NAIROBI – “There is abundant evidence that the ocean is already cracking under the load of human use. But it is also seen as a bounty, ripe for human exploitation,” said Fred Kwame Africa Director for World Wildlife Fund (WWF). “We need to to reconcile these seemingly opposing trends. Business as usual will be catastrophic.”

The oceans are the focus of renewed interest from the highest levels for government, business and international agencies and WWF sees both risks and opportunities.

Kwame says that investments in the blue economy need to be targeted at the most sustainable pathways possible. To achieve this, WWF, along with the World Resources Institute, the European Investment Bank and UN Environment have launched the Blue Economy Finance Principles. The principles are intended to ensure that the accelerating economic development of the oceans takes place in a way that protects ecosystems and livelihoods connected to the seas. He was speaking at the civil society event being held alongside the inaugural Sustainable Blue Economy Conference, which opened in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, Monday.

“Without global guardrails and guidelines to follow, investors could end up with a portfolio of stranded assets,” said Kwame.

The WWF’s defines a sustainable blue economy as one that provides social and economic benefits for current and future generations; as one that restores, protects and maintains the diversity, resilience, and intrinsic value of marine ecosystems – the natural capital upon which its prosperity depends; and one based on clean technologies, renewable energy, and circular material flows.

This vision is one that’s largely shared by Allan Ragi, from KANCO, a membership-based organisation working on health and food security in Kenya. He is interested in how the blue economy can contribute to reducing hunger.

“We need to start looking at what the blue economy means in practical terms. We need to look at opportunities that exist and take part in partnerships that exploit potential,” said Ragi, “at the same time as they safeguard against negative practices. We need to advocate for the implementation of commitments to conserve and sustainably use oceans.“

One way civil society can achieve this, he suggests, is to establish country score cards against which to monitor progress. Ragi says it’s vital for non-government organisations to take an active role as marine economies expand and transform. “We have to ensure that we as civil society are part of the thematic teams, to put ordinary people into these conversations and mobilise communities.”

Michael O’Brien-Onyeka, Senior VP in Conservation International’s Africa Field Division, agrees: “We believe that – drawing partly on our own collective enlightened self-interests – we at Conservation International believe that everyone will pull together. And we’re seeing that in this [blue economy] conference: we believe that we’ll have a healthy ocean that benefits all life on earth, humans and animals alike.”

O’Brien-Onyeka sees three key areas to attend to. First, to safeguard biodiversity of oceans and coastal areas; second, to increase the resilience of the most vulnerable people and places; and finally, to transform wild fisheries and aquaculture.

“One big thing that we haven’t collectively addressed – we may have great plans, but resourcing those ideas is a challenge. Ideas will remain on the shelf unless you have a viable, sustainably financing model. How do we create financing models to fund and sustain the great initiatives that we want to implement in the blue economy?”