SDG 14 - Life Below Water

Posted on Friday, 1 July 2022
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Overall, the EU has achieved steady progress towards the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 14) ‘Life below water’. A recent article from Eurostat shows that "marine protected areas have increased and fishing activities in most of EU waters appear to have become more sustainable". The outlook for Ocean health is varied with bathing water quality improving and reductions in pollution due to improvements in waste water treatment and management. Continued use of fossil fuels however means that CO2 levels are still adversely impacting ocean water quality. 


Sustainable Progress Index 2022

The conservation of the oceans, seas and marine resources by safeguarding and ensuring their sustainable use is the aim of SDG14. It aims to reduce marine pollution, ocean acidification and overfishing as addressed through policy. The world’s oceans – their temperature, chemistry, currents and life – drive global systems that make the Earth habitable for humankind. Hence, a key priority for a sustainable future is the careful management of this goal. Due to data limitations, it has, and continues to be, difficult to estimate how each country is contributing to ocean health. Ocean acidification poses a risk to the marine environment and global climate regulation. Unfavourable trends are visible and “due to the absorption of CO2 into the world’s oceans, the mean ocean acidity continues to increase, and in 2019 reached a new unprecedented high over pre-industrial levels [1]. More recently, different indicators have been used to capture sustainable fishery and healthy oceans; protected marine sites, extent of fish trawling and fish dredging, and measures of the percentage of fish caught and then discarded. Estimates of ocean health, including ocean acidity are available from the Ocean Health Index [2] which measures ocean health by country. However, complete data remains a problem for accurately estimating achievement on this SDG for most countries. For example, the available data for protected marine sites do not provide an indication of the sites’ conservation status nor the effectiveness of the protection they offer to species and habitats [1]. Hence caution is advised in interpreting the findings here.

Social Justice Ireland's annual Sustainable Progress Index ranks 14 comparable EU countries based on their delivery of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, assesses their performance on each individual SDG; creates a ranking table for performance overall; and provides national and local-level policy proposals to improve Ireland's progress towards the Goals. In 2022, SDG 14 was computed using 5 indicators for 12 countries [3], drawing on available data and the overall score gives Ireland a ranking of 4 on this SDG. Denmark, Finland and Greece are the top three scoring countries. Given time, it is hoped better quality data will allow for more reliable estimates of SDG14. 



The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage recently announced that €510,000 in grants have been issued through the Local Authority Waters Programme Community Water Development Fund. First introduced in 2018, the fund supports communities and groups to deliver projects that enhance the quality of local streams, rivers, lakes, and coastal areas. The Department of Housing, Local Government, and Heritage provide the funding which is administered by Local Authority Waters Programme (LAWPRO).LAWPRO was set up in 2016 as a shared service on behalf of the 31 Local Authorities. The programme provides information and organises meetings and public consultations with the aim of "engaging communities to increase their involvement in water management and building the necessary relationships with relevant stakeholders at local level". The budget for 2022 was increased as applications exceeded the budget allocation with 182 awarded from a total of 202 applications. Some of the projects approved for funding include:

"river and habitat enhancement works such as planting of native species and hedgerow, pollinator friendly planting, river-bank stabilisation, fencing and riparian buffer zones;

match funding for large LEADER funded projects with a biodiversity/water quality element;

preparation of local plans such as feasibility studies, habitat management plans, ecological surveys, and biodiversity action plans;

awareness raising initiatives such as river clean ups, biodiversity information boards, citizen science workshops, outdoor classrooms, rainwater harvesting, and enhancement of wetlands".

Blue Dot

in 2022, an extra €10,000 was awarded as part of the Blue Dot Programme. Blue Dots are "catchments which are mostly unpolluted and are our best quality waters. Blue Dot waters that are achieving their high status objective contain a diverse community of plants and animals that are very sensitive to pollution". 


If Ireland as an island nation wishes to maintain and protect the waters both around and in the country, we must at a National level- 

• Fully implement the National Integrated Maritime Plan.

• Regulate harvesting and end over-fishing.

• Implement policies to restore fishing stocks to sustainable levels.

and at a Local level- 

• Put a plan in place to tackle pesticides in drinking water.

• Implement the ‘Nature’ programmes set out in the Climate Action Plan published by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and the Environment. 


[1] Eurostat. (2021). Sustainable Development in the European Union: Monitoring Report on Progress towards the SDGs in an EU context, 2021 edition, Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.

[2] We use the clean waters score from the Index.

[3] Both Austria and Luxembourg are landlocked – hence there is no data for this goal.