Preserving Our Blue Planet: The Urgency of Sustainable Ocean Management

Student Submission by Jehan Mohamed

Our oceans, covering over 70% of the Earth’s surface, play a crucial role in sustaining life on our planet. From regulating the climate, to providing food and livelihoods for millions, oceans are a vital resource for sustainable development. However, the state of our oceans demands immediate attention and action. Marine pollution, exacerbated by pharmaceutical waste, and the impact of ocean acidification have been taking a toll on marine ecosystems worldwide. In turn, the United Nations has listed the conservation and sustainable use of oceans for sustainable development as Goal 14 of their Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) they hope to reach by 2030; with focussed strategies implemented to reduce the influences of marine pollution and ocean acidification, whilst leveraging the protection of ocean environments offered by Marine Protected Areas.

Targeting Pollution

Marine pollution, both pharmaceutical and otherwise, poses a significant threat to marine ecosystems. The UN reports that in 2021, 17 million metric tons of plastic polluted global water systems, with this volume expected to triple by 2040. Incorrect disposal of pharmaceuticals and personal care products has also been a growing issue in recent years, with a study from Monash University finding that aquatic predators in wastewater-influenced streams can be exposed to up to half a dose of human medication. Enhanced regulations on the disposal of pharmaceutical waste and increased public awareness campaigns about the proper disposal of medicinal waste can help to mitigate the impact of pharmaceuticals, to safeguard the health of our oceans. Furthermore, investing in advanced wastewater treatment methods can help to filter residues from pharmaceuticals before they can reach marine environments.

Combatting Ocean Acidification

Within the next six years, a multi-faceted approach will be required to slow the effect of ocean acidification. 25% of carbon dioxide that is released into the atmosphere from the use of fossil fuels is absorbed by the oceans, forming carbonic acid, and reducing the pH of the waters. Ocean acidification can be attributed to the death of coral reefs, as well as altering the marine food webs by altering the behaviour, physiology, and distribution marine species, resulting in biodiversity loss. Adopting renewable energy sources and carbon capture technologies, as well as supporting research initiatives that monitor ocean acidification trends can help to reduce carbon emissions.

Expanding Marine Protected Areas

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are aquatic sectors where governments have placed limits on human activity, serving as sanctuaries for marine life. In some cases, this is a limit or a ban on fishing, and in others, it can be a complete ban on human interaction. Expanding MPAs and establishing new ones in vulnerable marine habitats provides safe habitats for biodiversity to flourish. In June of 2022, over 100 of the UN Member States committed to conserving at least 30% of the world’s oceans with MPAs by 2030.

A United Strategy for Progress

A unified approach that integrates efforts to address marine pollution, ocean acidification and the expansion of MPAs is critical to the success of this six-year strategy. Coordinating actions across sectors and stakeholders will help to maximise the impact of global conservation efforts. Increasing public engagement and education campaigns will also be critical in mitigating the impact of these issues in the coming years, as well as foster a collective commitment to ocean conservation.


Falkenberg LJ, Bellerby RGJ, Connell SD, Fleming LE, Maycock B, Russel BD, Sullivan FJ, Dupont S (2020). Ocean acidification and human health. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(12): 4563. Doi:10.3390/ijerph17124563

Richmond EK, Rosi EJ, Walters DM, Fick J, Hamilton SK, Brodin T, Sundelin A, Grace MR (2018). A diverse suite of pharmaceuticals contaminates stream and riparian food webs. Nature Communications, 9. doi:10.1038/s41467-018-06822-w

National Geographic (2024). The Importance of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

United Nations (2023). Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development – Goal 14 2023 Report.

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