It has no boundaries. It is something that we all share. It is what connects us all. It is - our ocean. From much of the air that we breathe, to the food that we eat and the jobs, livelihoods, goods and services provided, our ocean deserves some credit. From fisheries to tourism, transport, trade, medicine, coastal protection, mitigation of impacts of climate change and absorption of greenhouse gases, the ocean is the lifeblood of the planet. With oceans and seas covering over two-thirds of the earth’s surface, they play a significant role in the sustainable development, economic growth and livelihoods of small island developing states (SIDS) such as Barbados.
Unfortunately, human activity is placing pressure on the health of this natural resource. Facing a diversity of threats, ranging from habitat degradation caused by nutrient, chemical and plastic landbased and marine sources of pollution, overfishing and unsustainable fishing practices, to impacts of climate change such as rising sea levels and increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events, our ocean is in peril. However, there is hope as the ocean which supports much of the life on earth is now getting the attention that it deserves. Although there may be no universally accepted definition of the Blue Economy, it can be described as the sustainable use of ocean resources for ocean ecosystem health, economic growth, improved livelihoods and jobs (adapted from World Bank, 2016). An emerging concept that encourages better stewardship of our ocean or ‘blue resources’, (Commonwealth Blue Charter), the Blue Economy seeks to promote economic growth, social inclusion and improvement of livelihoods, while at the same time ensuring environmental sustainability (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, UNCTAD). It covers established oceans-related sectors such as fisheries, maritime transport, shipbuilding and tourism, as well as new and emerging industries, including renewable ocean energy and biotechnology.
Globally, the Blue Economy is a trillion dollar industry annually with more than 3 billion people relying on the ocean for their livelihoods (UNCTAD) and directly providing over 30 million jobs (The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, OECD). According to the European Union’s (EU) first annual report on the Blue Economy, this sector has seen a turnover in excess of USD$500 billion and has generated greater than USD$150 billion of value-added creating jobs for nearly 3.5 million people. In the last decade, the Blue Economy has grown faster than the national economy in several EU member states and proved more resilient during the financial crisis, softening the effects of the downturn on coastal economies. The biotechnology sector marked significant growth in member states such as Ireland, and the offshore wind industry experienced a jump in employment, outnumbering employment of the EU fishing sector.
In the Caribbean region, the ocean and its related resources are a fundamental base on which our economies are built and are central to our delivery of many international agreements and commitments, such as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Blue Economy initiatives do exist in the Caribbean. From the Caribbean Development Bank’s work on exploring the financing of the Blue Economy, and advancements by Grenada in this area, to sub-regional initiatives such as the Caribbean Regional Ocean Policy (CROP), we stand in a position with great potential to increase both scope and scale.
With the creation of the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and the Blue Economy in mid-2018, Barbados joins the Seychelles as one of the few countries in the world to have a Ministry dedicated to the Blue Economy. With an exclusive economic zone/land territory ratio of 1:434, this means that our ocean space is over 400 times larger than our land space, providing opportunity for significant growth if sustainably managed. Although the value of ocean assets in Barbados is currently unknown, the possibility of potential contribution to GDP is promising.
Barbados has already begun to diversify its existing ocean-based economic sectors and is looking into strengthening the fishing industry through increased training for fisherfolk, upgrades to the markets, improvement in technology, reduction of fish waste and creation of value-added products such as fish skin leather. In addition, the Ministry plans to focus on sustainable fisheries management, including fisheries regulations and sustainability certifications, creation of marine managed areas and reducing dependency on imports thus enhancing food security. The country is currently exploring opportunities that lie in the new and emerging maritime sectors such as marine biotechnology and renewable energy, including tidal and offshore wind energy which remain underdeveloped in the region.
Barbados has also successfully started leveraging alternative sources of international climate and environment funds, such as the Green Climate Fund, and is well on the way to new and innovative models, including impact investment and blended finance.
The next big step is to start asking and answering some pertinent questions. Could Barbados become the regional, if not the global, ocean hub, home to groundbreaking research and development, innovation and ocean tech? Can we continue to build resilience to changes in climate through blue carbon and renewable energy? Can we look into innovative finance instruments such as blue bonds or debt for nature and resilience swaps? Can we use blockchain technology to improve traceability and to help combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing?
If the answer to those questions is, ‘yes we can’, then we will all be better able to answer the final multi-million dollar question: Is the ocean where the next best investment lies?
Globally, the Blue Economy is thriving and Barbados can make it part of our path forward for driving sustained and inclusive economic growth.
All bona fide investors are welcome to join us.