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The Blue Economy

Nikola Simpson and Jawanza Small

The Blue Economy

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It has no boundaries. It is something that we all share. It is what connects us all. It is – Our Ocean. 

Our island has a culture deeply rooted in the Ocean. Browne’s Beach. Sunday Morning. Mrs Brathwaite having her sea bath; Mr Jones casting his net for bait; people exercising (whether walking the beach, playing beach tennis or training); catamaran boats, swimming with the turtles and snorkelling on the wrecks; dive boats scuba diving in Carlisle Bay; restaurants with beach chairs filled with tourists and locals; teaching kids how to swim; a fishing boat in the distance; a cruise ship docking to the West.

This is the Blue Economy.

From much of the air that we breathe, to the food that we eat and the jobs, livelihoods, goods and services provided, our ocean deserves some credit. From fisheries to tourism, transport, trade, medicine, coastal protection, mitigation of impacts of climate change and absorption of greenhouse gases, the ocean is the lifeblood of the planet. 

With oceans and seas covering over two-thirds of the earth’s surface, they play a significant role in the sustainable development, economic growth and livelihoodsof small island developing states (SIDS) such as Barbados.  

Unfortunately, human activity is placing pressure on the health of this natural resource. Facing a diversity of threats, ranging from habitat degradation caused by nutrient, chemical and plastic land-based and marine sources of pollution, overfishing and unsustainable fishing practices, to impacts of climate change such as rising sea levels and increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events, our ocean is in peril.  However, there is hope as the ocean is now getting the attention that it deserves. 

The Blue Economy is an emerging concept that encourages better stewardship of our ocean or ‘blue resources’, seeks to promote economic growth, social inclusion and improvement of livelihoods, while at the same time ensuring environmental sustainability. It covers established oceans-related sectors such as fisheries, maritime transport, shipbuilding and tourism, as well as new and emerging industries, including renewable ocean energy and biotechnology.


Globally, the Blue Economy is a trillion dollar industry annually with more than 3 billion people relying on the ocean for their livelihoods and directly providing over 30 million jobs. In the Caribbean region, the ocean and its related resources are a fundamental base on which our economies are built and are central to our delivery of many international agreements and commitments, such as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

Days after winning the general election in May 2018, the Prime Minister of Barbados announced the establishment of a Ministry of Maritime Affairs and the Blue Economy. This was a significant move for Barbados making the island one of the few countries in the World to have a Ministry dedicated to the Blue Economy. Fast forward to the present and we see the effect of this new Ministry taking shape under the leadership of Minister Kirk Humphrey and his team.  

Much needed upgrades to the fish markets are in progress, coral restoration is actively being addressed, the expansion of the island’s marine managed areas is set to take place and there is a strategy to not only manage the sargassum influx but turn this problem into profit. The island, led by this Ministry also banned a list of petroleum based single use plastic.

Also of notable mention are the interest of international agencies and development partners to collaborate on and support projects such as the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development Ocean Economy and Trade Strategies (OETS) project.

In addition, Ten Habitat’s selected proposal of the IDB Blue Tech Challenge will use blockchain technology to enhance the tuna supply chain which could both potentially support the expansion of the fisheries sector by reducing imports and increasing exports. There is also a Fish Waste Silage Project which will aim to convert unutilised parts of fish into safe products for livestock and aquaculture consumption.

More recently, there have been meetings to set up a Conservation Trust Fund and look at the potential of a debt for nature swap with the Nature Conservancy. Barbados is also in the process of signing on to the Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance and supports the Commonwealth Blue Charter which further shows the country’s commitment to protecting the marine space.  

The new Accelerator Lab hosted within the UNDP Sub-Regional Office for Barbados and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) will focus on the Blue Economy with this Blue Lab being a part of the largest and fastest learning network around development challenges. 

With a maritime space 400 times larger than the land space and with such a heavy reliance on ocean resources for our tourism industry, fishing industry, and our access to imported products through seaport activity, our potential to gain from an economy centered around the development of ocean resources is significant. How can we continue to sustainably use and develop existing sectors such as fisheries and tourism while also looking at emerging sectors such as offshore renewable energy?

Is the Blue just the Green repackaged? We must not forget all of the work done over the past years in the Green Economy and how interconnected the Blue and Green are. Regardless of colour, our country is on a trajectory to sustainable development. Barbados is re-establishing itself on the world stage, finding our voice again and having a say in issues that matter. There is still much to be done in order to manage and finance the ocean space but the journey has begun. 

If you eat fish, if you are a fisherfolk, if you work in tourism, if you rely on goods that get to Barbados on a ship, if you go to the beach, if you fete on a party boat, you are part of the Blue Economy. Everyone is the Blue Economy. It is time that we respect and protect the Ocean that supports us. 

Please share your comments below or email: [email protected] and stay tuned for next week’s blog where we will look at one of the key areas of the Blue Economy: the fisheries sector.