The Blue Economy and Our Sustainable Future

Today, 40% of the world’s population lives near coastlines, more than 3 billion people rely on marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihood, and 80% of world trade is reached using the seas. The oceans, seas, and coastal areas are global resources that contribute to economic development, food security, and poverty eradication. However, our exploitation of these resources results in extensive environmental degradation threatening marine and coastal ecosystems.


Acidification, pollution, ocean warming, eutrophication, and fishery collapse are consequences of a negligent attitude towards the environment. These threats are harmful to the planet and are long-term consequences that demand immediate attention. The Oceans and seas play a critical role in supporting humans and other life on our planet. They provide us with food, energy, minerals, and more. Today, the oceans and seas are being actively utilized for a range of activities, including fisheries and aquaculture, the processing and trade of these resources, the maritime transport of goods, passengers, and resupply at sea, as well as long-line fishing, deep-sea mining activities for oil and minerals, and coastal tourism. Marine pollution is a major and growing threat to the health of our oceans and coastal ecosystems. Sediment enters the oceans from river channels, dredging, and runoff of nutrients from agricultural land.

What Is The Blue Economy?

The Blue Economy is an economic term – sometimes used interchangeably with Sustainable Ocean-Based Economy (SOBE) – commonly used by public and private organizations to describe the sustainable use of marine resources. More narrowly, the term refers to the ocean-based economic activities that directly utilize marine resources and ecosystem services while protecting the natural environment and the long-term productivity of coastal and marine systems.

The UN first introduced the concept of “living blue” at an international conference in 2012. This conference launched an ambitious strategy based on the argument that marine ecosystems such as coral reefs, kelp forests, and sea ice are more productive when they are healthy and intact, thereby generating vast amounts of oxygen, protein, and other marine life which support life on our planet. This is backed up by scientific evidence, showing that the global ocean’s resources are limited, and that greenhouse gases are damaging the planet. Environmental degradation, such as pollution and unsustainable fishing, severely affects marine ecosystems, such as the ocean.

The UN defines the Blue Economy as the intersection of economic, social, and environmental aspects of ocean-based economic activity. An important goal is sustainable fishing, ocean health, wildlife, and stopping pollution. The Blue Economy should promote economic growth, social inclusion, and the preservation or improvement of livelihoods while ensuring the environmental sustainability of the oceans. This underlines the importance of international collaboration across sectors and borders if we want to preserve marine life. This signals that political, economic, and scientific decisions should be aligned so as to not damage our marine resources.

The OECD describes the ocean as the next great economic frontier as it holds potential for wealth and economic growth, employment, and innovation. Innovation is being developed in areas of blue carbon sequestration, marine energy, and biotechnology; sectorial activities that create potential and opportunities for training and employment but also fight climate change.

Growing The Blue Economy

In 2010, the global proportion of people living within 10km of the coast was 54 percent. The world counts numerous coastal and island countries with lower and lower-middle income levels, for whom ocean territorial areas represent a significant jurisdictional area and a source of opportunities. In those countries, innovation and growth in the coastal, marine, and maritime sectors could bring about ways to meet domestic food and energy needs, leading to improvements in the well-being of the populations, as well as establishing a firm foundation for sustainable development. Diversifying nations’ economies beyond their traditional land and sea-based activities are crucial to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals. For example, the coast of Spain employs 2.1 million people and contributes 1.1% to the annual GDP. This blue economy generates 3.1% of the total economic value for the nation, combined with the coastal regions.

The blue economy can benefit from investments in additional value in fisheries and aquaculture, mariculture, coastal tourism, and marine biotechnology. These existing industries have a large potential to contribute to the sector’s expansion. The development could, in some cases, be encouraged and supported with appropriate measures, activities, and regulations. Practical examples could be supporting aquaculture activities with initiatives that enhance the sector’s competitiveness, developing research in mariculture, and exploring the development of biotechnologies.

Morocco successfully used ambitious governance reform, with the support of the World Bank, to develop the aquaculture sector in the country, especially those pieces of resources in rural regions which are most challenging for countries to create jobs. Providing technical knowledge of marine ecosystems, legal certainty, and security to convince private investors to invest has been a key success in that instance. Fish is not only a major source of animal protein but also a source of protein for billions of people around the world, including many of the poorest and most vulnerable. Although experts believe aquaculture might hold the answers to meet increasing food demands, today’s fisheries and aquaculture practices are contributing to a growing global shortage of marine resources. It’s time for reform!

A 2015 study in the journal Scientific Reports found that natural ‘blue carbon’ sinks, such as mangroves and sea grasses, are up to five times as effective as tropical forests at sequestering carbon. Unexploited marine-based Blue Carbon stocks provide more than 24 percent of the planet’s capacity for CO2 absorption, while the blue carbon of coastal ecosystem services could deliver over 30 percent. This climate change mitigation in our oceans is one of the world’s current challenges.

Our homes, food, and water supplies all depend on the health of coastal ecosystems. Coastal wetlands, mangroves, coral reefs, and seagrasses serve as a buffer protecting people and property from hurricanes, storm surges, and other extreme weather events while removing pollutants, providing livelihoods, and supporting biodiversity. When intact, healthy coastal ecosystems can also protect communities from sea level rise, but in over 40 percent of all coastal wetlands, the sustainable use of aquatic resources will play a key role in meeting the continued growth of the aquaculture sector.

An increasing number of studies suggest that seaweed cultivation can replace fish and animal feed with plant-based products produced with lower footprints. Tourism, particularly nature-based tourism, is also a promising avenue for creating sustainable marine and coastal ecosystems. Coastal tourism is an important component of small island economies. Average direct tourist receipts generated together with other multiplier effects associated with coastal tourism is expected to reach 1.9 percent of GDP by 2030.

While many countries work towards a greener agenda by advancing their ocean economies, achieving such endeavors are still challenging. Global governments need to transition a small part of their economy towards achieving a global, healthy blue economy. A part used for investing in modern infrastructure, technologies, systems, and services to facilitate the ocean economy.

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