The Blue Economy:
Converging on the Waves

Hari Srinivas
Policy Analysis Series E-183. November 2022

Definitions of a Blue Economy According to the World Bank, a blue economy is the "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem."

European Commission defines it as "All economic activities related to oceans, seas and coasts. It covers a wide range of interlinked established and emerging sectors."

The Commonwealth of Nations considers it "an emerging concept which encourages better stewardship of our ocean or 'blue' resources." Conservation International adds that "blue economy also includes economic benefits that may not be marketed, such as carbon storage, coastal protection, cultural values and biodiversity."

The Center for the Blue Economy says "it is now a widely used term around the world with three related but distinct meanings- the overall contribution of the oceans to economies, the need to address the environmental and ecological sustainability of the oceans, and the ocean economy as a growth opportunity for both developed and developing countries."

UNEP defines a Blue Economy as an economy that "comprises a range of economic sectors and related policies that together determine whether the use of ocean resources is sustainable. An important challenge of a blue economy is to understand and better manage the many aspects of oceanic sustainability, ranging from sustainable fisheries to ecosystem health to preventing pollution. Secondly, a blue economy challenges us to realize that the sustainable management of ocean resources will require collaboration across borders and sectors through a variety of partnerships, and on a scale that has not been previously achieved. This is a tall order, particularly for Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and Least Developed Countries (LDCs) who face significant limitations."

The UN notes that a blue Economy will aid in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals, of which #14 is "Life Below Water".

Source: United Nations

The Blue Economy is a term that is used to describe the ways that the oceans, coasts, and all its resources can be seen as assets with an economic value. The idea behind a blue Economy is that, if we look at all of the resources in our oceans and coastal areas in a different way than we have in the past, we can create industries and businesses that not only support local communities, but also help ease the pressure on the global emvironment and risks from natural disasters.

According to Will Jones from The Guardian, who wrote about this topic recently: “The idea of a Blue Economy – where coastal communities build upon their natural assets to become hubs for aquaculture, marine tourism and other ocean-based industries – has been around for some time.”

Who is Working on a blue Economy?

There are many people who are actively working on creating a blue Economy. Many coastal communities are working to make their waterfronts more attractive and accessible to tourists. As a result, these coastal areas and are becoming hotspots for tourism, which has benefited the local economy.

Other examples of people who are working on a blue Economy include people in research and development who are looking for new ways to use the ocean and coastal waters for better habitat conservation for marine life, aquaculture, or sustainable energy production.

Why a blue Economy Matters

a blue Economy matters because it is an opportunity to create jobs, increase revenue, and improve the quality of life along coastal areas. If we look at the ocean and coastal areas from a sustainability perpectve, we can not only create opportunities for business start-upss, that use the ocean as a source of goods, but also as a source of energy and other activities.

In addition to creating new jobs, a Blue Economy can also help to protect and preserve the environment. For instance, by making use of coastal areas for aquaculture (or fish farming), we can reduce the amount of pollution from commercial fishing. Similarly, by using the ocean for renewable energy, we can reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Also, involving local communities to create jobs in coastal habitat preservation of mangroves, seagrass and coral reefs help in a number of ways - carbon storage, marine nursaries and habitats, coastal protection and erosion prevention, water purification and sediment/pollutant traps, and tourism.

What Can Be Part of a Blue Economy?

There are several industries that can be part of a Blue Economy, including marine tourism, sustainable energy production, sustainable fishing, undersea mining, and aquaculture. Sustainable fishing is a great example of how a Blue Economy can be beneficial to both the environment and people.

  • Jobs: Fishing, aquaculture, seaside and marine tourism employ over 350 million people worldwide [UN FAO].
  • Food: Fish accounts for about 15.7% of the global consumption of animal protein. Of this, more than half is provided by aquaculture. [UNESCO]
  • Assets: The value of ocean-related assets is estimated at more than USD 2.5 trillion (About the size of UK's economy) [WWF]
  • Transport: Over 90% of the world’s traded goods travel by sea.
  • Energy: Offshore wind energy generation capacity is estimated to grow to more than 300GW by 2040

By making use of fish farming and other aquaculture activities, we can reduce the amount of fish that is caught in the wild. By doing this, we can also reduce the amount of pollution and and biodiversity losses that are affecting global fish populations. Similarly, sustainable aquaculture can be used to grow shellfish, as well as seaweed and other sea plants.

How does a Blue Economy Helps Environment and Humans?

A Blue Economy can be helpful to the environment in several ways. As mentioned above, aquaculture can reduce the amount of pollution from commercial fishing. Sustainable energy production (through wind and tidal wave energy generators) can help to reduce emission of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

When we look at a Blue Economy from the perspective of humans, we see that the ocean is a vast resource that is largely untapped. This means that there is great potential for building new industries, creating new jobs, and increasing local revenue, supporting local coastal communities and their economies.

Activities and Industries Associated with a Blue Economy

Type of Activity

Ocean Service


Drivers of Growth

Harvest of living



Food Security


Demand for Protein

Marine biotechnology

Pharmaceuticals, chemicals

R&D for healthcare and

Extraction of non
living resources,
generation of new


Seabed mining

Demand for minerals


Oil and gas

Demand for alternative
energy sources


Fresh water


Demand for fresh water

Commerce and
trade in and around
the oceans

Transport and trade


Growth in seaborne trade;
International regulations

Port infrastructure and services

Tourism and recreation


Growth of global tourism

Coastal Development

Coastal urbanization

Domestic regulations

Response to ocean
health challenges

Ocean monitoring and

Technology and R&D

R&D in ocean technologies

Carbon Sequestration

Blue Carbon

Growth in coastal and
ocean protection and
conservation activities

Coastal Protection

Habitat protection and

Waste Disposal

Assimilation of nutrients and wastes

Technology development

Source: World Bank
"Blue Economy Development Framework: Growing the Blue Economy to Combat Poverty and Accelerate Prosperity" - World Bank, 2016

Problems with a Blue Economy

There are several potential issues with a Blue Economy - the first being that it is not a solution to all problems associated with oceans, coasts and small islands. Coastal communities face low financial security, particularly low-income households who face the twin challenge of poverty as well as hightened risks from natural disasters.

Another potential issue with a Blue Economy is that people tend to overestimate the size of the ocean economy. This is understandable, given that the ocean is a vast resource that has largely been untapped. However, this can also lead to unrealistic expectations. Finally, there can be issues with promoting the industries and facilitating the drivers of growth (listed in the table above) to achieve the vision of a Blue Economy.

A Blue Economy is an opportunity to create jobs, increase revenue, and improve the quality of life along coastal areas. The challenges of managing oceans - as they are located beyonf the jurisdiction of national marine boundaries - are also challenges that hinder the operationalization of a Blue Economy. But the opportunities outweigh the challenges, particularly when a Blue Economy's activities also help in preserving ocean environments and conserving its assets/resources. The SDGs, specifically SDG 14 - Life Below Water, will help us develop policies that wil matain the environmental goals while taking advantage of theconomic opportunities of the oceans.

Oceans and SDGs SDG 14: Life Below Water

The 14th Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs) calls for conserving and sustainably using the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.

Healthy oceans and seas are essential to our existence. They cover 70 percent of our planet and we rely on them for food, energy and water. Yet, we have managed to do tremendous damage to these precious resources. We must protect them by eliminating pollution and overfishing and immediately start to responsibly manage and protect all marine life around the world.

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