Youth Involvement in Sustainable Development Goal 14: The Ocean Goal
Photo by IISD | Lynn Wagner
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Every time I teach about the ocean, I always learn something from the youth; the most important thing they can remind us is the awe that comes with the ocean and the world around them.

Bringing the SDGs into the education of our children allows them to see outside the walls of their classrooms and to problem solve for their own communities, and the world.

Much of my life has focused on Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14, also called the Ocean Goal. As founder and creator of 10 by 2020, a non-profit organization that brings awareness to the Ocean Goal through youth-led action, I have spoken at a wide range of venues, from high schools to conferences to UN Headquarters in New York City, US. As a graduate student pursuing a Master’s of Science in Marine Policy at the University of Maine – Orono in the US, I also often get to interact with youth and college-aged students in smaller, more informal settings. Whenever I talk about our ocean and seas, with youth and adults alike, I always open with the same two questions:

  • What do we get from the ocean?
  • What do we give to the ocean?

Without fail, children and youth give me responses to the former question that correspond to several of the SDGs, oftentimes without even knowing it. They will give answers such as food (contributing to SDGs 2 and 3), jobs (contributing to SDGs 1, 5, and 10), or a better environment all around (contributing to SDGs 6, 13, and 15). This shows just how key the ocean is to our lives – with just three examples they hit upon eight SDGs.

When asked the second question, I usually get blank stares or bleak answers – pollution, plastic, warming sea temperatures. I always remind them that they – that we – are the future. We have the ability to change these actions and mindsets, and the global community is working towards change as well, through the SDGs. No action is too small, such as using a reusable water bottle or trying to decrease your use of plastic, which just so happens to correspond with SDG 12.

We have the ability to change these actions and mindsets, and the global community is working towards change as well, through the SDGs.

Every time I teach about the ocean, I always learn something from the youth; the most important thing they can remind us is the awe that comes with the ocean and the world around them. I always show videos and pictures of the ocean, from the vibrant Great Barrier Reef Marine Park to the giant glaciers of the Antarctic, anticipating their reactions. Their enthrallment with the parts of our world that they have never seen is amazing. Oftentimes in my work as a graduate student, I forget about how amazing the ocean is, even though I study it every day. I try to have this childlike awe in my work, and I oftentimes wonder how much better we would treat our earth – not just the ocean – if we all retained this stunned reaction to our world.

In 2015, I spoke to elementary and middle school aged students attending the Youth Ocean Conservation Summit (YOCS) about the efforts they were making in their lives and schools to help the ocean. Their responses were inspiring. One group had foregone class tee shirts, and instead ordered reusable water bottles for each student. Another group had been working on getting new water fountains in their entire school system that would make filling water bottles easier, and would count how many bottles were saved by using their reusable bottle rather than purchasing a disposable one. They all wanted to work with their schools to ensure that seafood served during mealtimes was sustainably caught. When I was their age, I was blind to such efforts, even though I wanted to be an environmental scientist from a very young age. I didn’t think that I, as a child, could initiate change in my own world, let alone on a larger scale. By having these conversations with youth, and placing it in a context that they understand, we can instill this sense of capability within them. I am able to teach them what I wish I knew at their age – no action is too small to make a difference.

I am grateful that I can interact with the next generation of global leaders. They give me hope for our future, not just for the ocean, but for our entire world. Bringing the SDGs into the education of our children allows them to see outside the walls of their classrooms and to problem solve for their own communities, and the world.

Emily Nocito is a graduate student studying Marine Policy, specifically the creation of marine protected areas under Sustainable Development Goal 14. She is also the founder of 10 by 2020, a youth-led organization that aims to involve those under the age of 30 in the global ocean dialogue.

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