The idea of a Blue Economy originally embraced not just a focus on the ocean but also, as coined by Gunter Pauli, the Belgian economist, the creation of economic growth utilizing local recyclable resources and technology to fuel new production methods. Today, though still in its infancy, it is increasingly about harnessing the potential wealth of the seas for economic growth through sustainable development. Taken up in 2012 during the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) in Rio de Janeiro (‘Rio +20’), participating countries agreed to advance the concept of the Green Economy for ‘sustainable development and poverty eradication’.
There is much untapped potential from the ocean’s vast surface which covers nearly 70 per cent of the earth’s surface. As an island nation state, notwithstanding the ringing of the coast with hotels and other tourism attractions, a significant percent of the population live in the vicinity of the ocean. Not only is the ocean rich in both living and non-living resources, it has the potential to generate tremendous energy whether wind, biomass, thermal or wave.
We also know that the ocean is a major supply of food and an important means of livelihood for many. Further, given our dependency on imports, the reliance on shipping for our key agricultural crops, and the importance of tourism across the regon, we are necessarily highly dependent on the ocean. So, it is important that as we find solutions to our economic woes, we pay greater attention to the possibilities of exploiting the blue economy in a responsible way.
The decision to establish a Ministry of Maritime Affairs and the Blue Economy signals that this administration will engage in non-traditional solutions like developing the blue economy, to grow the economy. This respresents an important shift as this new administration attempts to harness the oceans in a way the former administration failed to do. As the World Bank report on the Potential of the Blue Economy states, “The blue economy aims to move beyond business as usual and to consider economic development and ocean health as compatible propositions.”
Not only is it important, given the effects of climate change and the Caribbean has seen the devastation of major hurricanes in the region, but it can be a force of tremendous good. It can help alleviate poverty and reduce unemployment through job creation so sorely needed throughout the Caribbean. But as we exploit these possibilities, it must be done responsibly, in a sustainable way, and based on sound scientific, environmental and social grounds whilst centering economic growth.
We must be cognizant of the dangers of plastics to the ocean and its riches. I am thinking of our infatuation with plastics and the indiscriminate dumping of plastic bags. I do not endorse all the parameters of Kamie Holder’s campaign against its widespread use in Barbados, especially his minimum $5.00 a day fee for water and sanitation purposes given its punitive nature for pensioners, working and middle classes (compared to the BD$1.50 a day imposed by the new administration). Nonetheless, to quote Peter Thomson, the 71st president of the UN General Assembly, “The ocean is in deep trouble … Marine pollution is taking us to a point where, by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than there will be fish.” Plastics can indeed kill much of marine life and when offshore they can also have a devastating impact on agriculture not to speak of the potential impact on tourist arrivals. We are dependent on all three, fishing, agriculture and tourism.
According to the World Bank, there are several challenges facing a blue economy. Most of them arise from the activities of people and include:
√ Marine pollution, which often takes the form of excess nutrients from untreated sewerage, agricultural run-off, and marine debris such as plastics.
√ Impacts of climate change, for example in the form of both slow-onset events like sea-level rise and more intense and frequent weather events.
√ Unsustainable extraction from marine resources, such as unsustainable fishing as a result of technological improvements coupled with poorly managed access to fish stocks and rising demand.
√ Physical alterations and destruction of marine and coastal habitats and landscapes due largely to coastal development, deforestation, and mining. Coastal erosion also destroys infrastructure and livelihoods. These came primarily from unplanned development.
So I await the tapping of the potential blue gold with specific policies geared towards economic recovery done in a sustainable and equitable fashion. There is, after all, potential in maritime transportation, the exploitation of nutrient rich, high-value products such as deep water seaweed cosmetics, bio-technology, the intensification of aquaculture, the intensification and diversification of the fishing industry, and oil exploration to name a few opportunities.
We can certainly take a leaf from Mauritius, where research is being carried out into marine fauna and flora surrounding the island nation that, according to Professor Theeshan Bahorun from the Centre of Excellence for Biomedical and Biomaterials Research (CBBR), could identify new medicines. He identified the analysis of roughly 60 species of algae, sea grasses, sponges and others for their anti-oxidising potential which the Centre perceives as having the potential for advancing research in anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer research. With adequate funding, CERMES located at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill campus, can certainly take up the gauntlet.
(Cynthia Barrow Giles is a senior lecturer in political science at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus)