Starting at the source to save the sea: Look upstream to achieve SDG14

Action Brief Published: June 2020

This document has been created to help illustrate the importance of upstream and in-land management and governance on the impacts of ocean health. SDG 14 on Life Below Water will not be realized without coordinated action across sectors, borders and landscapes - from source to sea. As such, we call for inclusion of a source-to-sea lens to governance to be lifted in formal processes including the forth coming UN Ocean Conference, for which specific recommendations have been made.

Ocean health is critically dependent on society’s ability to minimize the negative effects of human activities while mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change together with making efforts to meet the needs of a growing and more prosperous population. This can only be done by harmonizing social, economic and environmental priorities within the system as a whole. Sustaining green and blue economic growth requires governance and management processes that also balance and protect development priorities from their source all the way to the sea. 

This calls for new approaches and strengthened partnerships that engage actors and sectors located upstream of coastal and marine areas. Addressing these challenges cannot wait. Our shared future depends on all levels of government and decision-makers pulling together to drive meaningful change and uniting policy and action for coordinated management in order to restore and maintain the health of the ocean.

We call upon the international community to join forces and take bold steps to achieve SDG 14 through the following actions:

  • COMMIT: Mobilize commitments from leaders in government, business, financial institutions, academia and civil society to advance coordinated management from source to sea. Rally support for the development of legal instruments, strategies and action plans to catalyze source-to-sea action at global, regional and national levels.
  • FINANCE: Incentivize management practices that link land-based activities with impacts on coasts and ocean. Call for collaboration from international financial institutions and governments to stimulate cross-sectoral coordination and upstream-downstream cooperation through financial and regulatory tools.
  • PARTNER: Build and reinforce multi-stakeholder partnerships at all levels to strengthen commitment and advance knowledge. Accelerate action for development on land and along rivers to safeguard healthy marine and coastal ecosystems and protect livelihoods.
  • ACT: Mainstream source-to-sea system thinking in governance and management frameworks to strengthen coordination between actors. Address linkages between terrestrial, freshwater, coastal and marine systems in the design and implementation of actions in cities, industries and landscapes, along rivers and coasts, and at sea.
  • ENGAGE: Move towards sustainable consumption and production by encouraging consumers and businesses to transition away from the take-make-waste economy and adopt behaviours and practices that contribute to the long-term health of ecosystems in the source-to-sea continuum.

The source-to-sea approach to management links governance, operations, practices and finance across marine, coastal, freshwater and terrestrial systems and stimulates cooperation between upstream and downstream actors, as well as coordination across sectors to ensure outcomes that mutually benefit systems as a whole – from source to sea.

For more information on the source-to-sea approach to management and the Action Platform for Source-to-Sea Management please visit