Blue Economy

Blue Economy

Large ocean nations like ours in the Pacific need to start looking at themselves as Blue Economies. We need to develop roadmaps to maximise returns from the blue economy while ensuring adherence to principles of sustainability. Our focus on the Blue Economy is determined by the geography of the Pacific Island region.


While there has been a number of global definitions put forward for “blue economy”, there is general agreement that the blue economy cannot just refer to any economy that takes place in the marine environment irrespective of how destructive and polluting it is to the World.

The emerging consensus in the Pacific is that an ocean economic activity needs to be sustainable for it to be termed as a Blue Economy activity. This would mean that it needs to follow the same principles of the Green Economy. Currently, there are nine principles of Green Economy developed by the Green Economy Coalition with possibly an addition of a tenth which reflects the unique focus on culture, so strongly threaded throughout the Pacific region.

Thus, the Blue Economy concept needs to (i) be sustainable; (ii) deliver equity; (iii) create genuine prosperity and wellbeing for all; (iv) improve the natural world; (v) be inclusive and participatory in decision making; (vi) be accountable; (vii) build economic, social and environmental resilience; (viii) deliver sustainable production and judicious use of resources; (ix) invest for the future and (x) support and reinforce cultural and spiritual values.

This would be in line with the Blue Economy concept championed by Gunter Pauli that sought the best nature-inspired technologies to shift society from scarcity to abundance by tackling environmental and other problems in new ways. Of course, there is a reliance on technology that at first may be seen as an obstacle for Pacific island nations seeing that the Pacific lags behind in many technologies, however we have seen that developed countries are willing to transfer certain technologies to developing countries and also trial other technologies in the Pacific before these can be rolled out at a larger scale. Some Pacific Island countries have been more than willing to have benign technologies, particularly related to renewable energy and sustainable sea transport systems, trialled in their countries. An additional factor in the green/blue economy, is the importance of traditional/indigenous knowledge. Combining the traditional skills and wisdoms with new technologies and materials can bring about additional solutions to today’s problems.

Re-investment in our ocean

If the ocean were owned by a single company, that company would certainly protect this rich resource and ensure that its resources were not depleted and remained for the continued production and survival of the company for many years to come. The company would ensure that the right investments were made so that the resources remained healthy and kept producing into the future through proper management regimes.

The ocean is part of our commons – we all benefit and therefore have a responsibility in ensuring its continued survival not just as a body of water – but as a living, thriving, complex ecosystem. Reinvesting in this rich resource that has provided for us for centuries is imperative. Managing these resources wisely is also imperative if we expect our oceans to keep providing for our children and grandchildren with the same resources that we are now so fortunate to enjoy.

Moving Forward

We note the progress made in this area by small island countries like Grenada in the Caribbean (now being termed a ‘blue innovation’ hub) and the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean. However, the Pacific is already lagging behind other island regions. We need to quickly learn from what other countries, not necessarily island countries, such as India, are doing and see what is transferable to the Pacific, noting the need for sustainability which is not necessarily one of the criteria others are adopting in their own approach to the ocean economy.

There needs to be a coordinated approach for the Pacific to make rapid gains in this area. PIDF had the First High-Level Pacific Blue Economy Conference in Suva, Fiji, on 23-24 August 2017. This conference discussed the many options available in this sector for the Pacific and the principles we need to adopt so that we properly regulate what takes place in our oceans. The conference also discussed the need to work towards a regional and national Blue Economy roadmaps.

This regional roadmap will assist the region in making inroads in the sector as well as support the implementation of national blue economy roadmaps. This would recognise the roles of all sectors whether from government, private sector, civil society and international and regional organisations. It should allow all these stakeholders to plan their activities into the future. PIDF recommends that these roadmaps be living documents with regular updates that take advantage of most recent research and technology.

Roadmaps are only effective if there is a governance structure in place that can implement them. For this reason, each roadmap requires a steering committee to develop and update the roadmap as well as oversee its implementation. These steering committees need to be established at the regional level to implement the regional blue economy roadmap, as well as at the national level in those countries that decide to develop national blue economy roadmaps.

Another important tool for a sector that will probably see a lot of developments and innovation would be the establishment of a think tank at the regional level to bring together various stakeholders and expertise, including economists, researchers, planners, environmentalists, marine scientists, tourism operators, fishers, shippers, industrialists, energy experts, ocean foresters, culture experts, educators, communicators, etc. The think tank will be an important resource for the blue economy steering committees and closely linked with a knowledge hub.

The Pacific Islands Development Forum proposes to establish this knowledge hub to serve both the Blue Economy think tank and the national and regional steering committees. The knowledge hub would need to be adequately resourced to be able to capture the latest innovations and developments as well as provide the steering committees with tailored information to support their activities.

The Blue Economy offers great hope to an oceanic region formed of large ocean states with small land mass. As a result, it is important for island countries to think outside the box to find solutions to problems that have affected them for many years and manage the wealth of their oceans in a sustainable manner to meet the needs of their people while also ensuring future generations prosper from the wealth of these same oceans. The Blue Economy provides the Pacific with such a possibility. The time to act is now.

The need for action was also the focus of a Symposium that PIDF organised on 19th December 2017 in Lami, Fiji. Entitled “SDG14 Pacific commitments -2018 Action Agenda” the Symposium was held under the patronage of Ambassador Peter Thomson, the United Nations Secretary General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean. With participation of government officials, civil society groups and the private sector, the Symposium discussed ways to implement the commitments made at the the UN Ocean Conference held  in New York from 5 to 9 June 2017 (co-hosted by Fiji and Sweden) and encouraged partners to lodge new commitments. Read more about the Symposium here or download the report here.

Fisheries has been the mainstay of many of the Pacific economies and this is reflected by the regional efforts made to provide some management of this important resource in the creation of the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) and more recently the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA), but these agencies deal mainly with one sector of the fishing industry – tuna fisheries. This reflects the emphasis on revenue generation industries at the political level whereas it is well-known that it is inshore fishery that is the foundation of food security in the Pacific. If we measure the importance of the sectors in accordance to the amount of protein it provides our populations, the political focus will certainly shift towards sustainably managing inshore fisheries, which are currently facing decline in many places, especially for certain species of fish and other marine resources, such as certain lucrative beche-de-mer species. Women fishers have been very active in the inshore fisheries sector for decades and those wanting to empower women at the community level would do well to support this industry and ensure its proper management to avoid its collapse.

Recent findings indicate that with climate change, and the accompanying rise in water temperature, fish will be compelled to move to cooler waters. This will leave tropical waters, already the warmest waters on the planet, stripped of their fisheries as there will be no other fish to take their place, since there are no warmer waters. To save the fisheries of the Pacific, which feeds billions around the planet, we need to tackle head on the anthropologic causes of climate change.

The South Pacific pearl industry has contributed to the economy of at least three countries, the biggest is that in French Polynesia (e.g. Kamoka Pearls), but also of note are those of Fiji (e.g. J. Hunter Pearls) and Cook Islands. The pearl industry is another industry that is greatly threatened by climate change and could be one of the first to collapse with the rise in sea temperature. Fiji’s J. Hunter Pearls has developed an Environmental Code of Practice (ECOP) to ensure their operations are conducted in a manner that minimizes negative environmental impacts and maximizes positive impacts and demonstrates the company’s commitment to being good stewards of the seas.

The Tuna industry has generated some onshore activity in most island countries. Fiji (e.g. PAFCO), Solomon Islands (e.g. SOLTUNA) and Papua New Guinea also have well established tuna canning industries which employ hundreds of people and with the right approaches from governments and investment in modern energy-efficient infrastructure, more of the catch could be landed in these countries for processing, providing greater employment opportunities and profits. However, lessons need to be learned from the difficulties that this industry faced in Fiji in the past and more recently in American Samoa which brought the cannery to a complete closure resulting in many job losses.

Subject that the marine resources are harvested in a sustainable manner, the processing of other marine resources should be explored, especially those that can be done in smaller community based plants close to the place of harvest ensuring that the community that owns and manages the resources is also the one that gains most from the resource. A particular resource that has been successfully cultured in the Pacific and could potentially sustainably grow is seaweed. There are already multitudes of uses for seaweed and with further research these can only expand.

Tourism, done right, could be the economic driver of the green/blue economy in the Pacific. Whereas other countries make a distinction within their tourism sector and only include coastal tourism in the ambit of the blue economy, small island countries can hardly make such a distinction, as their tourism is based on the fact that they are islands and is therefore almost entirely coastal based with their pristine seas being the major attraction. Tourism is already a big industry in some Pacific island countries but not all countries benefit equally from this sector. In ensuring sustainability of the sector, many Pacific island countries could support community-based tourism operations for the traveller who is looking for new experiences.

International shipping is a lifeline for the Pacific which is heavily reliant on imports. Of course, this is also indispensable for those with an export base, small though it may be.

More important for Pacific island countries is an efficient domestic shipping service to serve outer island communities which are currently very poorly served due to the expense required to have frequent shipping services to their islands. Fuel is the major cost, inhibiting a more frequent service to these islands. Apush is being made, with more effort still required, to develop shipping services that either are not dependent on fuel, or have increased efficiency to drastically reduce the need of expensive fossil fuels. The revival of traditional boats, while ensuring safety requirements, would certainly help in providing people with mobility without the current prohibitive costs. Conscious of the contribution of the shipping industry to climate change, moving towards a Blue Economy would certainly require the industry to address its fuel use and resulting emissions.

This is another emerging industry that could benefit the Pacific. The ocean is the new frontier for this industry even though Pacific tropical forests have not been fully explored for its potential for this industry. The Pacific’s marine ecosystem has many species as yet unexplored for their potential for medical and biotechnological purposes.

Recognising the services that our ocean provides is key to start factoring these into decision-making processes that involve the use of our coasts and oceans. The value of blue carbon within our ocean sediments, sea grass and mangroves, and the coastal protection that our coral reefs are providing cannot go unrecognised. Preserving these habitats need to become a priority in our countries as we battle the impacts of climate change and struggle to build resilience within our communities.

This is certainly the elephant in the room. There are many mining companies eyeing the rich resources in the sea-bed, even in the Pacific. If we take mining practices on land as an indication of what to expect under the sea, we should not be too encouraged. There may be a time when mining interests will put enough pressure on politicians for them to start caving in and we need to be prepared for that eventuality. I think the mining industry should be held against the ten principles of green and blue economy discussed above. Before the green light is given to any deep-sea mining project, there need to be some guarantees in place such as a guarantee that an honest environment impact assessment is carried out, that current ocean-based industries (such as fishing and tourism) will not be negatively impacted, that the environment generally would not be similarly impacted and that monitoring can be carried out by the authorities in an environment that is very difficult to monitor. Certainly we need robust guidelines and regulations in the sector which are currently lacking.

This is another area with huge prospects. And this is certainly one investment that could be in line with the principles of the Blue Economy. Moving cautiously, Pacific island countries could seriously consider energy generation through our oceans, whether it is through the use of ocean currents, the temperature differential in our waters, or other means. Seeing that land area is so scarce and therefore so precious, countries could also explore the viability of moving solar panels onto floating platforms in our lagoons and waters and of building offshore wind turbines. Read more in our Renewable Energy section.