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The Blue Economy and Ocean Health: Part 4: Working Together for a Successful Blue Economy

Two Tilapia fishes in hands of fisherman, Ecuador.

The value of our oceans is estimated to be $2.5 trillion per year (equivalent to the world’s 7th largest economy) and currently accounts for 3.5% of the global economy. It is continuously growing—and fast. The fisheries sector alone saw a 167% increase in global employment between 1980 and 2008. However, as the human population expands toward an expected 10 billion, increasing pressures on the ocean threaten its ability to provide resources and essential economic opportunities for global development. In order to ensure a healthy, productive ocean that can meet growing global demands, countries must find a way to sustainably manage and use their marine environments while also safeguarding coastlines, marine waters, and overall biodiversity. Investing strongly yet wisely in the Blue Economy is key.

First of all, what do we mean by "Blue Economy"? The concept of a Blue Economy provides an approach to better understand and access untapped potential of the oceans and offers significant economic and investment opportunities for economic growth from healthy oceans that have largely been under-utilized.

However, as the Blue Economy continues to build, challenges to successfully implementing the framework have emerged. Firstly, tools to manage marine resources are less developed and the knowledge gap is far greater than in comparison to terrestrial systems with a longer history of conservation management. Secondly, as discussed in part two of this series, improved ocean governance frameworks are needed to appropriately address the issues of sustainability and to support the growth of sustainable Blue Economy. Finally, the Blue Economy must be understood in its broadest sense, not just to extract as much economic benefits from the ocean as possible, but to also recognize the underlying socio-ecological implications. Addressing these challenges will allow the Blue Economy to continue its momentum as a positive global economic driver and cornerstone for supporting sustainable global development.

Bringing sectors together

The Blue Economy approach represents a global trend that can be seen all over the world: the lines between sectors that once were sharp (e.g. profit and non-profit sectors) are breaking and cross-sectoral collaboration and integration are becoming increasingly common.

For instance, the private sector is shifting away from its traditionally narrow views, such as the Milton Friedman theory of focusing solely on maximizing profits, and broadening its approach to also consider societal and environmental impacts of business activities. Businesses are working towards certifying products to track and monitor environmental and social performance, and are working in collaboration with both public sector and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to build sustainable and inclusive economies. For example, the current demand for seafood with sustainable certification now accounts 14% of the global market. To capitalize on this momentum, businesses, investors and NGOs need to continue to work together to further encourage consumer appetite towards sustainable products to ultimately drive greater demand for responsible fishing practices.

The role of public sector is similarly transforming. Governments are increasingly looking to work together in public-private partnerships or even tripartite partnerships that bring together public, private and civil societies. Such diverse and comprehensive partnerships combine the assets of each sector in a common effort to solve specific problems, such as to boost local and regional marine economies.

Furthermore, as NGOs continue to expand strategies to include market-based approaches and engagement with the private sector, they enhance their ability to work across additional realms, also strengthening their influence at key international fora, as represented by the monumental achievement at the Paris Climate Agreement.

RH Prince Charles calls for a sense of urgency at the Our Oceans conference in Malta - 2017

A Successful Blue Economy

A successful Blue Economy will not be the work of any single group— it can only be developed through participation across jurisdictional, geographic and sectoral lines. And, to further ensure successful implementation of the Blue Economy approach, adequate support, incentives, clear and measureable goals, and guidelines for best practices will be essential to encourage stakeholder buy-in.

Although it is evident that individual sectors are working more closely than ever before, it can still be difficult to break organizational barriers and to establish an atmosphere conducive to knowledge exchange and more effective communication. Cross-sectoral programs like the Ocean Health Index are working to bring together different sectors and stakeholders to better understand, manage and govern the ways ocean resources are used and to help realize the full potential of a strong Blue Economy.

Because of the interconnectedness of oceans, challenges we face today are global, and collective solutions and efforts are needed to respond to these challenges. Forward-thinking sectors such as businesses, industry, academia and civil society understand well the risks of continuing on a business-as-usual trajectory—and now, all must envision the opportunities that lie within a sustainable Blue Economy and help map the way toward transition.

It should go without saying that this transition must be undertaken with great care to improve and sustain healthy oceans. It is not enough that future economic activities only minimize ecological damage and harm to the ocean. The goal must be to restore global ocean health because only a healthy ocean can deliver the fundamental benefits we as a global population rely on.