Book cover: Transitioning to Sustainable Life below Water
Open Access Edited Book

Transitioning to Sustainable Life below Water

Published: April 2022
Pages: 160
ISBN 978-3-03897-876-3 (hardback); ISBN 978-3-03897-877-0 (PDF)
This book is part of the book series: Transitioning to Sustainability
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The ocean plays a central role in the life and development of human kind. Besides space for navigation and trade (roughly 10 billion tons of commodities are transported across the oceans each year), the provision of biological and non-living resources is the most important service of the marine ecosystems. Yet, these ecosystems are increasingly impeded by human activities and interventions. Human and naturally induced changes in climate are buffered by the ocean, but its capacity to compensate the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere is at its limit. The increase of global temperatures and the decrease of oxygen concentration and pH are severe stressors for aquatic species and thus for the whole ecosystem. Urbanisation and population growth at the coast, along with severe levels of pollution, are stressing coastal environments and hampering or interrupting life cycles of species as well as the well established and naturally balanced internal interconnections within and between ecosystems. Mining for oil and gas is interfering with fisheries, competing for space with other sectors and increasing the risks for large scale pollution. The result is a decline in ecosystem services and a negative feedback into the socio-economic systems. The recent reports by IPBES and IPCC underline the degrading conditions in which the ecosystems are situated today. The IPBES report evaluates a number of direct and indirect drivers. Population increase, technical development, malfunctioning of governance and spreading of conflicts affect direct drivers such as sea use change, direct exploitation, climate change, pollution, invasive species and others.


Following a series of summits and conventions that prompted the United Nations in recent decades, Rio de Janeiro in 1992, Johannesburg in 2002 and Rio+20 in 2012, all of which were rather land-based, the Sustainable Development Goals 2015 set a new landmark in which the ocean, too, was finally acknowledged as significant to global development. The Ocean Conference in New York in June 2017 led the international community to formulate clear goals for the development of the ocean. The volume Transitioning to Sustainable Life below Water will address critical issues in ocean use and reflect against goals and targets of SDG 14 and other relevant SDGs.

Transitioning to Sustainable Life below Water is part of MDPI's new Open Access book series Transitioning to Sustainability. With this series, MDPI pursues environmentally and socially relevant research which contributes to efforts toward a sustainable world. Transitioning to Sustainability aims to add to the conversation about regional and global sustainable development according to the 17 SDGs. The book series is intended to reach beyond disciplinary, even academic boundaries. 


biodiversity; oceans; sustainability; life below water


  • Preface to Transitioning to Sustainable Life below Water

    The formulation of the Agenda 2030 of the United Nations in 2015 has given rise to a substantial increase of attention payed to the sustainable governance of our oceans. Yet, the institutional landscape remains fragmented and driving an ecologically and socially just transition of existing ocean governance practices forward remains a challenge. This introductory chapter gives an insight into the background discussions that led to this edited book on the Sustainable Development Goal 14 and offers an overview over the structure of the book.

  • Ocean Pollution--A Selection of Anthropogenic Implications

    Abstract: The number of chemicals that have a detrimental influence on the world’s marine systems is almost uncountable. Some of them, e.g., mercury and its organic compounds, have to an extent always been part of global cycles, but have been released in far greater amounts since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th century. Others, such as pharmaceuticals, persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and microplastics, have emerged only during the last 100 years, but in alarming proportions. Their influence on marine ecosystems is often very poorly understood. Sources are as diverse as the substances are: sewage water (e.g., pharmaceuticals and microplastics), atmospheric release (e.g., metals and POPs) and even intentional dumping of waste (e.g., munitions and metals). Many of these substances can be found even in pristine areas such as the deep-sea Mariana trench or the perpetual ice of the Arctic. While problematic on their own, it seems that some of these compounds interfere with each other. Microplastics, for example, are discussed as a vector for hydrophobic organic components such as POPs, metals and microbiota. This chapter provides an overview on the topics of microplastics, persistent organic pollutants, metals, munitions, and pharmaceuticals. The condition of the Baltic Sea, which is considered the most polluted sea in the world, is given as an example. These pollutants serve as representative and well-recognized contaminants, which are gaining more public attention. It is intended to serve as an introduction to further research on ecotoxicologically relevant chemicals.

  • The Featuring of Small-Scale Fishers in SDG 14: Life below but Also above Water

    This chapter deals with SDG 14 (‘life below water’) and the curious inclusion of a clause (Article 14B) supporting the global population of small-scale fishworkers and their marine livelihoods. It enquires as to the background of this particular clause, which it traces back to the drawn-out international negotiation process that was marked by the ratification of FAO’s Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (1995) and the Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries (2014). Social movements, NGOs and the academic community are demonstrated to have played an important role in both achievements. While Article 14B provides an additional impulse to the international small-scale fisheries movement, the challenges that small-scale fishworkers face are still substantial. As Article 14B concedes, the struggle focuses on maintaining access to resources and markets, but also responding to the critiques of the conservation movement.

  • Global Processes in Ocean Policy: An Opportunity to Create Coherence in Governance Frameworks and Support the Achievement of Conservation Goals

    Three major global processes in ocean governance under the umbrella of the United Nations are currently underway: negotiations for an international legally binding agreement under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ); the 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets adopted in 2010 as part of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011–2020 are coming to an end and new and updated biodiversity targets will be adopted as part of the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework in 2020; and many of the targets set under the Sustainable Development Goal 14 (SDG 14) as part of the ocean United Nations 2030 Agenda, which includes focuses on 17 Sustainable Development Goals, to holistically address current global challenges are set to expire and are expected to be updated or renewed. This Chapter highlights the need to ensure coherence across these global processes for marine conservation and provides ways in which ocean governance can be strengthened to support global processes and marine conservation goals.

  • Climate Change and Its Impact on the Ocean

    Increased human activities—in particular energy generation and land use—have led to atmospheric pollution by the significant emission of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane. The associated climate change is also affecting the ocean while, at the same time, the ocean plays a fundamental role in mitigating climate change by serving as a major heat and carbon sink. We highlight some of the most salient aspects of climate change impacting the ocean as articulated in the Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released in 2019. It shows that the ocean is warming, the global sea level is rising, ocean heatwaves are more frequent, the ocean is becoming more acidic, marine ecology is shifting, levels of dissolved oxygen are reducing and the melting of ocean-terminating glaciers and ice sheets around Greenland and Antarctica is rapidly increasing. From the perspective of meeting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, in particular SDG 14, there are strong synergies between promoting climate mitigation and adaptation strategies, which are enshrined in SDG 13 and outlined in more detail by the Paris Agreement. Scientific research and solution-oriented knowledge generation require the growth and transformation of the science system. Specifically, they will require more freely shared ocean data, new and more effective ways of analyzing observational data fused with ocean and climate models, and enhanced timely assessment, predictions and scenario development of future ocean conditions. At the same time, knowledge from natural and social sciences, as well as informal knowledge, must be considered. Ocean science must be in a position to support decision makers by providing knowledge and frameworks to weigh the ecological, environmental and human impacts with an expected increase in use of the ocean for different sustainable development pathways. In recognition of this challenge, the United Nations declared 2021–2030 as the Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development in order to advance “the science that we need for the ocean we want”. The ocean decade seeks to catalyze a change towards more international, shared and solution-oriented ocean science.

  • Deep-Sea Mining: Can It Contribute to Sustainable Development?

    Deep-sea mining is increasingly suggested to meet the metal demand of the growing world population and to bring revenue and resource independence to many countries. Deep-sea mining is often also presented as a source for the metals required for the transition to a low-carbon economy. However, the exploitation of marine mineral resources will also be associated with considerable adverse impacts. Therefore, it is necessary to assess deep-sea mining impacts from a sustainability perspective and discuss if and how deep-sea mining could be compatible with sustainable development. Although deep-sea mining describes the extraction of a finite resource and, therefore, appears to contradict the Brundtland definition of sustainable development, this assessment finds that deep-sea mining could, under certain conditions, contribute to sustainable development. Important pre-requisites for this include the availability of an effective fiscal and revenue management system to ensure that the returns from deep-sea mining secure long-term benefits for national economies and stringent environmental regulations. Furthermore, environmental and social impact assessments have to be conducted early in the process and complemented with, inter alia, sound environmental and social management plans. As the success of these measures strongly depends on the availability of trained personnel, capacity-building initiatives need to be implemented in prior or in parallel to the establishment of deep-sea mining operations. Nevertheless, there is an urgent need to explore alternatives to deep-sea mining, including the increase of recycling rates, the substitution of critical materials and an overall change of consumer behavior.

Review Mode

Each chapter in this edited book has been reviewed by the editor/s, and a minimum of two external single-blind reviewers. The opinions expressed in the chapters do not reflect the view of the publisher.

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