Ambassador of SDG 14: Life Below Water

Director of the Tbilisi Zoo, Zurab Gurielidze

How would you explain the conservation of marine resources and their sustainable use for development?

This derives from the name, considering that a large part of the population on Earth depends on the resources of the sea and ocean, including quite a large part of the population in Georgia.

We should remember that these resources are not inexhaustible; everything ends if the resources are not used wisely.

Relevant studies, research, and assessment should accompany the use of resources. Otherwise, these resources will disappear. Resource depletion will lead to great disasters because here we are talking about the consumption of not only ocean and sea resources or food but also essential resources such as oxygen.

When the ecosystem is destroyed, it is demolished in all its components, so the release of oxygen will be gradually reduced and ultimately stopped altogether. This is why water resources are so critical. Using water resources for sustainable development means that the water resources are used but have yet to be depleted.

What is the situation regarding the sustainable consumption of underwater resources in Georgia? One of the main directions of SDG 14 is the effective regulation of fisheries. What challenges do we have in this regard in our country?

There are multiple challenges because the Black Sea part of Georgia is important as a fishing area. Fish consumption increases, especially in winter, so the demand is significant. That is why the demand for the resources of the Black Sea is relatively high, not only from Georgia but also from other countries, and this leads to the fact that these resources are under threat.

Therefore, if the consumption of these resources is not accompanied by a thorough study of what is happening and how it is happening in the Black Sea, the fish resources may be significantly reduced.

Here we mainly mean the anchovy – the main type of fish. In addition to fish, the sea has many other resources, including marine invertebrates or molluscs, which are also important. In addition, there are non-usable resources – those that cannot be eaten, including sea animals or underwater landscapes, which are very interesting from the touristic point of view.

As for marine mammals, only three species are common in the Black Sea, but this does not mean that their protection is less important; on the contrary, their number increases considerably in winter, near the territories of Georgia, which indicates the great importance of this area. The Black Sea is a very special reservoir called a meromictic sea, which means that it is divided into vertical layers and is anoxic, meaning there is a lack of oxygen. There is no animal life in the Black Sea below 200 meters. However, there is another type of life – these are sulfur bacteria. There is a large amount of hydrogen sulfide, and therefore the abuse of the Black Sea water neritic zone below 200 meters can lead to the surfacing of a large layer of the lower sulfur zone, which could cause a global catastrophe.

You spoke about the responsibility of Georgia, including towards the international community. Whose responsibility is it to take care of and develop the underwater resources?

This is the responsibility of everyone – the State, the business sector. The industry is linked to the business. However, some companies need to focus more on using inexhaustible resources. I have in mind, for example, the development of underwater tourism. For instance, ‘dolphin watching’ is very popular in many countries. This is also a business direction, which, unfortunately, is not developed in Georgia. In terms of developing underwater tourism, the Black Sea is not as spectacular as, for example, the Red Sea but depending on how it can be “developed and branded,” it could be quite an exciting experience.

There are state regulations, and we should follow them. There are also many conventions that we are responsible for complying with. In addition, it is the responsibility of each person to make sustainable use of sea resources. Individual responsibility is very important because no convention or government service can protect a seemingly harmless human activity, which can cause a large-scale negative chain reaction and end badly.

Plastic pollution of rivers and the sea is a big problem in Georgia. How does plastic pollution harm underwater resources?

One of the biggest problems facing the world nowadays is plastic pollution. Plastic is a very durable material that takes a long time to decompose. We should also consider that, for example, in Western Georgia, a plastic bottle thrown into any river will end up in the Black Sea. This pollution looks terrible visually, but this is not so important, as plastic bottles are no less dangerous for marine animals than chemical pollution. In many cases, sea animals get entangled with plastic, which causes their death, and this can happen to quite rare species. Plastic bags that get into the sea are mistaken for jellyfish by dolphins, intelligent animals which can swallow plastic materials, which can be fatal for them. So, we must remember that every plastic item we throw away can cause significant harm to a living being. Therefore, this is one of the biggest threats, which is regulated, on the one hand, by the Convention on Biological Diversity and, on the other hand, by the International Agreement for the Protection of Cetaceans of the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea, where special measures against garbage pollution are also in place. This is a very big risk and danger.

It is important to raise public awareness in this direction. What are the activities of Tbilisi Zoo in this regard, and how do these measures contribute to the development of biodiversity underwater?

Tbilisi Zoo has an educational center that works with schoolchildren and other audiences. One of the issues in the course program is underwater diversity. In addition, the zoo itself, together with Ilia University, participates in marine research. Our main direction is the study of cetaceans and aquatic habitats, which we work on quite intensively.

It is important to perceive the role of business in preserving biodiversity, underwater life and, in general, the achievement of SDG 14. What is the role of business in this regard, and what would you recommend to this sector?

The role of business is, obviously, particularly important. It is essential because fish harvesting and other significant threats are related to business. Therefore, the business sector should assume one of the leading roles in solving this problem. Harmful practices should be replaced by less harmful ones, even if they are profitable. Any necessary measures should be taken in the framework of relevant regulations. 

For example, there are fish farms in the Black Sea, similar to the other seas worldwide. On the one hand, it helps preserve local resources, but at the same time, it makes a significant difference depending on which type of fish is bred.

In many cases, businesses do not understand that they should breed the local species rather than non-invasive or alien species, as the local resources will be more beneficial to them because this is their natural habitat and, at the same time, this practice will help to revive rare species, for example, the Black Sea salmon and black oysters, which are endangered species but, at the same time, are commercially quite viable. It is precisely this area that is an important crossover point between business and conservation. Thus, business can play a very big role in the conservation process.

Underwater resources can become the main resource for us, the people, in the future.