Table of Contents

  • The Commonwealth has 2.2 billion citizens, many of whose livelihoods and food security depend upon the world’s oceans, seas and coastal areas – the largest ecosystem on the planet. In the years following the 2012 Rio Summit, we have witnessed a marked increase in international awareness of the oceans’ potential as a key driver of sustainable economic growth. This contribution was subsequently ratified by the international community’s adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals in September 2015. Goal 14 specifically recognises the critical contribution the ocean can make to the development of the smallest and most vulnerable nations. Furthermore, the emergence of the ‘blue economy’ concept demonstrates a set of practical strategies to ensure that economic activities do not compromise the long-term capacity of ocean ecosystems to support those activities, and remain resilient and healthy.

  • The ocean is an essential part of the world economy – from the uses made of ocean space, the social and economic values we attach to it, the important goods and services it supplies, to the activities it supports. Many small island developing states have jurisdiction over globally significant ocean areas, which typically far exceed their terrestrial footprint and are therefore dependent to a large extent on ocean resources and the sectors they support. Coastal and island nations, both large and small, are increasingly looking to their marine waters to bolster slowing growth in their terrestrial economies by exploring new opportunities for investment and employment.

  • The idea of using the sea for economic gain is hardly new. Island nations, in particular, have benefitted from their ocean resources for centuries, with marine uses and activities contributing significantly to their development and overall economies. These include a wide range of maritime sectors essential to both current and future economic development, including: capture fisheries; maritime transport and ports; coastal tourism; mineral exploitation; as well as the marine ecosystems and resources that support them. What clearly is new, however, is a growing appreciation of the critical role the oceans play in sustainable economic growth and, as a corollary, a growing appreciation of the need to better manage and protect coastal and marine ecosystems and resources that are the fundamental basis for that growth.

  • The ‘blue economy’ concept was first coined during the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Silver et al. 2015), (hereafter the ‘2012 Rio Summit’). It is an evolving concept that recognises the need to maximise the enormous economic potential presented by the ocean, while preserving it.

  • Small states are primarily located in the Caribbean, Pacific and Indian Ocean regions, and face distinctive challenges, some of which are inherent in their small size and geographical location. The economic costs to being small manifest themselves in a number of ways, including small domestic markets and limited export volume. Small size also restricts the number of activities these states can engage in, blunting economic diversification and returns to scale in both the public and private sectors (Easterly and Kraay 2000; Briguglio 2014). They also have a high unit cost for the provision of public services, including policy formulation, data collection and regulatory activities, all of which are key for developing an ocean economy. In addition, their small populations limit the potential pool of qualified civil servants, which are typically stretched handling large portfolios.

  • The blue economy is strongly dependent on a quality environment for the sustained supply of goods and services. This is particularly true in the case of small states. Over the past century, however, human use of the world’s ocean areas has increased exponentially, reflecting intensification of historical ocean uses (e.g. fishing and maritime transportation) and the emergence of new uses, such as the extraction of offshore oil and gas deposits, and seabed minerals. At a global level, heightened food insecurity and diminished economic opportunities are just some of the challenges faced by the world’s poorest people as a result of the overexploitation and poor management of the oceans (UNCTAD 2014).