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Aiding ocean development planning with SDG relationships in Small Island Developing States


Promoting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) must contend with the often siloed nature of governance institutions, making the identification of cooperative institutional networks that promote SDG targets a priority. We develop and apply a method that combines SDG interaction analysis, which helps determine prerequisites for SDG attainment, with the transition management framework, which helps align policy goals with institutional designs. Using Aruba as a case study, we show that prioritizing increased economic benefits from sustainable marine development, including those of tourism, provides the greatest amount of direct co-benefits to other SDGs. When considering indirect co-benefits, reducing marine pollution emerged as a key supporting target to achieve SDGs. The results also show that, as in many other small island states, sustainable ocean development in Aruba depends on international partnerships to address global issues—including climate change mitigation—over which it has little control. Using SDG relationships as a guide for institutional cooperation, we find that the institutions with the most potential to coordinate action for sustainable ocean development are those that address economic, social and international policy, rather than institutions specifically focused on environmental policy. Our results provide key methodologies and insights for sustainable marine development that require coordinated actions across institutions.

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Fig. 1: Co-benefits from each SDG ocean target across all SDGs.
Fig. 2: Characterized relationships from SDG ocean targets to targets in all other SDGs.
Fig. 3: Characterized relationships from all SDGs to SDG ocean targets.
Fig. 4: Network diagrams of the institutional structures needed to manage SDG ocean targets.

Data availability

The authors declare that all data supporting the findings of this study are available in the paper and its Supplementary Information files.


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We acknowledge support from the Nippon Foundation Ocean Nexus Center at the University of Washington EarthLab, the Nippon Foundation Nereus Program and the Ocean Frontier Institute, through an award from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund. We also acknowledge support from the IOC of the UNESCO Sub-commission for the Caribbean and Adjacent Regions and the UNESCO IHP, through the regional office in Cuba, as well as the Departamento Meteorologico Aruba for hosting the workshop.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



G.G.S. designed the study. G.G.S. and M.O. organized and ran the workshop. G.G.S. assembled the data. G.G.S. and A.M.C.-M. analysed the data. G.G.S., M.O., A.M.C.-M. and J.R. wrote the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Gerald G. Singh.

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Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Peer review information Nature Sustainability thanks David Obura and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1–6 and Tables 1–10.

Reporting Summary

Supplementary Data 1

Data on SDG relationships.

Supplementary Data 2

Data on dimensions that regulate context-dependent relationships.

Supplementary Data 3

Data on institutional relationships.

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Singh, G.G., Oduber, M., Cisneros-Montemayor, A.M. et al. Aiding ocean development planning with SDG relationships in Small Island Developing States. Nat Sustain 4, 573–582 (2021).

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