Jo Maniscalco
June 2024

#IESTurningtheTide: Systems thinking for a sustainable ocean – Blue Economy wrap-up

Overhead view of the ocean with a wave 2/3 of the way across. Superimposed with text reading "Blue Economy: wrap-up. #IESTurningTheTide." Bottom right corner features the IES and UN Ocean Decade logos.

The concept of the Blue Economy covers any and all activities taking place in the coastal and marine environment. This encompasses a wide range of activities, including fisheries and aquaculture, maritime transport, renewable energy (such as offshore wind and tidal), tourism, seabed mining, marine biotechnology, and oil and gas too. Given the range of activities that constitute a Blue Economy, the term itself is used in various different ways, taking many forms with different impacts – be that a sustainable Blue Economy or a more extractive version. 

Globally, the Blue Economy is gaining significant attention as countries and international organisations recognise the value of the world's oceans. According to the UNDP, the value of marine and coastal resources and industries is estimated to be worth $3 trillion per year, contributing around 5% of global GDP. 

For the third theme of our UN Ocean Decade endorsed project, Turning the Tide: Systems thinking for a sustainable ocean, we focused on the Blue Economy where we explored various topics in more depth, bringing together the marine and coastal community through a number of online events.

In our first event in this theme, we heard from Professor Colin Moffat who shared details of the Scottish Government's Blue Economy approach for the management of the marine environment, as well as The OSPAR Convention's recent commitment to accounting for natural capital and ecosystem services.

The reach of the Blue Economy extends beyond those solely working within the marine and coastal science sector, and building interdisciplinarity is a key tool in enabling successful delivery of Blue Economy projects. We focused on doing this through hosting an online speed networking event in collaboration with Ocean Partnerships, with an introduction from Dr Kathryn Fradera who covered why getting out of our own headspaces and challenging the assumptions we have about how other disciplines and sectors work can help us all work together to solve the environmental challenges we are facing. 

For our next event, we took a closer look at the environmental impacts of deep-sea mining, a highly contentious topic in which there is growing interest globally. We partnered with the iAtlantic programme to hear about their latest research, and published an analysis piece covering an overview of the discussion

Finally, we held a roundtable discussion bringing together Blue Economy experts from across research, industry, public/civil bodies and NGOs to discuss key topics related to the Blue Economy.  

Key drivers needed to support the transition to a sustainable Blue Economy 

Our final event for the theme was a roundtable discussion held in collaboration with Ocean and Coastal Futures (OCF). The event was chaired by David Tudor from OCF, and featured four expert panelists who explored the role of the blue economy in achieving a sustainable ocean:

  • Dr Claire Evans, Research Fellow at the National Oceanography Centre 
  • Dr Nicholas Hardman-Mountford, Head of Oceans and Natural Resources at the Commonwealth Secretariat
  • Louise Heaps, Lead, Sustainable Blue Economy (Global) at WWF
  • James Merchant, Marine Natural Capital Analyst at Marine Conservation Society

The key areas of discussion are summarised below:  


What next?

The final theme of our work on the Turning the Tide project looked at Marine Conservation and Restoration. We have already hosted the events for this theme, and will shortly be posting a wrap-up piece to summarise everything that was covered.

Ways to get involved