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Release peace: the magazine

Analysis & Background Stories on International Affairs

Hands on: The UN Sustainable Development Goals in Action!

Article by: Sabrina Eriksen

Denmark: Protecting Life Below Water

The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number 14 focuses on life below water and calls for member countries to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.” The goal is a means to counterbalance and reverse the effects of climate change, overfishing, and waste. Deteriorating marine biodiversity has a very negative impact on small-scale fisheries given that 3 billion people depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods. This goal heavily advises member countries to protect their marine environments and restore ecosystems and biodiversity in the water, while spreading knowledge about the importance of marine life to the local populations. Denmark’s biggest nature park ‘Lillebælt’, or Little Belt, initiated ‘Belt in Balance’ which offers a great example of how smaller communities can reach SDG 14.

The UN’s Recommendations on How to Achieve SDG 14 on a Local Level

Before embarking on how Lillebælt offers a great example of SDG 14, it is important to first highlight the UN’s recommendations on how to ‘protect life underwater’ on a local level. First, local communities are recommended to reduce marine pollution by, for instance, removing marine debris (human-created waste that has been released into the ocean). Furthermore, it is recommended to protect and restore the balance in the ecosystems of local marine areas. Thirdly, educating on how to increase economic benefits from the sustainable use of marine sources through sustainable fishing, aquaculture, and tourism can contribute to the goal. And lastly, is increasing scientific knowledge, research and technology regarding marine ‘health’ and preservation. So, in what ways does ‘Belt in Balance’ manage to do this?

What are "Biohuts"?

Belt in Balance is using biohuts, or ‘fish kindergartens’ as they call them, to restore balance in the marine ecosystem. Biohuts are artificial fish nurseries or habitats that provide young fish with food and protection from bigger predators, thus enabling them to grow into bigger and stronger fish. Globally, the increase of harbours in coastal and marine areas has taken up the space for young fish to exist in peace, leaving the survival rate for certain young fish at an alarmingly low rate of 10%. However, the use of biohuts significantly increases the young fish’ survival rate up to 70-80%, before they are big and strong enough to survive in the sea on their own. These fish nurseries help reverse the negative impact that overfishing has had on cod in Denmark.

The Creation of Stone and Smolt Reefs

The stone and smolt reefs have the same purpose as the biohuts in increasing the survival rate for young fish. Danish waters used to be abundant in natural stone reefs, but these have been destroyed over the last century, mainly due to the construction of harbours and other man-made infrastructure. The stone reef grows mussels and seaweed, which cod feed off. Smolt reefs have a similar effect; when the smolt (young seatrout) adjusts to the salt levels of the fjord, they often spend weeks in the mouth of a water stream where they are easy prey for predators. The smolt reefs therefore not only provide smolt with food but also protect them from larger predators.

The Removal of Excess Crabs

It is assumed that the large decline in the cod population in Danish marine areas has led to an immense overpopulation of crabs in Lillebælt. This had led to an imbalance in the ecosystem and biodiversity in the marine areas. Crabs feed off young fish and fish eggs, and their overpopulation has contributed to the declining population of fish in these areas. Furthermore, crabs also feed off eelgrass, which is a natural shelter for young fish. Thus, removing crabs to their rightful population size would further restore the ecological balance in the area. And on top of this, ‘Belt in Balance’ has also made an economic benefit from this sustainable and marine-friendly practice by selling the local crab soup in the nature park.

Investing in Tourism and Aquaculture

Another recommendation by the UN for local communities is to generate interest in aquaculture and a desire to protect marine areas and biodiversity amongst the local population. In Little Belt, this is done very efficiently through the organised field trips for schools, guided tours, and online resources with comprehensible maps and websites which educates the locals and revitalises their wish to appreciate nature. Likewise, this project has increased its economic benefits by offering sustainable yet fun activities such as whale watching, listening stations, scuba diving, snorkelling, and paddling to tourists and locals.

So, What has Belt in Balance Achieved So Far?

‘Belt in Balance’, which officially started in April 2020, has made impressive progress since they last recorded it in December 2021. During this period, the ‘Belt in Balance’ project has raised 16,153 Danish kroner (which is equivalent to £1,798.20) for saving the harbour porpoise. They have also extracted 175kg of crabs, and they have been able to remove 3032 kg of waste from the marine and coastal areas in this nature park.

Smaller Does not Always Mean Less Powerful

The ‘Belt in Balance’ project is an excellent example of how smaller communities can do their part to protect life underwater, by reaching the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 14 of protecting the marine and coastal areas. It has taken clear action to save its marine ecosystems by reducing the overpopulated crabs whilst increasing the population of fish through the biohuts, and stone and smolt reefs. Likewise, it has invested in research on sustainable fishing, and used aquaculture and tourism as a sustainable economic benefit, whilst reducing the amount of waste in the area. ‘Belt in Balance’ is certainly an inspiring project that many smaller communities, and even countries could learn a lot from.

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