The oceans make up two thirds of the earth’s surface, they hold 97 percent of the earth’s water, yet they are largely an undeveloped territory. According to the Economist’s Investing in the Blue Economy paper, “the ocean remains one of the least developed regions on earth. This is about to change. The ocean and its inestimable pool of resources represents a new economic frontier for growth, development and investment.” This new frontier is called the Ocean Economy, which refers to economic activities that directly or indirectly take place in the ocean, use outputs from the ocean and put good and services into the ocean’s activities. The Ocean Economy is made up of a wide range of sectors, including mining, dredging, shipping, fishing, renewable energy and tourism.
An alternative field of economic growth is the Blue Economy, which implies a longer-term vision of investment in the ocean that involves responsible investment and an emphasis on the sustainability of this investment. Businesses do this by considering the impact of their activities. The level of consideration varies from sector to sector, and depends on the nature of the investment.
As this sector of investment has developed, a number of approaches to natural resource development have emerged. For example, the Valuation of Natural Capital involves determining the true costs of the goods and services derived from the ocean so that these investments can be better measured and quantified. Similarly, the Fisheries Rights-Based Management program aims to ensure long-term sustainability in the fishing sector by allocating usage rights and managing quotas of stocks. On top of this, the United Nations has proposed a number of sustainable development goals for the ocean, including reducing pollution from agriculture runoff, decreasing the amount of waste that enters the ocean and rebuilding depleted fish stocks.
But what does this increase in investment and responsibility really mean for our oceans? While there are measures in place to prevent further damage to the oceans, there is nothing in place to make the oceans healthier. As the Blue Economy generates more capital, more money should be invested in clean up and sustainability initiatives. Sri Mulyani Indrawati, the COO of the World Bank has called for institutions such as ocean governance and sustainability policies to be developed at a global level to manage the developmental changes that are taking place around the Blue Economy.
Economist Jason Scorse described the Ocean’s true market value in his 2012 TEDx talk, “I think there’s a really interesting paradox, which is that the things we think of as most priceless and sacred are actually the things that need price tags the most.” He describes the ocean’s market value as extending beyond monetary value to include the value of beauty and enjoyment of the ocean. He also emphasises the need to protect the ocean, and warns of the risk of economical exploitation. The oceans are of great economic importance to everyone, yet humans are exploiting this resource, and in the process causing damage through activities such as mining, fishing and tourism. There is a danger that this damage will pass the point of no return, leaving the oceans unusable for future generations.
A study by the World Wildlife Fund has shown that ocean conservation could actually improve the world economy. Ocean conservation is an opportunity to create thousands of jobs and earn billions of dollars. Investing in conservation activities can create many benefits, including employment, improved fisheries and coastal protection. Investment in conservation is an integral part of the Blue Economy.
It is important now more than ever to ensure that the oceans stay healthy for future generations. Dangers like overpollution are far more serious than many can imagine; if the oceans are over polluted and unusable, this will have a major impact on life as we know it. While the Blue Economy is an opportunity to develop and invest in what is a largely untapped resource, investment in the oceans comes with a responsibility to maintain, protect and improve the health of our oceans. Economical exploitation of the ocean is a danger that must be addressed. As the Blue Economy develops and prospers, more investment capital can be spent on innovations that will improve our oceans.