic feeding units) to reduce resource use.

Get Involved