A Sustainable Blue Economy is a marine-based economy that provides social and economic benefits for current and future generations.
It restores, protects and maintains the diversity, productivity and resilience of marine ecosystems, and is based on clean technologies, renewable energy, and circular material flows.
The importance of the ocean therefore, cannot be overemphasized. Globally the ocean economy is valued at about USD 24 Trillion.
In the Western Indian Ocean Region (Comoros, France, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Seychelles, Somalia, South Africa and Tanzania), ocean-based assets are valued at USD 333 Billion.
Kenya has a share of USD 2.4 Billion with 90% of this coming from coastal tourism. Fish and fisheries products are the most traded commodities globally valued at USD 152 Billion, with developing countries including Kenya accounting for 54% of the global share.
Coastal and the marine environments provide livelihood, food and nutritional security. 50% of the oxygen we breath come from the oceans.
They also absorb 30% of the Carbon dioxide that is produced hence contributing to climate change mitigation. It is estimated that 90% of the goods used by the world are shipped across the oceans.
Coral reefs and mangroves on the other hand, provide protection to coastal habitats. They are also critical habitats for diverse marine life.
Coral reefs provide some of the most biologically rich, productive and economically viable ecosystems on earth. Marine species live in coral reefs, mangroves are breeding grounds for many species including fish, reptiles and birds.
They protect the coastline from storms and erosion, generate jobs and income from fishing, recreation and tourism- coastal tourism accounts for over 90% of the ocean-based economy in Kenya.
In the Western Indian Ocean for instance, some 60 million people, live within the 100km shoreline with cultures based on fishing, maritime trade and marine resource use.
The fisheries sector in Kenya, employs over 1 million people who are engaged in fishing, fish farming and other fisheries related activities such as processing, boat making and repairs.
Despite the benefits and contribution of the oceans in the economy, the marine environment and resources therein are under stress. Developing countries are incurring economic losses due to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.
The mangrove cover area, globally continues to shrink. This situation is likely to worsen in the coming years unless concerted and deliberate efforts to pursue sustainable blue growth pathways are embraced by all.
The global Ocean Economy, is projected to double in size by 2030 (OECD,2016). In many ways, the ocean is seen as the last frontier for new business opportunities, with technology opening up access to remote environments.
Over the coming years we are likely to see unprecedented investments and development in the maritime sector, including infrastructure, tourism, energy, biotechnology, transport and food production.
If managed effectively, we will reap the benefits, if we continue to erode our natural capital, we will threaten our very own existence and the planet’s.
Business as usual therefore, is not an option to secure our water resources. Following a “business as usual” trajectory, one that neglects the impacts on marine ecosystems, will be catastrophic for water bodies, people, the planet and business.
Our efforts should be geared towards ensuring that the Blue Economy concept is focused on sustainability rather than simply being a blue growth agenda.
In order for the ocean to contribute to true prosperity and resilience, today and long into the future, we urgently need a set of guidelines and ‘guardrails’ to influence investment decisions and development policy within the maritime sector along the most sustainable pathways possible.
The sustainable blue economy presents an excellent opportunity for Kenya to deliver on its vision 2030 and the Big four agenda.
In order to reap these benefits, the Kenyan government needs to put in place a comprehensive sustainable blue economy strategy as well as create an enabling legal, regulatory and institutional framework.
At the end of the three day conference, we should be able to answer the why, how and who questions as we recommit our concerted efforts to ensure that our coastal and marine ecosystems are productive, resilient, sustain human well-being and conserve biodiversity for the benefit of the present and future generations.
Edward Kimakwa is a Marine and Fisheries expert and the Regional Fisheries Programme Manager at WWF Regional Office for Africa