Developing ocean-based resources in areas such as fisheries, aquaculture, coastal tourism, transport and ports, mining and energy, could generate U.S. $20.8 billion a year for the 220 million people of the western Indian Ocean region, according to a recent report. But coastal and marine ecosystems will have to be preserved, and the adverse effects of climate change combatted if this potential is to be realised.
Emma-Jane Fuller and Romy Chevallier of the South African Institute of International Affairs set the scene for an important conference on the region's "blue economy" which begins in Mozambique on Thursday.
Uniting around a global call to see oceans managed more sustainably, more than 500 people are gathering in Maputo this week to attend an international oceans conference hosted by the Government of Mozambique.
Envisaged to become a biennial event, this international dialogue will explore opportunities to expand the " blue economies" of countries in the western Indian Ocean region.
Stakeholders will engage in two-days of formal plenaries and side events related to "Growing blue - sustainable and shared exploitation of the ocean". The conference comes shortly after two major cyclones – Idai and Kenneth – brought devastation to large parts of Mozambique's coastal region, underscoring the vulnerability of the regional blue economy in light of climate threats and other risks.
Since the launch of the United Nations Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, specifically Goal 14 on the conservation and sustainable use of the marine environment, the oceans have become a key priority of many high-level discussions.
For example, Kenya's Blue Economy Conference, hosted in November last year, served as a catalyst for international, regional and local cooperation on the sustainable development of the region's oceans. At this event, participants discussed how best to make use of marine resources to improve human wellbeing and social equity, while maintaining and conserving healthy ecosystems.
The " blue economy" refers to the expansion of ocean-based industries and sectors to enhance economic growth and strengthen livelihood opportunities, without undermining the marine ecosystems that underpin social and economic benefits. It includes some of Africa's key income-earning sectors, such as small-scale and commercial fisheries, as well as aquaculture, coastal tourism, transport and ports, mining and energy.
The western Indian Ocean region is home to more than 220 million people, many of whom depend directly or indirectly on fishing, marine resources and maritime trade for their livelihoods. More than 60 million of these people live within 100km of the coastline.
Based on extensive research by the World Wildlife Fund and others, the direct outputs, services and adjacent benefits associated with the ocean and its coastlines in the western Indian Ocean region have been estimated to represent a total asset value of at least US $333.8 billion, with an annual "Gross Marine Product (GMP)" – the equivalent to a country's GDP – of U.S. $ 20.8 billion. The statistics make clear why the African Union has heralded the blue economy as "the New Frontier of the African Renaissance" .
Recent decades have witnessed a sharp increase in the degradation of important coastal and marine ecosystems, mainly due to growing populations, overfishing, changes in land use, pollution and destructive coastal development, all of which exert significant pressures on the natural environment.
An optimally-functioning blue economy will rely on conserving the natural value of the ocean and on the health and integrity of the region's marine and coastal ecosystems. However, the value of these ecosystems in strengthening resilience to the impacts of climate change is still largely absent from blue economy discussions and policy strategies.
As seen when the recent cyclones hit Mozambique, the country's coastal towns and cities are ill-equipped to deal with the magnitude and frequency of the climate change-related events expected under current and future scenarios. It is of the upmost importance that African coastal states urgently develop solutions that respond to the range of likely climate impacts the region will face.
In fact, the very marine and coastal ecosystems threatened by climate change can themselves be part of the solution. Adaptation based on ecosystems involves using biodiversity and ecosystem services to help people to adapt to the adverse effects of climate change. Such adaptation involves managing ecosystems to enhance their resilience to climatic shocks and stresses – maintaining, and where possible improving, the quality and quantity of ecosystem services they provide to society – and in so doing, helping human communities adapt to current and future climate risks.
As countries in the western Indian Ocean region gear up for a sustainable blue economy, there is an urgent need for effective tools to strengthen the resilience of coastal and marine biodiversity, to regulate sustainable resource use and to protect the livelihoods of millions of people.
To achieve this, approaches such as ecosystem-based, integrated resource management and coastal and marine spatial planning need to be used to promote sustainable blue economy pathways in the region. These will include designating and expanding marine protected areas and other priority areas for conservation, the restoration and rehabilitation of marine and coastal ecosystems, as well as the inclusion of community-based models for sustainable management.
The main funding partner of the Mozambique event, Norway, is internationally recognised for its leadership in developing its own blue economy and supporting global ocean governance efforts. In 2017 Norway presented its first national Ocean Strategy and White Paper, placing oceans at the centre of its foreign and development policy. The country has recently committed U.S. $200 million to support addressing marine plastic pollution and has also spearheaded the establishment of a global high-level panel to consider challenges facing the oceans.
Achieving a vibrant and resilient blue economy will require cooperation, not only regionally but also more broadly. The "Growing Blue" conference in Maputo is a crucial step in coordinating local, regional and global efforts to address a range of exciting opportunities and critical challenges related to the sustainable governance of the oceans.
Follow #GrowingBlue to keep up to date with the conversations at Maputo's Growing Blue Conference.
Emma-Jane Fuller is a Konrad Adenauer Stiftung Masters scholar at the South African Institute of International Affairs and Romy Chevallier is a senior researcher with the institute's Governance of Africa's Resources programme.