Natural Capital Solutions


According to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs “oceans and seas are crucial to sustainable development as they contribute to all aspects of life through the contribution of numerous economic, social and environmental benefits.”

Marine ecosystems provide humans with a broad range of goods and services, including seafood and natural products, pharmaceutical and healthcare products, nutrient cycling, protection from coastal flooding and erosion, access to potable water through desalination in arid regions, recreational opportunities, and so-called “non-use values” such as the value that people ascribe to continued existence of various marine species.

In the Rio+20 outcome document, The Future we Want, Member States stressed the importance of “the conservation and sustainable use of the oceans and seas and of their resources for sustainable development, including through their contributions to poverty eradication, sustained economic growth, food security and creation of sustainable livelihoods and decent work, while at the same time protecting biodiversity and the marine environment and addressing the impacts of climate change”.

Oceans contribute to poverty eradication by creating sustainable livelihoods and decent work. Over three billion people depend on marine and coastal resources for their livelihoods. Oceans are crucial for global food security and human health. As a valuable source of nutrition globally, fish provide 4.3 billion people with about 17 per cent of their intake of protein. In addition, oceans are the primary regulator of the global climate, capture and store about 30% of carbon dioxide produced by humans, and provide us with water and the oxygen we breathe. Oceans also host huge reservoirs of biodiversity.

People and Oceans

More than 600 million people (around 10% of the world’s population) live in coastal areas that are less than 10 meters above sea level. Nearly 2.4 billion people (about 40% of the world’s population) live within 100 km of the coast. Ocean, coastal and marine resources are crucial for these coastal communities.


The ocean-economy, which includes employment, ecosystem services provided by the ocean, and cultural services, is estimated at between US$3-6 trillion/year, which is around 5% of global GDP. Fisheries and aquaculture contribute $US100 billion per year and about 260 million jobs to the global economy. Approximately 50% of all international tourists travel to coastal areas. In some developing countries, notably Small Island Development States, tourism accounts for over 25% of GDP.

Health and nutrition

Human health is being impacted by the enhanced survival and spread of tropical diseases due to increasing ocean temperatures. Fish is one of the most important sources of animal protein. It accounts for about 17% of protein at the global level and exceeds 50% in many least-developed countries. The nutrients found in fish are important for optimal neurodevelopment in children and for improving cardiovascular health. Many new marine-based drugs have already been discovered that treat, inter alia, COVID-19, some types of cancer, antibiotic resistant staph infections, pain, asthma, and inflammation.

Sustainable livelihoods and decent work

About 97% of the world’s fishermen live in developing countries and fishing is their major source for food and income.Women account for most of the workers in secondary marine-related activities such as fish processing and marketing. Overall, 80% of the world’s fish stocks for which assessment information is available are reported as fully exploited or overexploited. Illegal, unregulated, unreported fishing affects about 20% of the global fish yields, which cost about $US23 billion a year. An estimated 27% of landed fish is lost or wasted between landing and consumption. Small scale fisheries supply almost half of the world’s seafood stock. Small scale fisheries are however, among others, disadvantaged by lack of access to markets, even domestically, and a lack of pricing power.

Climate change and the ocean

About 93% of the excess heat energy stored by the Earth over the last 50 years is found in the ocean. More than three quarters of the total exchange of water between the atmosphere and the Earth’s surface through evaporation and precipitation takes place over the oceans. The ocean contains 50 times more carbon than the atmosphere and is at present acting to slow the rate of climate change by absorbing about 30% of human emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel burning, cement production, deforestation and other land use change.

Extreme weather events

Ocean warming has been linked to extreme weather events as increasing seawater temperatures provide more energy for storms that develop at sea, leading to more intense tropical cyclones globally. Disasters—90% of which are classed as climate related—now cost the world economy US$520 billion per year and push 26 million people into poverty every year.


It is estimated that at least 11 to 15% of the population of Small Island Developing States live on land with an elevation of 5 meters or lower, and that a sea level rise of half a meter could displace 1.2 million people from low-lying islands in the Caribbean Sea and the Indian and Pacific Oceans; with that number almost doubling if the sea level rises by 2 meters. It has been reported that an annual average of 21.5 million people have been forcibly displaced by sudden weather-related hazards since 2008.

There are increasing, complex challenges facing oceans and seas which can be divided into five broad categories:

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Unsustainable extraction of marine resources, including overfishing, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and destructive fishing practices.

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Marine pollution, which originates from a number of marine and land-based sources. More than 80% of marine pollution is derived from land-based sources.

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Alien invasive species, which have been transported into areas where they do not occur naturally, and which can negatively impact native ecosystems.

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Ocean acidification and climate change impacts, which are caused by increasing atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations. Negative effects of climate change include increased frequency and intensity of weather and climate extremes, ocean warming, sea-level rise, as well as changes in ocean circulation and salinity.

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Physical alteration and destruction of marine habitat, which are caused by unsustainable coastal area development, submarine infrastructure, unsustainable tourism, fishing operations in fragile or vulnerable marine areas, and physical damage from ship groundings and anchors.

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