Protecting Life Below Water

Over three billion people depend their livelihood on marine and coastal resources, as they provide food security and can ensure human health. The oceans are also regulating the global climate, supplying us with water and oxygen, and are accommodating a vast variety of biodiversity. Taking all these factors into consideration, it is easy to understand why a careful management of this vital global resource is key to ensure a sustainable future.


Despite its importance however, currently we observe a constant deterioration of coastal waters due to pollution and ocean acidification, which are impacting the ecosystems and biodiversity. In order to put a stop on this concerning situation, the UN has included a specific target on its 17 Sustainable Development Goals, addressing Life Below Water.

This Goal aims to reduce marine pollution and eventually establish a sustainable coastal ecosystem, by 2030. This will be achieved through ten actions:

By 2020:

1. sustainably manage and protect marine and coastal ecosystems to prevent significant adverse impacts

2. minimize and address the impacts of ocean acidification, including through enhanced scientific cooperation at all levels;

3. effectively regulate harvesting and end overfishing, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and destructive fishing practices and implement science-based management plans

4. conserve at least 10% of coastal and marine areas, consistent with national and international law and based on the best available scientific information;

5. ban certain forms of fisheries subsidies which contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, eliminate subsidies that contribute to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and refrain from introducing new such subsidies

By 2025:

6. Prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, especially from land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient pollution;

By 2030:

7. increase the economic benefits to Small Island developing States and least developed countries from the sustainable use of marine resources, including through sustainable management of fisheries, aquaculture and tourism;

8. Increase scientific knowledge, develop research capacity and transfer marine technology, taking into account the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission Criteria and Guidelines on the Transfer of Marine Technology

9. Provide access for small-scale artisanal fishers to marine resources and markets;

10. Enhance the conservation and sustainable use of oceans and their resources by implementing international law as reflected in UNCLOS

Tackling with ocean sustainability: Important initiatives

As mentioned before, the oceans’ ecosystems face a critical reality, which – sadly – is getting worse. Nonetheless, looking for the silver-lining, we find several initiatives that go against the current, and aim to improve the marine environment.

World Ocean Council

The World Ocean Council (WOC) is the global, cross-sectoral ocean industry leadership alliance committed to “Corporate Ocean Responsibility”, developed by and for the private sector, with a unique and multi-sectoral approach to address cross-cutting issues affecting ocean sustainable development, science and stewardship of the seas, explained Mrs. Christine Valentin, Board Member & Chief Operating Officer.

We believe that responsible and coordinated Ocean Business Community efforts are essential to a healthy and productive global ocean and its sustainable use, development and stewardship

Mrs. Valentin commented.

Moreover, the WOC is working to accelerate the capacity of the industries to adapt and become more efficient representatives of the Blue Economy and ensure sustainability is increasingly engrained in their operations.

Norway 203040

Norway 203040 is a business-led climate initiative. Its mission is to enhance the transition to a low-carbon economy and support Norway in achieving its national climate commitments by 2030. The coalition aspires to demonstrate to businesses and the government, the business potential that exists in the low-carbon economy and help boost the transition.

World Economic Forum focuses on ocean sustainability

The 49th World Economic Forum Annual Meeting closed on January 25, marking further steps to address the complex challenges brought about by the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Among the key outcomes was that climate change risks wipe out one-quarter of global GDP and inflict immeasurable suffering.

In this regard, it was highlighted that governments and businesses must change to a low-carbon economy, reduce harmful subsidies, support climate-threatened states and pursue a price for carbon.

Climate change is happening faster than we thought it would

...said Kristalina Georgieva, CEO of the World Bank, calling on government and business to eliminate harmful subsidies for energy and agriculture, invest in shifting to a low-carbon economy, support those countries most at risk from the consequences of climate change, and relentlessly pursue a price for carbon.

Tackling with underwater noise

When talking about the deterioration of the oceans’ environment, one must bare in mind that that does not only mean pollution. A very concerning problem that has emerged lately is the underwater noise. Underwater noise deriving from human activity, produces sounds that interfere with the ability of marine animals to hear the natural sounds in the ocean, concluding on a major and often deadly menace to ocean wildlife.

Port of Vancouver’s ECHO Program started the first-of-its-kind voluntary Vessel Slowdown Trial through Haro Strait to study the relationship between slower ship speed, underwater noise levels, and effects on the endangered southern resident killer whales in one of their key feeding areas.

During the trial period, operators of cargo ships were asked to navigate over listening stations (hydrophones) and reduce their speed to 11 knots.

The results showed that reducing vessel speeds is an effective way of reducing the underwater as well as the total underwater noise in nearby habitats.

Blue Finance Revolution

In a first-of-its-kind initiative, the Seychelles issued a blue bond in October 2018. Namely, US$15m were directed exclusively towards sustainable ocean activities. Activities financed by the blue bond will be added to other ocean sustainability initiatives in the Seychelles.

SEA20 – Awakening the oceans

Supporting the preservation of the oceans, SEA20 is a network of the world's most ecologically-ambitious marine cities. Its target is to transform the marine and energy industries into an ecologically sound, digitally connected and collaborative ecosystem.

Specifically, the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group (C40) connects 90 to tackle climate change. C40 focuses on providing sustainable, economically sound solutions in urban environments, in order to cut greenhouse gas emissions and promote healthy living environments for citizens.

The idea is to look at some four hundred emission-reduction actions from Deadline 2020, which helps cities identify what will have the biggest impact. The aim is to offer guidelines on how most global cities should curb their emissions and put them on a 1.5°C temperature-rise pathway through 2030

…explains Brendan Shane, Programme Director for C40’s Deadline 2020 campaign.

IMO monitors ocean plastic

A new set of publicly-available guidelines for monitoring plastics and microplastics in the oceans, published by the Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection (GESAMP), aims to help harmonize how scientists and others analyze the scale of the marine plastic litter problem.

The guidelines cover what to sample, how to sample it and how to record and assess plastics in the oceans and on the shoreline, including establishing baseline surveys.

Namely, the report says that there are four policy questions that have to be asked. These are:

  1. Surveillance monitoring: is there a change in condition that needs to be addressed through management?
  2. Implementation monitoring: were management treatments implemented as prescribed?
  3. Effectiveness monitoring: was the management activity effective in reaching the stated goal?
  4. Ecological effects monitoring: where there unintended consequences of the management activity?

Plastics ban

A study conducted by a scientific working group at UC Santa Barbara’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS), concluded that every year, 8 million metric tons of plastic end up in our oceans. What is more, according to the study, the cumulative input for 2025 would be nearly 20 times the 8 million metric tons estimation. Luckily, numerous countries have committed in banning plastics.

India has pledged to eliminate all single-use plastics by 2022, with Costa Rica eliminating single-use plastics by 2021. In the US, cities stopped using single-use plastics, while many large companies are adopting a more circular economy.

EU invests in clean tech

On 26 February 2019, the European Commission announced an investment programme worth over €10 billion for low-carbon technologies in several sectors to boost their global competitiveness.

Our objective is to keep building a modern, competitive and socially fair Paris-aligned economy for all Europeans. For this to happen, we will need deployment of clean innovative technologies on an industrial scale

...said Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy Miguel Arias Cañete.

Protecting oceans: Key practices

If the current situation at the oceans continues, the news will surely not be good. However, solutions exist, and the shipping industry can contribute greatly in achieving them:

Speed reduction: According to Greenpeace if ships reduce their speed, then they will produce less CO2, which in turn will lead to less pollution. In addition, with less speed noise intensity can be cut by half. Such a measure can also reduce incidents of whale strikes.

IMO Guidelines: In 2014, IMO published guidelines to reduce underwater noise from commercial shipping and protect marine life. The guidelines focus on primary sources of underwater noise, such as propellers, hull form, on-board machinery, and provides operational and maintenance recommendations.

The Guidelines include the following, amongst others:

  • Ships have to be designed in such a way in order to reduce underwater noise;
  • Propellers should be designed and selected in order to reduce cavitation;
  • Ship hull form with its appendages should be designed such that the wake field is as homogeneous as possible;
  • Consideration should be given to onboard machinery along with appropriate vibration control measures, proper location of equipment in the hull, and optimization of foundation structures;
  • Operational modifications and maintenance measures are ways of reducing noise for both new and existing ships.

Shipping of course is not the only one responsible for ensuring the health of our oceans. Everyone can take their measures, which can be very simple and easy to perform. One the easiest ways is to reduce plastic pollution, by limiting new litter entering the marine environment. To do that, there are the three Rs that can help us do this:

Reduce: Choose products with less packaging, or shops where you can refill your own container.

Reuse: Use reusable products.

Recycle: Separate items that can be recycled (i.e. plastic, paper, cardboard).

Another aspect that many times is forgotten is the impact of Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. Ineffective regulations, along with weak enforcement in exclusive economic zones, as well as the lack of monitoring in the high seas, allows IUU fishing to persist. Key weaknesses include poor port control measures, an absence of penalties and pervasive governance issues, including corruption. These facts make the need for stricter regulations and better enforcement of the law crucial to stop the negative effects of IUU.

Concluding, protecting our oceans’ health must be among the top priorities worldwide. Prudent and sustainable use of the oceans has yet to become a reality. Many initiatives as described above have made a good start, but more needs to be done. Especially for the maritime world, which operations directly affect the marine ecosystem, the concept of ‘sustainability’ should not ne ill-defined. Ocean sustainability can be accomplished if we improve our understanding of the use of this valuable natural source and put a comprehensive conception of sustainability into practice.