Despite the fact that the seas and oceans cover more than 70 percent of the planet’s surface, the need for in-depth knowledge of these ecosystems still has a long way to go. Considering the seas as engines of innovation and growth for sustainable and profitable economic development is the axis of the so-called Blue Economy, a concept based on imitating the functioning of nature, following the principle of the circular economy, to reconvert waste back into efficient materials.
The Blue Economy aims to promote a new economic system far removed from the concept of continually using and throwing away the resources that nature offers us. It is therefore the key driver for the recovery of ecosystems and to raise awareness of the importance of ocean and coastal resources beyond fishing and tourism. The great challenge ahead is the paradigm shift needed in the current economic model, as it entails decoupling human socioeconomic development from environmental and ecosystem degradation.
The concept was coined by the Belgian economist Gunter Pauli, who first wrote about this idea in 1994, in his book entitled The Blue Economy, to promote an economic model centered on respect for the environment. The economist talks about 100 innovations that introduce sustainable ways of producing ecological products or natural systems so that they can be used by the animals that inhabit the ecosystems where they are produced. In addition, this model of economy would generate, according to Pauli in his work, more than 100 million jobs.
Among its basic principles, the blue economy takes a different approach to economic development, sustainable entrepreneurship and innovation. Some of these fundamentals are based on the laws of physics, the idea of doing more with less, combining wealth with diversity, seeing waste as a resource and, in short, the symbiosis of the entire system at a global level.
In a world governed by the linear economy, which is bringing us closer to a point of no return in the degradation of the planet due to the massive exploitation of natural resources and the generation of waste, ecological balance becomes the only possible way to reverse climate change.
The blue economy aims to make it accessible to all types of consumers, since by copying nature, its efficiency should make it affordable. By understanding waste as a resource and drawing inspiration from eco-design and the natural environment, this model is committed to low-cost innovations that generate employment and profits through sustainability.
According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), coastal and marine-based industries contribute upwards of US$2.5 trillion to the global economy. These activities create millions of jobs and generate myriad other benefits and services. However, such benefits are offset by harmful human practices that are destroying the health of our oceans through overfishing, marine pollution, and global warming which increases sea surface temperature causing massive worldwide coral bleaching events and die-off.
The Blue Economy development approach aims to address this conflicting relationship with the world’s oceans. A vibrant Blue Economy promotes sustainable and integrated use of coastal and marine living natural resources for economic growth and improved livelihoods and jobs , all while maintaining the integrity and health of coastal and marine ecosystems.
The countries of the Eastern Caribbean are large maritime nations with a combined ocean area of more than 546,000 km2, supporting traditional sectors of the blue economy, e.g., fisheries, tourism, and shipping, as well as emerging sectors such as mariculture, renewable energy, and biotechnology.
The Eastern Caribbean is today at the forefront of global efforts to invest heavily in developing its blue economy in close partnership with the World Bank, the Global Environment Facility, and the PROBLUE Multi-Donor Trust Fund. The launching of the Unleashing of the Blue Economy of the Caribbean Project (UBEC) is a great example of how the Caribbean is advancing.
UBEC is a US$60 million project from International Development Association and PROBLUE-financed regional blue economy investment program. The project is designed for the whole of the Caribbean and benefits Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, and the Grenadines and involves the OECS Commission in Phase I from 2022 to 2027.
The success of UBEC is already apparent having just been awarded the illustrious Global United Nations Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) Partnerships Award in the Economic Category in recognition of its commitment and support to catalyze the Blue Economy of Caribbean SIDS; setting the stage for further scaled-up investment in the Blue Economy across all global SIDS.
With support from the PROBLUE Multi-Donor Trust Fund, the World Bank commissioned a series of Blue Economy studies to shed light on the status of the Caribbean ocean economy. Key findings highlighted that the main blue economy sectors are among those most affected by the adverse impacts of climate change, including: increased sea surface temperature, sea-level rise, ocean acidification and the destructive impacts borne from the increased frequency and intensity of natural disasters.
At the same time, the Eastern Caribbean is rich in marine biodiversity and has the highest number of species in the entire Caribbean. However, these living coastal and marine natural resources are threatened by unregulated coastal development, land-based leakage of solid and liquid pollution, overfishing, and Sargassum blooms that restrict beach and shoreline access, and together have a detrimental impact on the health of coastal communities, food security and the tourism industry.
According to the WEF, tourism is the main driver of the economy in the Eastern Caribbean. It accounts for 50% of regional Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and some 40% of employment. Progress in vaccination in some of the main source markets, pent-up demand, and marketing of the islands as ‘safe havens’ will help the sector steadily recover in 2022. And, though it is a mature sector, tourism demand in the region has significant growth potential by targeting distinct tourism segments, adapting to new market demands, and improving the overall resilience and sustainability of the environmental and natural resources base upon which the tourism industry depends.
Marine fisheries are an important source of food security and jobs in the Eastern Caribbean, although they account for only a small share of GDP. Here more needs to be done . The status of most fish and shellfish stocks in the region are poorly understood due to a lack of data, financial support and institutional capacity. There are important opportunities to add value to the sector by improving product quality and harmonizing sanitary and phytosanitary measures for seafood. Mariculture is also a promising area of growth, particularly for increased export of sea moss (a seaweed) due to its rising popularity as a superfood in international markets.
On the flip side, an estimated 80 % of marine pollution in the Eastern Caribbean comes from land-based leakage, mainly untreated wastewater, mismanaged litter, and agricultural run-off. Waste management is crucial to the health of the island states’ coastal fisheries and associated ecosystems which are, in turn, critical for the beaches and other natural assets that attract holiday makers. While these countries have waste management systems in place and are making concerted efforts to address the problem of plastics pollution, in most cases, there are no separate collection systems or protocols for recyclables, key measures for curbing plastics pollution.