Sustainable Blue Economy

We all want positive and equitable economic development. But we shouldn’t sacrifice ocean health — and ultimately our own human health — simply for financial gain. The ocean provides ecosystem services that are crucial for plants, animals and humans. To ensure those services remain available for future generations, the global community should pursue economic growth in a sustainable ‘blue’ way.

Defining the Blue Economy

Blue Economy Research Page

Leading the Way to Sustainable Ocean Tourism

Tourism Action Coalition for a Sustainable Ocean

What is a Sustainable Blue Economy?

Many are actively pursuing a blue economy, “opening up the ocean for business” – which includes many extractive uses. At The Ocean Foundation, we hope that industry, governments, and civil society will reframe future growth plans to emphasize and invest in a subset of the entire ocean economy that has regenerative abilities. 

We see value in an economy that has restorative activities. One that can lead to enhanced human health and well-being, including food security and the creation of sustainable livelihoods.

sustainable blue economy: a dog running across shallow ocean water

 But how do we start?

To enable a sustainable blue economy approach, and argue in favor of coastal and ocean restoration for health and abundance, we must clearly link the value of healthy ecosystems to generate food security, storm resilience, tourism recreation, and more. We need to:

Reach a consensus on how to quantify non-market values

This includes elements like: food production, water quality enhancement, coastal resilience, cultural and aesthetic values, and spiritual identities, among others.

Consider new emerging values

Such as those related to biotechnology or nutraceuticals.

Ask if the regulating values protect ecosystems

Such as seagrass meadows, mangroves, or salt marsh estuaries that are critical carbon sinks.

We must also capture economic losses from unsustainable use (and abuse) of coastal and ocean ecosystems. We need to examine cumulative negative human activities, such as land-based sources of marine pollution – including plastic loading – and especially human disruption of the climate. These and other risks are a threat to not only the marine environment themselves, but also to any future coastal and ocean generated value.

How do we pay for it?

With a firm understanding of the ecosystem services generated or the values at risk, we can begin to design the blue finance mechanisms to pay for conservation and restoration of coastal and ocean ecosystems. This can include philanthropy and multilateral donor support via design and preparation funds; technical assistance funds; guarantees and risk insurance; and concessional finance.

Three penguins walking on a beach

What belongs in a Sustainable Blue Economy?

To develop a Sustainable Blue Economy, we recommend driving investment across five themes:

1. Coastal Economic & Social Resilience

The restoration of carbon sinks (seagrasses, mangroves, and coastal marshes); ocean acidification monitoring and mitigation projects; Coastal Resilience and Adaptation, especially for Ports (including re-design for inundation, waste management, utilities, etc.); and Sustainable Coastal Tourism.

2. Ocean Transport

Propulsion and navigation systems, hull coatings, fuels, and quiet ship technology.

3. Ocean Renewable Energy

Investment in expanded R&D and increased production for wave, tidal, currents, and wind projects.

4. Coastal and Oceanic Fisheries

Emissions reductions from fisheries, including aquaculture, wild capture and processing (e.g., low-carbon or zero-emission vessels), and energy efficiency in postharvest production (e.g., cold storage and ice production).

5. Anticipating Next Generation Activities

Infrastructure-based adaptation to relocate and diversify economic activities and relocate people; research on carbon capture, storage technologies, and geoengineering solutions to examine efficacy, economic viability, and potential for unintended consequences; and research on other nature-based solutions that take up and store carbon (micro and macro algae, kelp, and the biological carbon pump of all ocean wildlife).

Our Work:

Thought Leadership

Since 2014, through speaking engagements, panel participation, and memberships to key bodies, we continuously help shape the definition of what a sustainable blue economy could and should be.

We attend international speaking engagements such as:

The Royal Institution, Institute of Marine Engineering, Science & Technology, Commonwealth Blue Charter, Caribbean Blue Economy Summit, Mid-Atlantic (U.S) Blue Ocean Economy Forum, United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14 Ocean Conferences, and the Economist Intelligence Unit.

We participate in blue tech accelerator pitches and events such as:

Blue Tech Week San Diego, Sea Ahead, and OceanHub Africa Experts Panel.

We are members in key organizations such as: 

The High-Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy, UNEP Guidance Working Group’s Sustainable Blue Economy Finance Initiative, The Wilson Center and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung “Transatlantic Blue Economy Initiative”, and the Center for the Blue Economy at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies.

Fee-For-Service Consultancies

We provide expert consultancies to governments, companies, and other organizations who want to build capacity, develop action plans, and pursue more ocean positive business practices.

The Blue Wave:

Co-authored with TMA BlueTech, The Blue Wave: Investing in BlueTech Clusters to Maintain Leadership and Promote Economic Growth and Job Creation calls for a focus on innovative technology and services to promote sustainable usage of the ocean and freshwater resources. Associated story maps include Blue Tech Clusters in the Northern Arc of the Atlantic and Blue Tech Clusters of America.

Economic Valuation of Reef Ecosystems in the MAR Region:

Co-authored with World Resources Institute of Mexico and Metroeconomica, Economic Valuation of Reef Ecosystems in the MesoAmerican Reef (MAR) Region and the Goods and Services they Provide aims to estimate the economic value of the ecosystem services of coral reefs in the region. This report was also presented to decision makers at a subsequent workshop.

Capacity Building: 

We build capacity for legislators or regulators on national definitions and approaches to the sustainable blue economy, as well as on how to finance the blue economy.

In 2017, we trained Philippine government officials in preparation for that nation becoming chair of The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) with a focus on sustainable use of coastal and marine resources.

Sustainable Travel and Tourism Consultancies:

Fundación Tropicalia:

Tropicalia is an ‘eco resort’ project in the Dominican Republic. In 2008, Fundación Tropicalia was formed to actively support the socioeconomic development of adjacent communities in the municipality of Miches where the resort is being built.

In 2013, The Ocean Foundation was contracted to develop the first annual United Nations Sustainability Report for Tropicalia based on the UN Global Compact’s ten principles in the areas of human rights, labor, the environment, and anti-corruption. In 2014, we compiled the second report and integrated the sustainability reporting guidelines of the Global Reporting Initiative along with five other sustainable reporting systems. We also created a Sustainability Management System (SMS) for future comparisons and tracking of Tropicalia’s resort development and implementation. The SMS is a matrix of indicators that ensure sustainability across all sectors, providing a systematic way to track, review, and improve operations for better environmental, social, and economic performance. We continue to produce Tropicalia’s sustainability report each year, five reports in total, and provide  annual updates to the SMS and GRI tracking index.

Loreto Bay Company:

The Ocean Foundation created a Resort Partnership Lasting Legacy Model, designing and consulting for the philanthropic arms of the sustainable resort developments in Loreto Bay, Mexico.

Our resort partnership model provides a turn-key meaningful and measurable Community Relations platform for resorts. This innovative, public-private partnership provides a lasting environmental legacy for the local community for future generations, funds for local conservation and sustainability, and  long-term positive community relations. The Ocean Foundation only works with vetted developers who incorporate best practices into their developments for the highest levels of social, economic, aesthetic, and ecological sustainability during planning, construction, and operation. 

We helped create and manage a strategic fund on behalf of the resort, and distributed grants to support local organizations focused on protecting the natural environment and improving the quality of life for local residents. This dedicated source of revenue for the local community provides ongoing support for invaluable projects.