NAIROBI – In 2010, the annual economic value of the blue economy reached 1.5 trillion euros. The World Wildlife Fund forecasts it will reach 2.5 trillion euros per year by 2020.

The blue economy – activity taking place in the marine environment and using oceanic resources as an input – is enormous. It also includes activities involved in the production of goods or services that directly contribute to activities taking place in the marine environment.

“The key term in this definition is resources – within societies, within countries, there are multiple stakeholders with often conflicting resource claims,” says Michael Dooms, from the Vrije Universiteit in Brussels. Reconciling these different interests is a challenge calling for carefully inclusive policy making. Dooms was speaking to IPS at the start of the world’s first global conference on a blue economy being held in Nairobi, Kenya.

These include resources that are absolutely vital to the global economy; thirty percent of the world’s oil and gas production is offshore. The oceans could also hold the key to future energy sources in a low-carbon future. The International Energy Agency estimates that renewable energy from the oceans could provide up to 100 percent of the globe’s energy demands. Minerals from the seabed may be key to the technologies that unlock that renewable energy revolution. Extracting resources from new places entails new risks to ecosystems we still know far too little about.

Among the bodies expanding datasets and improving our knowledge of the oceans is the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission. The IOC plays a leading role in coordinating the Global Ocean Observing System, a worldwide network of ships, satellites, tide gauges and buoys collecting data about the physical state of the oceans in real time.

“This delivers essential information for stakeholders with interests ranging from economic development, to  fisheries, to assessing hazard risks, to mitigating climate change. “Oceans knowledge and data have the power to generate profits and jobs in the the marine economy – sustainably,” said the IOC’s Emma Heslop.

Heslop is excited about massive scale projects that could include deep ocean observation, or mapping genetic resources. Between now and start of United Nations decade of the oceans in 2021, workshops at which to put forward ideas for what should be included. “It takes all of us to do this,” Heslop said. “We all need to start developing amazing science to support sustainable development.”

The term “blue economy” is still more of a catch-all than a unified concept, says Pierre Failler, an economy professor at the University of Portsmouth. Oceans policy is still too often often handled in terms of development of separate sectors.

“We have a new concept, [the Blue Economy],” says Failler, “but we’re still thinking in terms of developing fishing here, ports over there – and the different people involved don’t talk to each other.”

This needs to be overcome in order to strengthen coherent planning and coordination that can improve on existing development processes and lead to robust and genuinely sustainable development.

“We need to have awareness of the importance oceans and water. Coordination and planning is very important – not just at national level, but also at a regional level.”