SDG 14 Life below water

SDG 14 is aimed at protection and sustainable use of seas and oceans. Human life relies heavily on seas and oceans: they are indispensable for CO2 capture and for producing oxygen. They are also crucial for the climate, our food and our drinking water. Climate change, overfishing and pollution are posing serious threats to this ecosystem and to how people use it.

Summary of results
Dashboard and indicators
SDG 14 Life below water
Further reading

Summary of results

  • Few undisputed recent indicators are available that are measured frequently enough to be included in the dashboard.
  • The Clean Water Index is the only one of the four indicators trending towards an increase in well-being. The Netherlands is trailing in the EU on this indicator.

Dashboard and indicators

SDG 14 focuses on the protection of seas and oceans and on the sustainable use of marine resources. Seawater covers around three-quarters of the planet and oceans constitute the world’s largest ecosystem. The increasing negative effects of climate change, overfishing and pollution are posing a major threat both to the intrinsic value of the ecosystem itself, and to how people use it. The dashboard focuses on water quality and the sustainability of North Sea fishery.

Although many data are available on the various Dutch marine waters (part of the North Sea, the Wadden Sea and the estuaries), not many provide recent information, or are measured frequently enough to be included here. Moreover, as not many EU countries border on the North Sea, it is not easy to make international comparisons. Filling these data gaps and being able to present a broader picture of Dutch progress on SDG 14 – and its contribution to well-being – have been on the wish list of the monitor since the start of Dutch SDG monitoring in 2016.

CBS is currently engaged in two North Sea research projects. First, the ecosystem accounts for the Dutch marine environment, which consist of a number of linked tables (accounts) describing the Dutch part of the North Sea. These accounts view ecosystems identified in this area as suppliers of ecosystem services which people can use. Although this use is primarily described in terms of biophysical units (kg, m3, etc.), the services also represent an economic value. In a second project, CBS is working on biodiversity accounts for the North Sea, in line with the existing biodiversity account for the land territory of the Netherlands. Updates of the Living Planet Index for the North Sea offshore area and the North Sea coastal zone are the basis for this biodiversity account. A report on this project is to be published in the summer of 2023. It is intended as a kick-off for sustainable development monitoring in the North Sea in the context of the North Sea Programme 2022-2027 and the European Marine Strategy Framework Directive, alongside other policy initiatives.

SDG 14 Life in water  


The long-term trend indicates a rise in broad well-being

Resources and opportunities concern the size of the marine area and the resources used to maintain and protect it. Although much of Dutch marine territory is located within protected areas, a lot of human activity still takes place there, which means that protection measures are not implemented everywhere they should be. As a result, it is yet possible to get a clear picture of relevant developments.

Use relates to how we use the sea for economic gain and for recreational purposes and how we protect marine wildlife. Dutch marine waters are used intensively for shipping, fishing and recreation. Wind farms are being constructed in more and more locations in the North Sea and experiments are also being conducted with other forms of sustainable energy. No indicators fulfilling the quality requirements of this report are yet available to describe these uses for the whole marine area of the Netherlands.

Outcomes describe the quality of seawater and natural life in and around Dutch marine waters. Fish stocks constitute a natural resource that is exploited by many countries. To ensure sustainable fish stocks, European fisheries policy sets quotas to preventing overfishing. The dashboard shows the status of six commercial fish species, in terms of whether their current populations are sustainable (i.e. there are enough fish to maintain a healthy population). The trend is stable. According to the ICES (International Council for the Exploration of the Sea), in 2022 populations of herring, plaice and haddock were large enough to constitute a sustainable fish stock; for cod, sole and pollack, this was not the case.

The European Environmental Agency (EEA) measures bathing water quality yearly across Europe. In the Netherlands it is measured at 91 points along the coast. In 2022, Dutch coastal bathing water qualified as ‘excellent’, the highest category, at 85.7 percent of these measured points. The EEA also measures the quality of inland bathing water (see SDG 6); here water at 73.5 percent of the 649 measuring stations qualified as ‘excellent’. For both indicators, the Netherlands is in the middle group of the European rankings. The Ocean Health Index is a more general framework for measuring health and vitality of seas and oceans. It was set up to help maintain the usefulness of seas and oceans for humanity. The Clean Water Index component measures water quality, with scores from 0 to 100 (completely clean). The trend for 2015-2022 is rising: water quality is improving. There is some cause for concern however, as the Netherlands is trailing at the bottom of the EU rankings.

The North Sea fauna indicator reflects developments in marine and seabed biodiversity, including seabirds. The most recent figure is for 2015, and no trend can be calculated for a more recent period. From 1990 to 2015, average North Sea fauna populations declined by almost a third. Benthos species, in particular, decreased. New measurements for these faunas are being prepared, and when they are published, they will reveal whether these trends have continued and how deep-sea biodiversity in the North Sea has developed in the last decade.
Subjective assessment relates to people’s concerns about pollution and life in the seas. For this category, too, no indicators are available.

Further reading

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