NAIROBI – The blue economy may have many benefits but it cannot be sustainable without the people at the centre of it.

The blue economy refers to the sustainable use of oceans, lakes, rivers, wetlands and other water resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods and job creation. Providing food, nutrition, transport and energy among other economic benefits, the oceans are strategic to global development, but are a threatened resource. Valued in terms of GDP, the ocean is estimated to be worth $1.5 trillion and if it was a country, it will be the seventh largest economy. 

“Human beings are at the heart of the blue economy and the engagement of the people and how they will benefit will determine the success or failure of the blue economy,” said John Tanzer, Oceans Practice Leader, at the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), during a session discussing the inclusion of people and communities in the blue economy.

Noting that the general perception that the ocean was just there to be exploited is dangerous thinking. Tanzer said science is clear that the ocean is under threat from biodiversity loss, habitat destruction, overfishing to the impact of climate change.

“We have to raise the ambition for ocean and costal management and protection. There needs to be a transition and people must be at the centre,” Tanzer said. “Governments and civil society organization must work together; we need a working mechanism that empowers local people through partnerships.”

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is implementing the UN ‘Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development’ boost knowledge generation to support oceans development.

We need a bottom up approach where everyone is involved to use science to support the management of the ocean, said Julian Barbiere, UNESCO Head of Section, Marine Policy and Regional Coordination.

“When we talk about science helping achieve societal goals, we need to talk about a new contract bringing together scientists to inform governments, policy makers and society,” Barbiere said.

In September, PROBLUE, a new multi-donor trust fund to support healthy and productive oceans by tackling marine pollution, managing fisheries and fostering the sustainable growth of coastal economies, was launched.

PROBLUE, announced on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, supports the implementation of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goal 14, which covers the sustainable use of oceans, seas and marine resources.

The World Bank’s active blue economy portfolio is around $6 billion and the bank views the blue economy as the economic development in the ocean space.

Oceans are also under threat from over capacity, overfishing and climate change that is affecting maximum catch potential on the seas.

“While we all mean well our action have unintended consequences, said Charlotte de Fontaubert, Senior Fisheries Specialist at the World Bank. “If we just stopped fishing for four to five years we will reach an optimal stage that biomass and fish stocks will recover.”