Blue economies: Growth through humanity's relationship with water

Kenya hosted the first Sustainable Blue Economy Conference, focusing on environmental protection and economic growth.

    Blue economies try to foster better relationships with marine ecosystems amid sustainable growth [Yuriko Nakao/Reuters]
    Blue economies try to foster better relationships with marine ecosystems amid sustainable growth [Yuriko Nakao/Reuters]

    All life on Earth is dependent on water. Together with carbon, it is one of the most important building blocks of all living organisms, from the smallest animal to the largest tree.

    However, as humanity's impact on the global environment has increased over the past hundred years, issues such as pollution, coral bleaching and overfishing have become significantly larger, damaging important ecosystems around the globe.

    In an attempt to create plans to battle these negative effects, the Kenyan capital Nairobi this week was the location for the world's first Sustainable Blue Economy Conference, a summit focusing on how countries can benefit from what is called a "blue economy".

    The idea behind building a blue economy is that countries should use oceans and seas to their full advantage without that leading to the suffering of aquatic life, pollution or other negative effects.

    This does not only include the world's oceans, but also seas, lakes, rivers and smaller bodies of water.

    At the conference, more than 15,000 participants shared ideas about marine life, environmental protection and how the globe can benefit from a blue economy. 

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    The conference built on "the momentum of the UN's 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the 2015 Climate Change Conference in Paris and the UN Ocean Conference 2017 Call to Action", its website states.

    Creating a blue economy is a challenge, with global warming, plastic pollution and overfishing as some of the main issues that need to be tackled.

    The key to a blue economy is finding the middle road between sustainability and economic growth, often achieved with the help of innovative and new technologies.

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    First, this means minimising carbon emissions by switching to more sustainable energy sources and making sure that, for instance, shipping routes are planned in the most effective and least polluting way possible.

    Another important aspect of the blue economy is making sure that economic growth is sustained without exhausting natural resources.

    Therefore, during the Nairobi summit, topics such as illegal fishing and overfishing played an important role.

    Because of illegal and overfishing, fish stocks have decreased significantly over the past decades, leading to major changes in marine ecosystems, and scientists have warned that these stocks need to increase to ensure healthy oceans.

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    Another important issue that plays a key role in achieving the goals of the blue economy is pollution.

    Over the past years, increasingly more attention has been paid to oceanic pollution, especially when it comes to remnants of plastic that have made their way into those ecosystems, with the most striking example being the so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

    Several attempts are currently under way to decrease the amount of plastic in the seas and oceans, with for example a private organisation trying to collect plastic trash from the water and the European Union banning single-use plastic items such as straws. 

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    Finally, blue economies want to make sure that marine reserves and coral reefs grow and become healthier.

    In recent years, a number of large marine reserves were appointed in an attempt to protect the ecosystems in these areas, including reserves off the coast of the US West Coast, near the Antarctic and one near Costa Rica.

    At the same time, environmental agencies have warned that coral bleaching has become a major issue for marine life.

    Not only are corals themselves living beings, they also host a large number of other animals that have suffered from the abysmal state of some of the world's most important reefs like the Great Barrier Reef near Australia. 

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    By focusing mostly on environmental issues, the blue economy is very similar to the green economy, the main difference being that a blue economy mostly focuses on humanity's relationship with water in all its forms.

    The hope is that in the end, if all these issues are tackled, blue economies should not only lead to healthier environments for plants and animals but also lead to better lives for humans.

    The ultimate goal is that blue economies will lead to more human prosperity as well, not because they use up resources provided by the oceans, seas, lakes and rivers, but because a relationship has been found that provides enough for both humans as well as aquatic life to thrive, without either of them being affected negatively.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News