“And it is He who subjected the sea for you to eat from it tender meat and to extract from it ornaments which you wear. And you see the ships plowing through it, and [He subjected it] that you may seek of His bounty; and perhaps you will be grateful.”
It was on the campaign trail of the Barbados Labour Party leading up to the 2018 General Elections that I heard of the ‘Blue Economy’. When I heard the BLP leader, now Prime Minister, the honorable Mia Mottley speak to their plans of capitalizing on the abundant marine resources surrounding our tiny island I was mesmerized. I had not previously given thought to the fact, as she noted, that Barbados’s marine space is 400 times greater than its land space.
It is a fact I took for granted all my life and one I didn’t really pay much attention to or even consider in the realm of establishing a sustainable economy for Barbados. Yet as I pondered over it, I recognized that thousands of Barbadian fisherfolk throughout our history have sustained themselves and their families on those resources found for miles all around us. And certainly our critical tourism industry is so very dependent on those beautiful blue waters of the Caribbean Sea.
It is visionary to move beyond those two aspects of our marine economy into a wider and grander ideal of fully utilizing our vast water spaces to help Barbados sustain itself economically; creating a Ministry and a Minister with responsibility for building that ‘blue economy’ was indeed revolutionary. In the past, we simply had a Minister of Fisheries. The vision is now enhanced and horizons widened to explore the many possibilities existing in the waters around us.
The BLP’s Manifesto for the 2018 General Elections speaks to the vision of exploring Barbados’ marine space. Over the years, we made some strategic investments in this area – the Deep Water Harbour, Trevor’s Way and the recently constructed cruise piers at the Bridgetown Port are all built on reclaimed lands. According to the Manifesto, under the topic Building Islands, Expanding Barbados it states that the new BLP government will sustainably develop our country’s maritime space by –
• Creating the necessary regulatory and fiscal environment to promote the creation of a small number of new islands and peninsulas off the west and south coasts of Barbados, through the reclamation of 3000 acres of land over the next decade. This will result in new tourism, economic, and cultural hubs and hundreds of jobs. An Environmental Scoping Study will first be done to determine feasibility. An appropriate Social Impact Study will also be required.
• Putting in place policy and legislation to ensure that Barbadians maintain freehold of this new land space while providing long commercial leases to those investing.
In the Introduction to his Policy Brief titled Operationalizing the Blue Economy in Small States: Lessons from the Early Movers Cyrus Rustomjee explains the Blue Economy: “The blue economy concept emerged following the endorsement of the green economy approach at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro in 2012, and has subsequently evolved as a marine-resource-based developmental framework, in particular for small coastal and island states. They have jurisdiction over marine areas that are typically much larger than their land area, depend on ocean resources to sustain economic activity and — if able to maximize the economic opportunities through sustainable marine-based development — can achieve many transformative developmental goals through the blue economy, including sustainable economic growth, food and energy security, and poverty reduction. The conservation and sustainable management of ocean and coastal ecosystems can also support small states’ efforts to mitigate climate change and to reduce and address risks from natural disasters.”
Mr Rustomjee further points out that although in our small island developing states “three traditional industries and sectors — fisheries, maritime transport and coastal tourism — collectively represent the largest share of economic activity, pursuing the blue economy also enables diversification into many other new and emerging ocean-based activities and sectors, including marine aquaculture, seabed mining, maritime safety and surveillance, marine biotechnology, offshore wind energy, ocean renewable energy and deep-sea oil and gas production.”
Given these many possibilities, Barbados has done well in taking the first steps in exploring these new frontiers for economic gain.
From time immemorial the sea has always been fascinating. Many have feared it and many more have sought to conquer it. The oceans certainly exist as worlds on their own. Its beauties are endless and its resources tremendous. The verse at the start of this article is taken from the Holy Quran. We are reminded that our Creator has made the sea subject to us that we may benefit from its bounties and that we may be grateful. Sadly, human beings by nature can be greedy and exploitation of the sea is as real as exploitation of the land so we witness many exploitative actions carried out by humans devoid of any conscience of right from wrong. Overfishing by large corporations and the dumping of waste into our seas are two well-known acts of destruction being inflicted on our oceans.
I am sure that Barbados will not engage in acts that will destroy our sea but we must be ever vigilant. Exploring the sea around us and attempting to gain financially will undoubtedly require getting overseas investors. We must be most careful not to sell out or become complacent. Multi-national corporations and unscrupulous investors have a reputation for destroying the environment for financial benefit. Barbados can least afford to be affected environmentally.
Barbados and its many beautiful treasures have much to offer the traveler and the tourist. The seas around us probably abound with even more attractions. A tour on the Atlantis Submarine will certainly prove the existence of those attractions. Or a snorkel in Carlisle Bay, as I recently undertook thanks to Bliss Watersports, will reveal that underwater world full of marine life in all shapes and colors, living among the shipwrecks in crystal clear waters.
Giving attention to our blue economy and looking to build a sustainable Barbados from it is laudable. I hope Barbados will benefit from this vision and thrust.
Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace, Secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association and Muslim Chaplain at the Cave Hill Campus, UWI. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org