UN Ocean Action It's time to save the Ocean

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UN Ocean Action. It's time to save the Ocean

Register a commitment Subscribe to our newsletter Join the COAs


The Ocean and its resources give great support to human well-being and livelihoods, and are critical to achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). However, human activities continue to threaten the well-being of the Ocean and its resources. These threats include unsustainable fishing practices and harmful fisheries subsidies, and ineffective waste management that results in various kinds of marine pollution, such as plastic pollution and nutrient pollution. SDG 14 and its ten targets, inter alia, aim to address the above-mentioned challenges facing the Ocean.

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The Ocean Conference in 2017 raised awareness about the deteriorating health of the world's Ocean and resulted in ambitious outcomes, including the intergovernmentally-agreed political declaration "Our Ocean, our future: call for action", Co-chairs' summaries of seven partnership dialogues and a list of voluntary commitments for the implementation of Goal 14 announced by governments, the United Nations (UN) system, intergovernmental organizations and other stakeholders. A recent surge in pledges to conserve and sustainably use the Ocean pushed the number of concrete actions registered on the UN global platform for voluntary commitments to over 1,500.

The Secretary-General appointed Ambassador Peter Thomson as his Special Envoy for the Ocean, aiming at galvanizing concerted efforts to follow up on the outcomes of the Conference in support of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Furthermore, to follow-up on the voluntary commitments, the UN has launched nine thematic multi-stakeholder Communities of Ocean Action (COAs) which are closely aligned with the targets of SDG14.

In light of the global coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and growing public health concerns, the 2020 United Nations Ocean Conference, which was scheduled to take place from 2 to 6 June in Lisbon, Portugal, has been postponed per decision 74/548 adopted by the General Assembly on Monday, 13 April 2020 at 3:01 p.m. Co-hosts of the Conference Kenya and Portugal in consultation with the General Assembly will decide on possible future dates for the Conference, including timelines for the preparatory process. The overarching theme of the Conference will be "Scaling up Ocean Action based on science and innovation for the implementation of Goal 14: stocktaking, partnerships and solutions".

To maintain and enhance the momentum for action to conserve and sustainably use the Ocean, seas and marine resources for sustainable development, this website is aimed to serve as the repository of information concerning The Ocean Conference in 2017 and the 2020 Ocean Conference and to provide information on Ocean action undertaken by the UN system, highlighting in particular:

  • Ocean Conference voluntary commitment registry
  • Communities of Ocean Action (COAs)
  • The state of the Ocean and its resources
  • Snapshots of recent Ocean action taken by the UN system

Official MPA Map

Over the last several years the number and spatial extent of marine protected areas (MPAs) have increased rapidly. In 2000, the area covered by MPAs was approximately 2 million km2 (or 0.7% of the Ocean), since then there has been over a ten-fold increase in MPA coverage with 23 million km2 (or 7.59%) of the Ocean being covered by MPAs. Since 2010, marine protected area coverage has increased by over 14 million km2.

An additional 6.6 million km2 has been added to the MPA network over the last 12 months. This growth has been focused in waters under national jurisdiction, while in areas beyond national jurisdiction, MPAs make up only 1.18% of total area, showing no change from recent years.

Graph on the growth in protected area coverage shows trends in the growth in MPA coverage for the exclusive economic zone and for areas beyond national jurisdiction, together with trends in the growth in protected areas on land. Official MPA Map shows marine areas covered by MPAs.

Source: UNEP-WCMC and IUCN (2019). Marine Protected Planet [On-line], [May, 2019], Cambridge, UK: UNEP-WCMC and IUCN Available at: www.protectedplanet.net

Graphs: FAO and World Database

Based on FAO's monitoring of assessed stocks, the fraction of fish stocks that are within biologically sustainable levels has exhibited a decreasing trend from 90.0 percent in 1974 to 66.9 percent in 2015. In contrast, the percentage of stocks fished at biologically unsustainable levels increased from 10 percent in 1974 to 33.1 percent in 2015, with the largest increases in the late 1970s and 1980s.

In 2015, maximally sustainably fished stocks accounted for 59.9 percent and underfished stocks for 7.0 percent of the total assessed stocks (separated by the white line). The underfished stocks decreased continuously from 1974 to 2015, whereas the maximally sustainably fished stocks decreased from 1974 to 1989, and then increased to 59.9 percent in 2015.

In 2015, among the 16 major statistical areas, the Mediterranean and Black Sea (Area 37) had the highest percentage (62.2 percent) of unsustainable stocks, closely followed by the Southeast Pacific 61.5 percent (Area 87) and Southwest Atlantic 58.8 percent (Area 41). In contrast, the Eastern Central Pacific (Area 77), Northeast Pacific (Area 67), Northwest Pacific (Area 61), Western Central Pacific (Area 71) and Southwest Pacific (Area 81) had the lowest proportion (13 to 17 percent) of fish stocks at biologically unsustainable levels. Other areas varied between 21 and 43 percent in 2015.

A fisher

UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for the Ocean

Ambassador Peter Thomson, UN Special Envoy for the Ocean

"More than 8 million tons of plastic leak into the Ocean each year, some ending up in fish and our dinner table."

Ambassador Peter Thomson UN Special Envoy for the Ocean

Nine Communities of Ocean Action

To catalyze and generate new voluntary commitments; and to facilitate collaboration and networking amongst different actors in support of SDG 14, the United Nations have launched nine thematic multi-stakeholder Communities of Ocean Action.

Each community is coordinated by designated focal points who work together with United Nations Secretary-General's Special Envoy for the Ocean, Ambassador Peter Thomson, and the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs in carrying out the activities.