Oceans make up 70% of the earth’s surface and are vital for human survival thanks to how they produce oxygen, regulate climate and weather patterns, store carbon, provide resources for nutrition and healthcare, support economies, and enrich quality of life and well-being.  They are a unique part of the planet’s life-support system and clearly must be preserved. The United Nations introduced World Ocean Day to develop a global movement to unify efforts towards sustainably managing the world’s oceans. These efforts are geared towards achieving major environmental goals including the protection of at least 30% of our lands and waters by 2030.

This year’s theme, ‘catalysing action for our ocean and climate’ emphasises the need to take critical action now to safeguard our planet’s oceans. All businesses have a role in preserving our oceans, regardless of the nature of the organisation, to support the sustainability agenda and to ensure the longevity of their organisation and protect this life-support system.

Challenges for sustainability in the oceans

The impact of rising sea levels due to the melting of ice caps and glaciers, coupled with the thermal expansion of seawater, is well attested, with the resulting rise exacerbating coastal flooding, threatening ecosystems and human settlements.

Over the past century, ocean temperatures have risen, with some regions experiencing warming close to 1-degree Celsius. This increase poses severe threats to marine ecosystems, including the disruption of species distribution and coral bleaching.

Another critical issue is ocean acidification, a direct result of increased CO2 absorption, which compromises the survival of shell-forming organisms vital to the marine food chain. Furthermore, warmer ocean temperatures contribute to deoxygenation, creating uninhabitable ‘dead zones’ where oxygen levels are too low to support marine life.

Overfishing also remains a pressing concern, with significant increases in overfished stocks over the past fifty years leading to substantial declines in marine biodiversity. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, about 34.2% of global fish stocks were fished at biologically unsustainable levels in 2017, highlighting the urgent need for sustainable fishing practices.

Climate change and the ocean – why all organisations need to act

Some of these challenges can feel removed from certain organisations. However, with the rise in importance of business’ net zero agendas, impacts on oceans cannot be ignored. Oceans are a formidable ally against climate change, acting as a natural buffer by absorbing excess heat and carbon dioxide. Ocean absorption of CO2 mitigates some atmospheric temperature increases, but it also leads to significant warming of ocean waters.

And as oceans warm, they become less efficient at absorbing greenhouse gases. Therefore every organisation has an interest in aborting this vicious cycle. This reinforces why it’s not just water intensive industries, fishing, resource harvesting organisations who should consider their impact on oceans and take integrated conservation efforts.

Measure to manage! Understand your impact

‘Knowledge is power’ holds particularly true for businesses as they aim to minimise their ecological impact. A crucial step involves what might seem a daunting task: the meticulous organisation of data. This process should include a comprehensive review of emissions, water usage, waste and supply chain activities – from sourcing and manufacturing to packaging, storage, and end-of-life management.

This is not just for the purpose of being compliant or enhancing public image but can drive informed, impactful decisions that can contribute to our global responsibility of conserving our oceans. Investing time and resources to convert raw data into meaningful insight is essential, revealing current use of resources and opportunities for substantial improvement.

Practical steps when diving into ocean protection

We do not need to reinvent the wheel when focusing on conserving our oceans – the actions needed to be taken should already be embedded within our existing sustainability strategies.

In conjunction with this, utilising existing frameworks such as the Ocean Action Agenda on where to focus sustainability efforts. This framework focuses on five ‘Transformations for a Sustainable Ocean Economy’ which are:

  • Ocean wealth: Ensuring that economic benefits driven from the seas are sustainable including harvesting fish at sustainable levels and minimising waste across the chain
  • Ocean health: Reducing carbon emissions to limit further warming of oceans and supporting this through sustainable methods like green shipping
  • Ocean equity: Ensuring equitable distribution of the ocean’s resources whilst promoting accountable and transparent business practices
  • Ocean knowledge: Promoting scientific research and data sharing to improve the understanding of marine ecosystems to inform sustainable ocean practices
  • Ocean finance: Mobilising financial resources and investment to support sustainable ocean management initiatives

The framework details actions as to how to achieve each of the key pillars. This acts as a guide for businesses as to how to align their operations and adopt ocean friendly practices.

Save our seas, secure our future now

Using existing climate solutions, accelerating the use of renewable energy, stopping fossil fuel extraction, reducing single-use plastics and protecting the natural ecosystems whilst leaning on globally recognised frameworks for support, we can make a lasting difference. It is within the power of our organisations to enact substantial, positive changes that extend far beyond the bottom line, influencing the preservation of our oceans and, therefore human life. The path ahead is clear and the time to respond is now.

Author: Charlotte Harryman

Judith Richardson

Managing Principal

[email protected]

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