As a sector, zoos and aquariums have the power to make positive changes and ensure the ongoing wellbeing of people, animals and ecosystems for years to come. Through this lens, the United Nations (UN) 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provides a universal blueprint to improve education, reduce inequality and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and protecting the planet in the process. While each SDG holistically contributes to the UN 2023 Agenda for Sustainable Development, action in one area can positively affect the social, economic and environmental outcomes in others. 

This month, we highlight Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG6): ‘Ensure Availability and Sustainable Management of Water and Sanitation for All.’ With international celebrations including World Wildlife Day, New Zealand Sea Week, Sustainable Seafood Week and World Water Day in the coming weeks, it is an opportune time to explore SDG6.

Access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene is the most basic human need for health and well-being. As demand for water only increases as our population rapidly grows; 733 million people live in countries with high and critical water stress. With current rates of progress, billions of people will lack access to these services unless a four-times increase in the pace of change is achieved. This month, consider how recycled water can be used on site, if appropriate. Already, many zoos and aquariums use recycled water in fresh and saltwater displays, to hose down animal exhibits, in moat filling, toilet flushing and lawn and garden irrigation. 

We also live in a world where water-related ecosystems are being degraded at an alarming rate. Over the past 300 years 85% of the planets wetlands have been lost and since 1970 over 81% of species dependent on inland wetlands have declined at a faster rate than any other species relying on varied biomes. Many zoos and aquariums already assess the sustainability of their seafood suppliers served in restaurants or cafes and whether they contribute to overfishing or negatively impact marine environments. Many institutes are also considering ways to promote sustainable seafood practices which maintain healthy populations through educational talks, community resources and signage. Last year, wildlife rescue and rehabilitation programs by our members helped protect a wide variety of aquatic species including rays, seahorses, dolphins, sharks, whales, seals, seabirds, crocodiles, water dragons, platypus and frogs.  
No matter the scale of your institution, the SDG6 targets and indicators can act as a guide for sustainable water management.

Read the guide