Humanity’s relationship with the oceans and how people use and exploit their resources is evolving in important ways. While the oceans are increasingly becoming a source of food, energy and products, there is also now a better understanding of the non-market goods and services that the oceans provide which are vital for life on earth.
People also understand that the oceans are not limitless and that they are suffering from increasing and often cumulative human impacts. Oceans that are not healthy and resilient cannot support economic growth.
The blue economy has diverse components including established traditional industries such as fisheries, tourism and maritime transport but also new and emerging activities such as offshore renewable energy, aquaculture, seabed extractive activities and marine biotechnology.
An important challenge of the blue economy is to understand and better manage the many aspects of sustainability, ranging from sustainable fisheries to ecosystem health to pollution.
A significant issue is the realisation that the sustainable management of ocean resources requires collaboration across nation-States and across the public-private sectors on a scale that has not been previously achieved. The blue economy aims to move beyond business-as-usual mentality. It is generally understood to be a long-term strategy aimed at supporting sustainable and equitable economic growth through related sectors and activities.
The blue economy is relevant to all countries and can be applied on various scales, from local to global. In order to become actionable, the blue economy concept must be supported by a trusted and diversified knowledge base and complemented with management and development resources that help inspire and support innovation.
Healthy oceans and seas can greatly contribute to inclusiveness and poverty reduction and are essential for a more sustainable future. To have a sustainable blue economy, countries must invest in and use the best available science, data and technology, which is critical to underpin governance reforms and shaping management decisions to enact long-term change. Anticipating and adapting to the impacts of climate change is an essential component of the blue economy approach.
Skills and education are key drivers to drive innovation forward
The Mediterranean region is renowned for its active ports and attracts numerous tourists due to its cultural heritage. Moreover, the basin is notorious for its biodiversity and numerous marine protected areas. The blue economy offers lucrative business opportunities, particularly if the culture of innovation is embraced leading to blue jobs creation. Many maritime industries are lacking people with the right qualifications, skills and experiences thus experiencing skills gaps. Consequently, it is crucially important that employers, public authorities and associations join forces to design effective solutions to this situation if we truly want to benefit from the opportunities that the ocean offer us.
It is imperative that we realise that the blue economy will grow if our seas are healthy and secure. Our seas are rich and often underestimated source of innovation, growth and employment. They provide valuable ecosystem services and resources on which all marine activities depend. Rapid access to reliable and accurate information is vital in addressing threats to the marine environment, in the development of policies and legislation to protect vulnerable areas of our coasts and oceans, in understanding trends and in forecasting future changes. Likewise, better quality and more easily accessible marine data is a prerequisite for further sustainable economic development.
Since its creation in 2007, the Integrated Maritime Policy (IMP) has sought to enhance the sustainable development of the European maritime economy and to better protect the marine environment by facilitating the cooperation of all maritime players across sectors and borders. The IMP sets out a coherent strategy to enhance the sustainable development of maritime sectors. Coordination is necessary to manage the increasing impact of maritime activities on each other and on the environment, to ensure the safety and security of European citizens and to maintain a qualified workforce.
The economic potential of our seas is significant and it is vital to tap into our marine and maritime resources to steadily continue investing in the sector and achieving economic growth. Much consideration is increasingly being given to find the right balance between reaping the economic potential of our seas with the need to safeguard their longer-term sustainability.
Blue growth is the strategy endorsed by Malta as a source of economic growth, competitiveness, job creation and innovation, but also a strategy that offers sustainable growth in the marine and maritime sectors. Malta Marittima Agency, a government owned agency, is a staunch player to actively promote economic sustainable development of the marine domain while highlighting the importance of environmental protection, social responsibility and economic progress in line with the philosophy of the sustainable development goals.
Hence, Malta Marittima is committed to implement our national IMP in order to generate and maintain a sustainable maritime economy. The importance of the blue economy, particularly in view that the seas and oceans are being seen as a source of economic growth, job creation and innovation. The circular economy also contributes to create new opportunities for growth. This is possible if resources are kept in use for as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them while in use and then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of each service life.
In view of the diverse nature of maritime economic activities within the sector, Malta Marittima considers the importance of research and innovation in order to tap into the high growth potential of the blue economy.
Sharing of marine knowledge between stakeholders would not only play a vital role for blue growth but also encourage the promotion of common policies and cooperation among countries. Furthermore, skills and education are key drivers to drive innovation forward, as well as to tap into the potential of the blue economy in terms of jobs and investments. In this regard and in its endeavour to enhance the blue economy in Malta, the agency has specifically developed the national maritime clusters under the four economic pillars of the IMP that will enable the development and reinforcement of a sustainable blue economy.
A smart and resilient blue economy can only be attained through the adoption of a constant culture of innovation and knowledge sharing which ascertains sustainable competitiveness and economic activities. Investing in the blue economy also means investing in a sustainable economy.
If managed properly, our seas can account for significant economic growth in the years ahead, which makes it an opportunity not to be missed.
Jason Bongailas is senior manager at Malta Marittima Agency. The opinion expressed here does not necessarily reflect the position of the Malta Maritime Forum.
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