Human interventions in marine ecosystems over the last decades have put oceans and coasts on unsustainable trajectories. Numerous factors contribute to the poor state of the marine environment, including overfishing, onshore and offshore pollution, climate change, and the increasing demand for diverse marine resources. Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the management of human activities is pursued through a fragmented institutional system, making it difficult to ensure that marine resources are used sustainably. Most notable among the various gaps in the legal system is the lack of a comprehensive international agreement for the protection and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ), which cover almost 60% of the world’s oceans.
Achieving ocean sustainability requires far-reaching changes in ocean governance and the use of marine resources. With many of the drivers of ocean degradation beyond the purview of marine management institutions, this will require not only greater integration within governance but also in relation to other sustainability policies and frameworks, touching on matters as diverse as employment, food security, sustainable consumption and production and climate action. While UNCLOS provides a comprehensive legal framework for the oceans, it is becoming increasingly clear that current governance frameworks must be revamped if we are to achieve ocean sustainability.