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The Blue Economy: Changing Colours

Environment Programme / Blog

Photo: © Alex Marques

Our planet is blue, but green is the colour we usually associate with nature.

In the ongoing effort to save and protect our natural world, you may not have heard the term ‘green economy’, despite it not being a new concept. It refers to ways to improve human wellbeing, while using the planet’s natural resources within safe and sustainable ecological limits.

However, colours are changing, and blue has become the new trendy colour. You now hear terms like ‘blue or ocean’s economy’, ‘blue natural capital’ or ‘blue growth’. The important thing to retain is that it is all about the oceans – this is the clear distinction from anything terrestrial.

Although these terms aim to perhaps inspire for better ocean conservation, the first time I heard it, I could not help but worry. Put simply, it means that humanity is moving in a dangerous direction by exploiting the oceans’ resources even further. But have we not caused enough damage to the world’s oceans already?

Coastal resources have been totally depleted, fish populations wiped out almost to the brink of extinction, and now we are moving further afield, into the high seas, an area that is still unexplored properly in terms of its content. Some of its resources are already being exploited by a handful of nations, far way from the eyes of most. Sea bed mining, oil and gas extraction, plus the commercialisation of marine genetic resources, are some of the activities already underway, to the benefit of only a few.

Oceans are an integrated ecosystem – whatever we do in the high seas will have an impact on coastal areas and vice-versa. Species migrate, breed and feed in these regions that are inseparable from each other.  

I am worried. The communities that live off their local blue economies are worried about their future too. Will it ever be possible to explore the oceans further and keep it ecologically sustainable? Have we not learned lessons from history? Have the terrestrial examples not been enough?

Coastal communities have been struggling for years with the depletion of fish stocks, pushing their fishing gear to the limit and risking their lives to catch fish further out to sea.

Together, these coastal communities are bringing a new concept to the table: ‘Blue Justice’. Yet another one for the many blues out there. Justice to all of those that have suffered the effects of unsustainable practices for several decades; justice to all of those who will suffer the most from the catastrophic consequences of climate change and its effects on stock shifts to other parts of the world, shoreline erosion and flooding, and harder fishing conditions.  

We should fish for the right reasons: to live and feed hunger. So, a primary question we must ask ourselves is: A blue economy ‘for whom’?

Colours change, but let’s hope the grim scenario for our marine species changes for the better.

Written by Alex Marques, marine sub-Programme Associate, Environment Programme