Shifting our gaze to improve the health of the world’s oceans
© World Ocean Festival

This June 5-9 is the Ocean Conference, the high-level United Nations Conference to support the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development. Coinciding with the global World Oceans Day, the Ocean Conference designed an official program for discussion around creating policy that ultimately enhances the conservation and sustainable use of oceans.

While the UN has the significant task of galvanizing nations, government agencies and NGOs, creating discussion and initiative at the community level is key to reducing ocean pollution. But getting people working to solve environmental issues can take some strategy, especially for one this vast. Rising marine temperatures, ocean acidification and a seemingly insurmountable ocean plastic problem are topics that can be intimidating and are largely out of sight, out of mind for the average consumer.

With so much on the line with regards to creating more sustainable infrastructures, it is important that we find ways to engage communities and make resources for clean ocean actions accessible.

Kicking off the UN Ocean Conference June 4 is the inaugural World Ocean Festival, a day of celebration calling upon people to be “A Collective Voice for the World’s Ocean.” The Festival, organized by the Global Brain Foundation, invites current and potential stewards for the ocean to join them in New York City and around the world to bring public attention to the UN’s SDG Goal 14.

The World Ocean Festival is an open, public event, recognizing that millions of people and organizations care about the oceans and will stand together for their protection. It provides opportunities for communities to participate in a global movement for the conservation, preservation and restoration of marine and coastal ecosystems. In addition to the Ocean March, a first-of-its-kind parade of large and small boats on the water as a statement of unity for the ocean, and the Ocean Village on Governors Island, N.Y., the festival features art, education, innovation, and tools for action.

The Festival may be one day out of the year, but celebrating oceans with a multi-faceted, exciting event has the potential to create collaborations and partnerships for positive change we can carry forward. Individuals and communities planning beach and river cleanups the day of the Festival and every time of year can tackle ocean pollution from another angle through TerraCycle’s Beach Plastic Cleanup Program. The program is free and offers local beach cleanup organizations the opportunity to recycle collected beach plastic for the first time.

Beach cleanup organizations and other ocean-minded NGOs already partake in the important practice of picking waste up off of shorelines and working to restore ecosystems. But through the Beach Plastic Cleanup Program, they invest in the collection, processing and integration of beach plastics in new production, creating a market for these materials and diverting them from landfills, the avenue by which these items find their way into oceans and waterways.

This year, the first discussion topic of the UN Ocean Conference’s official program session focuses on addressing marine pollution. It is estimated that 10-20 million tons of plastic end up in the world’s oceans each year. These include microplastics, which impose severe degradation to natural capital suffered by animals and their habitats. Recent reports confirm that deep-sea animals down in the Mariana Trench, Earth’s deepest point, are ingesting this pollution, which has also found its way into the Arctic. If things don’t change, we could see more plastics than fish in the ocean by 2050.

Working toward UN SDG Goal 14 and the improvement of infrastructures affecting ocean and marine ecosystems is no small task. But shifting our collective gaze at all levels of engagement, from the UN to your weekend beach cleanup crew, is what will allow us to evaluate the nature of our systems and modify them for more sustainable development around the use of our oceans.

Shifting our gaze to improve the health of the world’s oceans
Why oceans, why now?