The relationship of humanity with the oceans, and how humans use their resources is developing in significant ways. People have a better understanding of the non-marketable goods that the oceans provide. It is high time we realise that the oceans are not limitless and they’re suffering from increasing human impacts. Unhealthy oceans cannot espouse economic growth. Oceans and seas cover two-thirds of Earth’s surface, help eradicate poverty by providing sustainable livelihoods and good work, alleviate the impacts of climate change, absorb greenhouse gases and emanate oxygen. Around 80% of international trade is carried by sea.

International shipping and ports provide significant linkages. They are essential for countries to gain access to global markets.

What is a Blue Economy?

As defined by the World Bank, the term “Blue economy” refers to the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improving livelihoods and jobs while preserving the health of the ocean ecosystem. The move towards a blue economy provides an opportunity to address the maritime challenges. Sustainable development states that economic growth should be inclusive and environmentally sound and should not exhaust the natural resources that societies depend on in the long run. UNECA 2016 (United Nations Economic Commission for Africa) suggested that realising the full potential of the blue economy requires the inclusion of all the social groups like women, young people, indigenous communities and marginalised or underrepresented groups. Blue growth is an economically sustainable growth that is based on the oceans and aims at the creation of jobs to reduce poverty in the face of the climate crisis and resource constraints.

The Transition to a Blue Economy

The transition to a blue economy requires the following elements:

– Implementation of the UNCLOS effectively :

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea is the “constitution of the oceans” which provides a legal order in the oceans. It is the accepted framework which states the rights and obligations of the States in the ocean and defines the various maritime zones of jurisdiction. It conciliates the different uses of oceans and seas for economic development with the need to protect the maritime environment. UNCLOS guides the management of the oceans and seas and puts up the international peace and security of the oceans and also facilitates equitable and efficient use.

– Assessing the value of marine resources and their ecosystem services:
The marine living resources are neither measured nor valued properly. A country needs to understand the economic importance of the oceans and seas to measure a blue economy. A study in Mauritania showed that the value of fisheries and renewable marine resources was greater than that of the minerals that were the basis of government decisions on marine resource management. This states that marine living resources are of higher value and renewable. Thus the government realised the long term potential for the blue growth and adopted an alternative approach to development.
– Effective governance for the growth of a blue economy :

The efficient use of data, science, and technology can help the government of the countries to undertake reforms and management decisions for the sustainable use of oceans and seas, conservation of biodiversity and for ecosystem resilience. The government should devise plans and policies called “blue economy plans” for the maritime zones of each country. It must be anchored in the provisions of the UNCLOS.
– Progressive financing to direct investments that can enrich ocean health:

Many economic activities that can be undertaken to improvise ocean health will carry high costs and returns that will not instantly accrue to investors. Thus, there is a need to design innovative financing mechanisms, to deploy more capital and to unite the public and private sector. The private sectors can improve the market infrastructure and undertake investments.


The development of the blue economy is restricted by a number of challenges. Oceans and seas viewed as limitless resources and a cost-free depot of waste are having a negative impact. Increased demand, inefficient government institutions, lack of economic incentives or inadequate capacities and technological advancements lead to poorly regulated activities. It has resulted in excessive use of valuable marine resources and coastal regions.

– Unsustainable withdrawal of marine resources:  
Advancement of technology results in extraction of marine resources. FAO estimates that 57% of fish stocks are fully exploited and another 30 percent are overly exploited. Fish stocks exploited by illegal, unregulated fishing are responsible in a US $10-22 billion unlawful revenue.

– Destruction of marine and coastal areas:  

Spoliation of the coastal belts are due to coastal development, deforestation and, mining. Unplanned coastal development has led to significant externalities between sectors and degradation of coastal habitats.

– Marine Pollution :

Marine debris such as plastics and excess nutrients from untreated sewerage water and agricultural fields can lead to marine pollution. Deep-sea mining causes irreversible damage to the marine ecosystem.

– Unfair Trade Practices :

The Exclusive Economic Zones overshadow the potential of their corresponding land masses and the administrative capacity of the government. They’re significant for the economies of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) because of rich marine resources. Unfortunately, the potential for exploitation of these resources gets reduced in the long run.


The conditions for the development of a sustainable blue economy is unclear.  According to the World Bank report, it depends on:

■ Unique national circumstance

■ The potential for new and innovative activities
■ Maritime zones (waters under its sovereignty and those in which it has sovereign rights for the
exploration and exploitation, conservation, and management of living and non-living marine resources)
■ Issues related to capacities and unique environ-

mental, social, and cultural conditions.

The countries need to draft their vision for a sustainable blue economy which includes optimal use of ocean resources. The vision should be within the frameworks of UNCLOS which provides legal certainty to the maritime rights and obligations. Formulation of plans and policies (blue economy plans), for the maritime zones of the countries, can validate the vision. The blue economy has the potential to include ocean industries like fisheries, tourism, seabed mining, and aquaculture.  Advancement in technology can extend significant opportunities to exploit the unexploited resources. Hence the blue economy is a vital basis for sustainable economic development.

Samridhi Agarwal

Samridhi Agarwal

Samridhi is Editor-in-Chief at The Economics Society, Daulat Ram College.

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