United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 14: LIFE BELOW WATER

Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources

[Barb Reid & Mairin Raisdana, United World College of Southeast Asia – East Campus, Singapore]

Oceans and seas cover 70% of the planet.  The well-being of our planet, and all life on it, depends on our ability to keep our rivers, seas and oceans clean and ecologically stable.  Sadly, pollution and overfishing constantly threaten this precious resource. 

We have tried to choose books from various cultures that demonstrate to readers the interconnectivity between humans and marine life. Ideally, it would be great to find books that address the ten targets associated with Goal 14, but this has not proved to be an easy task! We have done our best with the books below. They have been selected, not only to support the broad topic  of Life Below Water, but also, because of the diversity that they provide to our collection.

We would also like to remind you about BTN (Behind the News), an ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) news program for Upper Primary and Middle School. A search for fishing or oceans turns up a wealth of great short videos.


Mama Ocean by Jane Jolly, illustrated by Sally Heinrich (2020) / Australia

While this book is ideal to open up conversations about marine pollution (Target 14.1) with lower primary students, its beautiful illustrations make it appealing to all age groups.

Mama Ocean is feeling unwell and the well meaning sea creatures bring her treasures from the deep to cheer her up. Soon  Mama Ocean is being smothered by plastic, cotton buds, tin cans and other debris. The creatures realise that it is the rubbish that is killing Mama Ocean and they gather it up in a wave and deposit a mountain of trash on the shore. Mama Ocean is restored.

View the book trailer here.


Here Among the Mangroves by Krissie Zamora Martinez, illustrated by Jakin Martinez (2015) / The Philippines

This lovely, rhyming, counting book for kindergarten children celebrates the diversity of life in a mangrove forest (Target 14.2), in this variation of the 19th century American nursery rhyme, Over in the Meadow. Each page starts off “Here among the mangroves” and the reader meets 10 of the creatures who live in the mangroves and learn about their habits and .

Here among the mangroves where sea and soil mix,
lived a mommy mudskipper and her wee mudskippers six.
“Shuttle” said the mommy.
“We shuttle!” said the six.
So they shuttled back and forth where the sea and soil mix.

At the end of the book there is factual information about each animal and protecting marine and coastal ecosystems.


The Deep by Mayur Vayeda and Tushar Vayeda (2000) / India

This hand-bound book, silkscreen-printed by hand on recycled cotton paper book (from the amazing Tara Books) is almost too beautiful to describe, so please take the time to look at this video

The Deep is probably a book that you will share with senior art students and adults but even the very young will appreciate the amazingly intricate artwork. The artists explain that,

Around the world we use different languages and give different names to seas and oceans, but they’re all related, Most rivers flow into the sea, and common currents connect nature and people to each other.

The text moves the reader to consider how all things are connected and yet remain mysterious, not just oceans, but people too. While I feel that the text in this book focuses on the connectedness of all living things, the illustrations use water and the ocean to express this connectedness, highlighting the importance of oceans to our planet. I cannot think of a target that it specifically addresses but it will raise awareness and start conversations.


The World That We Want by Kim Michelle Toft (2005) / Australia
One Less Fish by Kim Michelle Toft (2008) / Australia
A Sea of Words by Kim Michelle Toft (2006) / Australia

There is no way to choose just one book by Kim Michelle Toft.

For example, using the style of “The House That Jack Built,”  The World That We Want builds on each spread to move the reader through 9 habitats, including mangroves, rivers, reefs and oceans,  showing how they are connected (Target 14.5). The colourful illustrations show 45 different animals and facts about each animal are shared at the back of the book.

Her books are suitable for children aged from 4-11 years and are simple rhyming stories with incredibly colourful, detailed illustrations of life below water painted on silk.


The Hidden Forest by Jeannie Baker (2000) / Australia

What lies beneath? In this book Ben overcomes fear and discovers the beauty of life below the water and realises that he needs to protect the kelp forest for all sea creatures (Target 14.2).

The beautifully detailed collages of the kelp forest will appeal to all age groups while the text is most suited to primary students. 


Hold On! Saving the Spotted Handfish by Gina M Newton, illustrated by Rachel Tribout (2020) / Australia

This nonfiction text, written by Dr Gina M Newton, a scientist & science communicator, introduces readers to a fish that has survived since the time of the dinosaurs and now finds itself threatened.

Primary aged readers learn how scientists are working to save the species(Target 14.A) and CSIRO Publishing provides teaching notes.

Note: Rachel Tribout, the French-Australian illustrator, has a new book out about The Great Barrier Reef called One Remarkable Reef, which is available as a free download — click here — from the State Library of Queensland.


The Ocean Book: How Endangered Are Our Seas? by Esther Gonstalla (2017) Translated into English (2019) / Germany

Created by award-winning infographic designer Esther Gonstalla, this beautiful and informative book is extremely engaging with its use of data presented in the form of easy-to-read infographics.

 The book covers a range of topics related to our oceans, including climate change, loss of biological diversity, overfishing, ocean-based industries, and pollution.

We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea- whether it is to sail or to watch it- we are going back from whence we came.

The Ocean Book lays out information quite easily for kids, making clear connections to the ways that humans cause the problems in the oceans, and also what we can do to solve them.


World Without Fish by Mark Kurlansky, illustrated by Frank Stockton (2011) / USA

An interesting combination of narrative nonfiction and graphic-novel that may appeal to upper primary, lower secondary students. Important points are made in large font making it a book worth browsing.

At the start of each of the 12 chapters is a page of a fictional graphic novel that can be combined and read as a separate story. The non-fiction element covers biology, economics, evolution, politics, climate, history, culture, food, and nutrition and touches on several of the ten targets (Target 14.B) for creating action to conserve and to sustainably use the oceans.

Note: Kurlansky has written about fish and other foodstuffs in books for adults, e.g., Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World (1999) and The Big Oyster: History on the Half-Shell (2011).

For those of you who have access to EPIC!, World Without Fish is available on that platform — and it is included in this collection that I have made for SDG14 on Epic


Puteri Tioman: The Green Turtle by Rossetti Aishah Rashidi, illustrated by Farrah Ashiela Samsuri (2011) / Malaysia

This beautifully illustrated non-fiction picture book is suitable for lower primary students. As well as being perfect for target 14.2,  it could be used in a unit on life cycles, or for those of us in Malaysia, Singapore or Indonesia it is very much about where we live. At the end of the book there is a section on Taking Action, how to help sea turtle survival.


Waterlife by Rambharos Jha (2012) / India

This book’s gorgeous illustrations are silk-screen printed on paper that is hand-made by artisans in Chennai, India.

Another Tara Books production, it is a limited edition, with only 3,000 hand-numbered copies.

 Each page features a folk painting of Mithila art from eastern India, along with stories from the author’s childhood combined with folk legends that results in  a  unique and interesting artist’s journal.

Fish are important, auspicious symbols in Mithila art. If you happen to see a fish before you set out on a journey, or when you are about to start something new, it is a good sign. It means that your journey or your quest will be successful and good things will come your way. Here I have drawn a family of fish- the little ones dance around their mother and father, even as they are being fed.


Journey of the Sea Turtle by Mark Wilson (2009) / Australia and New Zealand

This environmental book has very appealing painted illustrations, while also interspersing pencil drawings to add additional visuals.

The story centers around a female Australian sea turtle from the moment of her hatching to her perilous journey in search of a place to lay her eggs. There are numerous topics covered in this book, from the dangerous predators turtle hatchlings face to ocean pollution to the loss of hatching beaches due to urban development.


A Wave of Stars by Dolores Brown, illustrated by Sonja Wimmer (2020) / Spain

Published by NubeOcho and available in both English and Spanish, this book has beautifully coloured and unique illustrations. 

The book’s main characters are a seal and her turtle friend, and tells the story of the legend of the moonbow. However, when the legend actually becomes reality for the two friends, they must decide whether to stay in their new forms, or find a way to transform back.


Can We Drink the Ocean?  by Gidget Roceles-Jimenez, illustrated by Isabel Roxas (2007) / The Philippines

This informative book has both drawn and photographic illustrations in order to provide a wealth of knowledge about water. 

The book is separated into four main sections that cover topics on: the properties of water, the water cycle, water treatment and distribution, and the future of water.  The end of the book features appendices with contact information, a glossary of terms, and a bibliography. 

The information in the book is well-organised and illustrated, and the language is very accessible for middle grade students.


Tohora: The Southern Right Whale by Ned Barraud (2020) / New Zealand

The Southern Right Whale was fished to near extinction in the early 20th Century (Target 14.C). This picture book for upper primary provides information about the species and the history of whaling in New Zealand. It explains how just protecting the species in the waters of New Zealand was not enough to save it from foreign fishers. Thanks to Taking Action organisations like Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd, the species has been enabled to recover.


The Mighty Mangroves: using natural resources in Samoa by Jill MacGregor (2016) / New Zealand

Set in Samoa, this book addresses Targets 14.1 & 14.2 and is part of a series called “Using Natural Resources” published by Children of the Pacific Books (see whole series here). We wanted to include something from the Pacific Islands as life on these islands is so connected to, and dependent on, the sea.

The National Library of New Zealand has some great topic guides that have information about the Pacific Islands, ocean pollution and other topics that link to the SDGs and have a Pacific point of view.


Ocean Limits by Rachel Walker (2016) / New Zealand

An easy introduction to some of the problems we face in preserving the oceans. This book has something that addresses almost every target. It’s also available here on EPIC.

A big shout out to EPIC who make so many great books (in English, Chinese, Spanish, and French) available to us for free, and this book is no exception. Here — again — is the link to an EPIC collection that I have made for SDG14.


The Dead Eye and the Deep Blue Sea : a graphic memoir of modern slavery by Vannak Anan Prum (Cambodian), as told to Ben & Jocelyn Pederick, translated by Lim Sophorn (2018)

This graphic novel for mature readers addresses targets 14.4 & 14.6.

Described as a harrowing memoir, it certainly lives up to that description. A story of poverty and slavery at sea by a Cambodian author/artist who relates what happened when he  went  to Thailand to work on a fishing boat. Vannuk was held captive on board for years and even after his escape he was trafficked to Thai farmers until rescued by an NGO. He was away from home for 5 years. A hard read because, sadly, it is an ongoing problem.

A perfect companion to this book, as this Guardian UK newspaper review/article makes clear, is the 2019 (mature audience) film Buoyancy, which depicts a 14-year-old Cambodian boy being sold into slavery to the captain of a Thai fishing vessel.


I am Jellyfish by Ruth Paul (2018) / New Zealand

One for the very little ones! From its glow-in-the-dark jellyfish on the cover to its cute rhyming text and colourful illustrations this lovely book will raise awareness of Life Below Water for our Preschoolers and Lower Primary children. Every page is covered in whimsical marine creatures including the jellyfish who discovers his place in the underwater world.

You can see the author reading the book on YouTube.


What’s on our shopping list? We are really looking forward to these books arriving, but can’t really review them here as we haven’t read them, but they appear to be worthy inclusions for this list.


With a Little Kelp from Our Friends:The Secret Life of Seaweed by Mathew Bate, illustrated by Liz Rowland (2021) / Australia

The art publisher Thames & Hudson recently released a new book for children about the history, culture, and environment of kelp. You can peek inside here — and read an interview with the author Mathew Bate here, to learn why he was inspired to write the book.

The foreword was written by Damon Gameau whose website Whats Your 2040?, book 2040: A Handbook for the Regeneration (2019) and documentary film 2040 (watch the trailer here) are useful for so many of the SDGs.


Plasticus Maritimus: An Invasive Species by Ana Pego and Isabel Minhos Martins, illustrated by Bernard P. Carvalho (2020) / Canada / Translated from Portuguese by Jane Springer

Another recent book that looks wonderful is a Portuguese biologist’s exploration of Plasticus maritimus – an exotic species that lives on the beach, i.e., plastic. The publisher has produced a resources page for young readers as well as a downloadable Discussion Guide for teachers.


Mairin Raisdana is an American currently living and working in Singapore. She works in the libraries at United World College of South East Asia (East) and also teaches English as an Additional Language. During her 17 years in international teaching, she has worked in Malaysia, Qatar, Indonesia, and Singapore. Find her on Instagram @ms.raisdana and on Goodreads.

Barbara Reid is a New Zealander who calls Australia home. She is currently the Primary Teacher Librarian at United World College of South East Asia (East). She has worked in school libraries in Australia, Singapore and Malaysia. Find her on Twitter @barb_philip and on Goodreads

Follow UWCSEA East libs on Twitter @eastlib and Instagram @eastlib.


Note: all the books highlighted during this month of SDGs can be found on this GLLI Goodreads shelf.

What are your favorite books for SDG Goal 14: Life Below Water? Please share them in the comments. Let’s make this a conversation and work on the goal together.

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