Blue Growth and Why We Need to Protect Our Oceans

In recent years, there has been increasing scholarly attention given to the emerging field of “blue growth” or “the blue economy”. This is partly due to the unfortunate increase of events affecting the oceans, such as the rising sea levels that are threatening the existence of certain islands, plastic pollution, diminishing flora and faunas, excessive and illegal fishing, and many others. The Covid-19 pandemic has had mixed effects on the oceans. On the one hand, plastic pollution has significantly grown due to the inappropriate disposal of protective equipment. On the other hand, a decrease in noise pollution has been observed as a result of less trade via ocean routes.


This article begins by focusing on a definition of blue growth, outlining the importance of the oceans and the environmental problems associated with it. Continuing, the article will give a brief list of potential actions to address the issues surrounding blue growth, accompanied by a few examples of international and regional agreements that include such initiatives.


OECD. (2016). Depiction of the ocean economy [Illustration]. Https://Www.Oecd.Org/.


According to the World Bank, the blue economy refers to the "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs, while preserving the health of ocean ecosystems". There are several alternative definitions distinguishing blue growth and blue economy, but for the purposes of this article, the terms will be used interchangeably as they have numerous overlapping characteristics.


Furthermore, the oceans and the economy are deeply intertwined throughout many sectors. The oceans provide essential nourishment to almost three billion people; blue economy activities, such as fishing or tourism, provide a livelihood for almost one billion people around the world; more than 90% of the world’s traded goods travel by sea; and, the extraction of marine living and non-living resources are also central. Overall, the blue economy provides a livelihood for over three billion people, and it is valued at around US$ 2.5 trillion per year.


In addition to the economic benefits that the ocean brings, their impact on the environment is even greater. Not only are the oceans an essential source of oxygen, but they are also a carbon sink, meaning they absorb the carbon dioxide and thus regulate the global climate and temperature. Nonetheless, the capabilities of the oceans to reduce the effects of climate change are limited and declining rapidly because of human development activities.


Almost 90% of global fish stocks are overexploited, partly because of illegal fishing which leads to a declining population of fish. Reduced marine fauna is also caused in part by ocean acidification, a process occurring when carbon dioxide (CO2) gas dissolves in the ocean. Ocean acidification is accelerated by all activities that generate CO2, such as the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, and emissions caused by transport vehicles. Moreover, pollution and unsustainable coastal development contribute to the loss of biodiversity. For example, noise pollution caused by trading vessels disrupts the natural habitat of numerous species. Plastic pollution that ends up in the ocean is ingested by fish, which are then eaten by humans regardless of the fact that the fish may contain microplastics and thus pose significant health risks. Therefore, it becomes clear why the oceans are important and need urgent protection.


The Economist Group - World Ocean Initiative. (2020). Accelerating Energy Innovation for the Blue Economy [Illustration]. World Ocean Initiative


There are numerous actions and steps that can facilitate the restoration of healthy oceans. Supporting the development of a sustainable blue economy entails improving ocean knowledge and ocean literacy, focusing on research and innovation plans and investing in strategies and technologies that will facilitate the transition.


Addressing plastic pollution is one of the main concerns, which can be tackled by implementing strategies aimed at reducing plastic waste, making plastic biodegradable, discouraging single plastic use and improving ways for recycling plastics. Reducing CO2 levels can be attained by reducing the use of fossil fuels and switching to more sustainable energy, based on renewable resources such as wind, solar, or geothermal. Protecting and restoring the flora and fauna of the oceans is another priority; this can be achieve through changes of the legislation to promote ecosystem-based approaches that encourage the safeguarding of living organisms. Encouraging a responsible food system and low impact fisheries are both actions that would help achieve the objective of improving blue growth. However, these are only some of the steps that can be taken to regenerate the oceans while maintaining and developing the economic benefits of the oceans.


The blue economy is recognized as a crucial issue in the international arena, as it is included in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a series of strategic global priorities ranging from eradicating poverty to designing sustainable cities and communities. The blue economy is mentioned in SDG 14, with the aim to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development”. Blue growth is also linked to other SDGs, namely goal 13, which is focused on taking urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts, and goal 12 "ensuring sustainable production and consumption patterns". The inclusion of the blue economy in the SDGs means that all countries should strive to protect and revive the oceans. Blue growth is present in regional agreements as well, with one of the most ambitious being the European Green Deal. The European Green Deal plan includes numerous actions and legislative proposals seeking to safeguard the oceans and use them in a sustainable manner.


By way of conclusion, the oceans play an important part in our lives, providing livelihood for almost half of the planet. Nevertheless, the capabilities of the oceans and seas are stretched, limited, and rapidly approaching their end, which is why global efforts to preserve them are critically necessary.


References

  • European Commission. (2019). A European Green Deal. Retrieved January 5, 2022, from https://ec.europa.eu/info/strategy/priorities-2019-2024/european-green-deal_en

  • OECD. (2018). Ocean economy and developing countries. Retrieved January 5, 2022, from https://www.oecd.org/ocean/topics/developing-countries-and-the-ocean-economy/

  • United Nations. (2015). THE 17 GOALS | Sustainable Development. Retrieved January 5, 2022, from https://sdgs.un.org/goals

  • World Bank. (2017). What is the Blue Economy? https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/infographic/2017/06/06/blue-economy

Image sources

  • OECD. (2016). Depiction of the ocean economy [Illustration]. Https://Www.Oecd.Org/.

  • The Economist Group - World Ocean Initiative. (2020). Accelerating Energy Innovation for the Blue Economy [Illustration]. World Ocean Initiative


Author Photo

Gilda Liana Mazilu

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