UW News

March 17, 2021

How five global regions could achieve a successful, equitable ‘Blue Economy’

The future of an equitable and sustainable global ocean, or “Blue Economy,” depends on more than natural or technological resources. A new study finds that socioeconomic and governance conditions such as national stability, corruption and human rights greatly affect different regions’ ability to achieve a Blue Economy — one that is socially equitable, environmentally sustainable and economically viable.

A paper published March 17 in Nature by the University of Washington-based Nippon Foundation Ocean Nexus Center suggests how different parts of the world might begin to achieve these goals.

“When ocean or coastal development is planned, decision-makers focus on available data to inform their decisions. The fact is, we have a lot more data about resources than about how development will actually impact the people who bear the risk and maintain the stewardship of the area,” said co-author Yoshitaka Ota, a UW research assistant professor of marine and environmental affairs.

Ota directs the Nippon Foundation Ocean Nexus Center, launched in 2020 by The Nippon Foundation and UW EarthLab as a 10-year program to transform ocean governance so oceans benefit everyone equitably.

Building on publicly available global data, the new study scores criteria across five global regions: Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and Oceania — which includes Australia, New Zealand and island states in the South Pacific. The authors then identified where investment and research are needed to develop ocean resources in a manner consistent with a Blue Economy. The “enabling conditions” that must be addressed include corruption, economic and group equity, gender equality, human rights, biodiversity, habitat, water quality, infrastructure, investment and national stability.

“When people talk about the future of the ocean economy, there’s a lot of attention on the resources themselves, like the fish, mangroves, offshore wind and so on,” said lead author Andrés Cisneros-Montemayor, research associate at the University of British Columbia and deputy director of the center.

“That’s great to know, but the most important question we need to be asking is: How are we going to make sure that we develop those resources in ways that actually benefit local communities? Otherwise, we’re back to business-as-usual, where only a few benefit from ocean resources. This is what the Blue Economy is trying to change.”

three colored world maps

The color-coded maps on the right show where different regions score on different metrics. High “Blue Economy” scores have been achieved in much of the U.S., Australia, Chile and Japan, but less so in Mexico, Africa and parts of Southeast Asia. The “enabling conditions” mapped in the center incorporate three factors: environmental sustainability, social equity and economic viability. The bottom panel maps the availability of marine resources.Cisneros-Montemayor et al./Nature

Differences in Blue Economy ratings between regions were related less to local ocean resources, the authors found, and more to enabling conditions such as human rights, national stability and corruption. Local communities must decide what ocean sectors are the most appropriate, with input from a wide range of stakeholders and perspectives.

“This paper is our attempt to begin to gather the data for what we actually need to know and to begin the conversation about equity impacts with concrete terms and numbers,” Ota said. “These are necessary steps to stop the dominant, one-size-fits-all approach that ignores social implications and diverse values.”

The research was funded by the Nippon Foundation Ocean Nexus Center. Other authors are William Cheung, Pedro Gonzalez-Espinosa, Vicky Lam and Muhammed Oyinlola at UBC; Marcia Moreno-Baez at the University of New England in Maine; Katherine Crosman, a research scientist at the UW; Gerald Singh at Memorial University of Newfoundland; Wilf Swartz at Dalhousie University; and Chongwei Zheng at Dalian Naval Academy.


For more information, contact Ota at yota1@uw.edu and Cisneros-Montemayor at a.cisneros@oceans.ubc.ca.

Adapted from a press release at the Nippon Foundation Ocean Nexus Center.