#32 The ‘drip-side’ of Living Below Water!

Image of UN goal 14
Image by United Nations

Well the very first Blog post PhD submission and it is quite a strange position to be in. The five years one month and one day of enjoyable, intense hard labour is over and as to how it stands up to examination and scrutiny is currently underway – leaving me feeling a little naughty to not be studying all the time!

This of course does free me up to continue my countdown and commitment to reflecting on the 17 United Nations Sustainability Development Goals. My countdown of the Global Goals is at number 14 – Life Below water – Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development. Possibly a timely moment with the after effects of Cyclone Debbie in Australia where we are reminded that humans cannot live without water but mater in itself can be extremely destructive. In addition the more the inhabitants of the world are experiencing peculiar climates the more these water issues become apparent.

I begin my reflection of water with an extremely interesting analogy that speaks so well to my Thesis of exploring the tensions that exist between top-down command and control and bottom-up innovation. In an article referring to water a question was raised as to why things fall apart to get change – almost like ecosystems depend on collapse. Water or more importantly an important animal that lives in water was used as an analogy and example of this tension– FISH

Although the paper also considers collapse of other industries (i.e Forestry) I found the reference that was made to the 1980 Canadian cod industry of much interest. My interest was peaked by the time line – thirty-seven years ago – and I am curious what we have learned.

In referring to the 1980 Canadian cod example the stages of collapse are presented in eights stages. The final stages refer to regulations being put in place such as quotas, economic subsidies or in the case of FISH reducing the fishing capacity of fleets. For me the biggest takeout is how these eight stages share a commonality of how the intensity of action is often belated and ineffective. In considering the Global Goals there is also a common driver that is evident across all the goals to date. A good example of this can be found in Australia, which is experiencing an unfortunate world renowned, situation with regards to the bleaching of the Barrier Reef – something I shall expand upon later on.

So at a time of heightened global need for change and with a history of repetitive action and often waiting until the figurative horse has bolted before action is taken it begs me to ask the question of what can be done differently? I refer to this question as part of the key to unlocking the new paradigm which in my research I refer to as the purpose economy.

We cannot and more importantly must not keep doing things the same way as we always have or the situation will/is becoming like a multitude of collapses. If fish or water on their own do not motivate you enough to recognize that our everyday actions are part of this conundrum then how about a ‘plastic ocean’!

In the documentary film called Plastic Ocean Craig Leeson very cleverly investigates the impact plastic has caused our environment especially for marine life or those that live below water. With a shared quality of fluidity I can liken this tension of beautiful shots of marine life combined with images of heavily polluted waters dumped full of plastic rubbish being similar to the tensions that exist between command and control and its negative impact on the ability to engage and empower the local voice. Likewise there is much discussion at the moment about engaging with the local consumer, end user, client, patient but unless the approaches shift to more of a conversation rather than consultation it is a little like continuing to produce the plastic that cannot be easily recycled and expecting something different.

The purpose economy is going to be one of the most extreme eras but could also be like nothing human kind has ever experienced before with limitless opportunities – but not if we continue to destroy the important life source around us.

“No water; No life; No Blue; No Green” – (Dr Sylvie Earl ocean expert advisor Plastic Ocean)

This brings me back to a particular focal water point for Australia – The Great Barrier Reef. Having grown up in Australia I was most fortunate to first see the reef in the late 1980’s and then again mid 1990’s. Due to these time lines what I got to see and like many before me is now unfortunately not the same for those who see it today.

Across many collaborative papers the Barrier Reef damage has been aligned with global warming due to three extreme heatwaves, 1998, 2002 and 2016.

The extreme marine heatwave in 2016 killed two –thirds of the corals along a 700km stretch of the northern Great Barrier Reef, from Port Douglas to Papua New Guinea”.

You couldn’t ask for a closer to home and better example of where the plan that is put in place to combat this situation (Reef 2050 Long-term Sustainability Plan) has not been put into action quickly enough or is simply the wrong kind of plan or worse case not taken seriously enough. The critics suggest the main issue is human caused climate change, which is of course preventable. So what is going wrong and how can the Global Goals and target #14 of Life Below Water help all on the planet be aware that they are part of the problem but also key to the solution.

In another set of collaborative papers a citizen science program called Coral Watch has been launched where each one of us can play a part in helping to save The Great Barrier Reef. Involvement ranges in varying levels of intensity. For example if you are a water person and have access to a coral reef you are able to play a part in monitoring the coral through a simple wonderful free kit available on the website (see details in References). Likewise if you are a dry land person (like me) you can become better educated, fundraise and spread the news that the current status is not good enough and together changes can be made.

In learning from this material I was horrified to read that by 2030 there could be no Barrier Reef and with this being the same timeline of the Global Goals I would suggest this provides a perfect prevention KPI for us all! Equally the importance of doing things differently in this new paradigm is reinforced by target #14.

As I have researched target #14 I have found no shortage of collaborative papers calling for immediate help using bold headline statements such as: Back-to-back bleaching has now hit two-thirds of the Great Barrier Reef

“We have a narrowing window of opportunity to tackle global warming, and no time to loose in moving to zero net carbon emissions. We have already seen four major bleaching events on the Great Barrier Reef with just 1% of global average warming”

For those of us fortunate to have seen the Great Barrier Reef before the bleaching it is not good enough to simply hold those memories or share the photos – I call on all (particularly those who have seen it in its glory) to take some positive action but at the same time recognise this is simply one area of 17 other Global Goals that are helping to identify the priorities for the collective action.

There has been a common theme throughout my Consequences Blog countdown of the Global Goals (and I am only up to #14)! The common ground is that the challenges are big and are not responding to usual methods BUT the prevention and solutions lie in the innovation of thought and action which can be activated through individual collective change – meaning what you do today has a huge impact on tomorrow – even if you live above water!


Harris, M. (1980) Lament for an ocean: The Collapse of the Atlantic Cod Fishery, A True Crime Story, McClelland & Stewart

Dr Sylvie Earl quote: – https://theconversation.com/film-review-a-plastic-ocean-shows-us-a-world-awash-with-rubbish-74534


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