Do we live in symbiosis with the ocean?

Life below the surface can not endure without us changing how we live our lives above the surface. And that means our idea of ocean conservation needs to be largely broadened.

Over the past decades, we have grown more sophisticated with our capability to monitor and measure the deteriorating state of the oceans the dramatic decline of many marine species, the increase of harmful pollutants in bays and estuaries, and the continuing loss of big swaths of important habitats like coral reefs.

But sadly, we aren’t anywhere near as sophisticated at arresting the losses, reversing the tide, and improving ocean health.

We need healthy oceans to support all the life on the planet. Ocean health is finally a lifestyle problem, and that means we must reinvent how we live our lives above the water.

Saving the oceans means an urgent transformation away from our carbon intensive, non renewable, high waste lifestyle and toward an economy that’s lasting, fair, and sustainable. As world leaders meet this week in New York for the first ever United Nations Oceans Conference, we can take hope from the fact that the UN’s Sustainable Development objectives are the most ambitious group targets ever set for defending the planet and its people.

While the ideacenters on the ocean, they are connected by the core idea that we have to build a sustainable economic model that works for all humanity. That means redesigning our economy from one that relentlessly degrades our planet to one that restores and regenerates it.

Opportunities for such reinvention abound across many sectors, from how we produce energy and food, to how we package and dispose of merchandise, to how we live and recreate.

Seafood, as an example, is a sector ripe for reinvention. Fish and other marine life are an important supply of nutrition for a burgeoning world population. But some of the ways we fish and farm fish because great harm to wild fisheries and ecosystems. For example:

Wild fish caught for human intake frequently has a high collateral damage called bycatch. In the case of tropical shrimp, that bycatch can outweigh the catch of shrimp eight to one or more. Turtles, sharks, seabirds and other species are all victims of this bycatch. Some of our fishing techniques, like bottom trawling, can harm fragile ocean ecosystems. So called ghost gear, or discarded nets and other fishing gear, keeps fishing long after being lost at sea. 30 of all wild caught fish is ground up into fish meal and fish oil to feed farmed fish at a great loss of protein and energy. Unsustainable fish farming methods can have huge impacts on the oceans from land clearing, loss of important habitats like mangroves and discharge of wastes. World seafood production is a classic example of a non sustainable world economic system steadily eroding the oceans.

Entrepreneurs and developers around the globe are working to make the seafood economy sustainable by reinventing fishing gear to decrease bycatch and ecosystem damage, finding sustainable alternatives to producing feed made from wild fish, and redesigning fish farming with sustainability in mind.

Groundbreaking new approaches in this sector and every sector supply a path for helping world leaders meet their sustainable development goals

While the threats have never been greater, there’s an unbelievable opportunity for fast development and advancement of new ideas. This opportunity comes from the mix of emergent technologies and increased access to all technology, increasing class of makers and entrepreneurs, and markets that can bring better alternatives to scale quickly.

Actively encouraging and fostering novelty and redesign across many sectors of the economy is the path to attaining the SDGs. It’s the path to saving our oceans.