Sustaining the blue economy

Why an integrated approach is the key for a successful and sustainable blue economy

By Miguel Marques

Photo MiguelThe sea is rich with energy, food sources and provides a gateway for many industries from transport to naval security, tourism to oil and gas to operate. Its potential is vast and, to date, largely undiscovered with only 5% of the seabed mapped and photographed. As populations continue to grow, with increased food and energy demand and consumption coupled with the challenge of climate change and resource scarcity, more and more countries are turning their focus to maximising their blue economy.

However, the sea is not an infinite resource. Ocean pollution and over fishing are examples of risks that impact mankind. Other challenges like territorial and jurisdictional disputes are major issues to deal with in the present and in the future. To transform these major threats into opportunities it is fundamental to implement the best approach. It’s important to take steps to protect and utilise the sea in a beneficial and sustainable way.

But how does one do this? With so many countries and industries all with different goals relating to the sea, conflicts between industries, between human exploitation and marine conservation, and even between nations are bound to happen. That’s why the best approach is an integrated approach, one that is beneficial to all parties. Finding mutual gains is the practical and effective answer to go forward.

This integrated approach is a tri-dimensional approach. Since we are talking about a resource that represents about 70% of our planet, the solution requires engaging the industries that use all aspects of the sea including: the sea surface, water column, seabed, the air space above the sea and satellite monitoring. Using the space to monitor such a huge resource is critical to develop the blue economy.

For the last 10 years, as part of the HELM project, PwC Portugal has been learning from best practices around the world and compiling and analysing data within the many industries that rely or work on the sea, and the different nations that use it. The results of this research are now available in Circumnavigation: An integrated approach to the economy of the sea (HELM World). The report also looks at the challenges and advantages of taking an integrated approach to the oceans: the issues that arise, the practicalities that need to be addressed, and the detrimental effects we potentially face if this cannot be achieved. It also provides a snapshot of the state of play in the maritime industries, and between the maritime nations.

Circumnavigation: HELM World catalogues the dramatic evolution of the economy of the sea from the west to the east. Asia is now the leading region of the world in fisheries, aquaculture, cargo handling at ports and shipbuilding. Other important trends are captured in the Economy of the Sea Map as part of the report. North America and Europe are in the forefront of cruise tourism and water sports. Europe is investing hard in offshore renewables. Maritime piracy creates a dangerous belt, along equator latitude, that divides the world and impairs the development of the sea touristic activities in a huge part of the southern hemisphere.

Unlike land, which can be divided and bordered, the sea is a fluid ever moving, ever changing entity. To ensure that one area is not abused via overfishing, piracy, pollution etc. thereby negatively impacting the whole, international cooperation is required. The best performers in sea matters have already implemented integrated approaches. Countries and industry need to learn from these early adopters who are seeing the benefits of using this approach. For example, Norway manages its extensive maritime industries holistically, from the production of gourmet seafood, to tourist trips to aquaculture plants in the fiords. Ireland has an integrated marine plan, Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth, which covers seafood production, tourism, and offshore energy, and brings together the key stakeholders from all of these industries. In Germany, there’s a highly developed financial services sector offering marine insurance and other services for the shipping and shipbuilding sectors, while New Zealand is capitalising on its spectacular coastal locations to become a venue for international sailing events, and a centre for the building and maintenance of these specialist craft.

The advantages of this ‘blue’ thinking are clear: it’s a more sustainable and inclusive approach, it promotes growth and employment, and it fosters innovation, both by supporting the development of new industries and by encouraging new ideas in established sectors like fishing. It allows mature economies to secure more value from their maritime zones, and opens up new opportunities for developing economies. An integrated approach applied to the blue economy is a sustainable answer to many of the challenges forecasted by the current megatrends such as population growth, resource scarcity, climate change, shifts in economic power and technological breakthroughs.

Miguel Marques leads PwC’s Economy of the Sea thought leadership project. This article was originally published in Economia.