The Blue Economy – Definition and Prospects

Posted by: Subhash K K

Designation: Design Engineer

Date: December 26, 2022

The Old Man and the Sea reflects on determination and character.  It can be seen as a simile for the human relationship with the ocean. That relationship is nearly as old as man, complex and to a degree parasitic.

The ocean is a source of food, energy, trade and adventure. The coastal zone is increasingly critical for human population and development.  Research, innovation and investment makes the ocean an ever more important source of food and energy.  This has also aided in opening up the ocean as a source of biological diversity and providing hopes for delivering a biomedical resource.

Although humans are gaining in understanding the bounty of commodities, non-market goods and services that can be generated from the ocean, they also appear adept at exploiting the ocean’s resources far beyond sustainability. The ocean is large but not infinite.  Humans seem intent on overburdening the ocean and depleting or destroying the resource pool it proffers for their benefit.   It is imperative that we humans, develop systems and processes that guard the ocean from excessive exploitation and protect it from pollution. If not, the ocean may not recover, and humans may forever lose the resources that some communities have developed and relied on for their livelihoods. This process is the development of the blue economy as a sustainable approach to management of the ocean.

The Blue Economy

The term “Blue Economy” was coined by Gunter Pauli in his book in 2010- “The Blue Economy: 10 years, 100 innovations, 100 million jobs” to underscore sustainable use of oceans. The first global conference on the Sustainable Blue Economy was held in November 2018 in Nairobi, Kenya. The “Blue Economy” seeks to promote economic growth, social inclusion, and the preservation or improvement of livelihood opportunities ensuring environmental sustainability of the oceans and coastal areas. The core components of the Blue Economy include: traditional ocean supported industries such as fisheries, tourism, maritime transport and new and emerging avenues like offshore renewable energy, aquaculture and seabed mining.

The Blue Economy also looks forward to the potential for the ocean and its ecosystems to deliver more benefit to humans, benefits or markets that don’t yet exist. These may include; carbon sequestration, marine biotechnology and bioprospecting.

So, the Blue Economy is an amalgam of different sectors: renewable energy, fisheries, maritime transport, tourism, climate change, waste management etc. Each sector must be taken as an independent and interactive group.  Review the potential:

  • Sustainable marine energy could play a vital role in social and economic development globally.
  • Fisheries can be made to generate more revenue, use fish more effectively, and at the same time restore fish stocks. As an example, the government of Kerala is recommending a ban on monsoon season fishing in the coastal  sea of Kerala.
  • More than 80% of international goods traded are transported by sea. Their sustainable delivery would be a major contribution in any transition to a zero-carbon future.
  • Ocean and coastal tourism can bring in more jobs directly in the hospitality sector and spur economic growth.

But there are also threats, a lack of sustainable Waste Management in coastal land communities can disrupt the potential of the Blue Economy. Improper waste treatment methods and disposal into the ocean is a concern to researchers specializing in the health and sustenance of the Blue Economy. Humans need to spare the ocean from contamination and enable it to recover.

In some cases, the balance between sustainability and benefit may be unclear or even misinterpreted. Oceans are one of the chief carbon sinks protecting the planet (blue carbon).  The ocean represents an immensely capable resource to capture carbon.  It could reduce global warming through carbon sequestration.  However, climate change science postulates small changes in concentration of carbon have catastrophic effects in the atmosphere.  The potential for similar issues in the ocean exists.  The Blue Economy needs deep understanding to protect humans from making two crises out of one.


Some critical challenges within the Blue Economy are:

  • Impact of climate change: changes in sea temperature, acidity, consequent threat to marine life, habitats, and the communities that depend on them.
  • Overexploitation of marine resources: illegal and unregulated extraction of marine resources Natural Disasters: Practically every year cyclones, hurricanes, typhoons etc and occasional and infrequent tsunamis render thousands of people homeless, stranded in public shelters and inflict damage to property worth millions.
  • Marine pollution: excess supply of nutrients from untreated sewage , agricultural runoff, and marine debris such as plastics
  • Man-Made problems: Oil spills, and climate change driven sea level rise continue to pose a huge risk to the stability of the coastal land zone and the maritime domain.
  • Threat from sea borne terror: piracy and armed robbery, maritime terrorism, illicit trade in crude oil, arms, drug and human trafficking and smuggling of contrabands etc.

A Blue Economy for India

For any country, the blend of Blue Economic activity varies from one geographic location to another. It depends on the national priorities of the country. The national policy framework needs to deliver its own model of the Blue Economy.

India has a long coastline of approximately 7,517 km covering nine states and two union territories.  It has an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 2.02 M km2. The Indian Ocean is a major highway of trade with as much as 80% of the global oil trade route through it. The marine services sector could serve as the backbone of India’s blue economy and help India become a catalyst to boost the world’s economy. Better connectivity in the region will significantly cut down the transport cost and maritime wastage of resources making the trade sustainable and cost effective. To meet the more general definition of a Blue Economy India’s approach should:

  • provide social and economic benefits for the present and future generations
  • restore, protect, and maintain the diversity, productivity, resilience, core functions, and intrinsic value of marine ecosystems
  • be based on clean technologies, renewable energy, and circular material flows that will reduce waste and promote recycling of materials.

The Blue Economy presents India with an unprecedented opportunity to meet its national socioeconomic objectives.  It also presents opportunities to strengthen connectivity and cooperation with neighbours.  The focus of the Blue Economy on livelihood generation, achieving energy security, building ecological resilience, and improving health and living standards of coastal communities reinforces and strengthens the efforts of the Indian Government to achieve SDGs of hunger and poverty eradication along with sustainable use of marine resources by 2030.

Developments Initiated by India Relevant to the Blue Economy

The Sagarmala project is, in part, a strategic initiative for port-led development. It includes the physical development of ports and the extensive use of IT enabled services to modernize ports and logistics.

The Sagarmala Project is not just a port project, it aims to develop inland waterways and coastal shipping which will revolutionize maritime logistics, creating a million new jobs, and reducing logistics costs.  The Sagarmala project also focuses on the development of coastal communities and people in the sustainable use of ocean resources through modern fishing techniques and coastal tourism.

India has an umbrella scheme, O-SMART, which aims at the regulated use of oceans and marine resources for sustainable development. Its Integrated Coastal Zone Management process focuses on conservation of coastal and marine resources, and improving livelihood opportunities for coastal communities etc. The Development of Coastal Economic Zones (CEZ) under Sagarmala is a microcosm of the blue economy.

Finally, India has a National Fisheries policy which promotes a ‘Blue Growth Initiative’ focusing on sustainable utilization of fisheries wealth from marine and other aquatic resources.

What is Next?

India needs to look forward.  Adopt the Gandhian approach of balancing economic benefits with sustainability to meet the broader goals of growth, employment generation, equity, and the protection of the environment.  As part of this effort, India must focus on:

  • marine ICTs, transport (shipping) and communication services
  • creating a knowledge hub for marine research and development
  • delivering an effective response mechanism to address humanitarian crises and natural disasters
  • evolve an Indian Ocean security strategy.

With this, India will be able to achieve continued economic, social, and cultural prosperity.

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