The UN Sustainable Development Goal 14 aims to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development”. Achieving this goal will require rebuilding the marine life-support systems that deliver the many benefits society receives from a healthy ocean. In this Review we document the recovery of marine populations, habitats and ecosystems following past conservation interventions. Recovery rates across studies suggest that substantial recovery of the abundance, structure, and function of marine life could be achieved by 2050, should major pressures, including climate change, be mitigated. Rebuilding marine life represents a doable Grand Challenge for humanity, and ethical obligation, and a smart economic objective to achieve a sustainable future.