What if I told you I knew about a well-researched stock where for every $1 you invest, you’ll get at least $5 back? A return of 500%! You’d obviously invest, right? I’m not talking about something like bitcoin, or some sort of magical unicorn Silicon Valley tech startup. I’m talking about investing in a sustainable ocean economy. According to a Blue Paper commissioned by the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Economy (or the Ocean Panel as they are commonly known), that’s exactly the return countries around the world can get by investing $2 trillion-$3.7 trillion over the next 30 years. The Ocean Panel is a group of 14 Heads of State that recently released a final report on ocean solutions that benefit people, nature and the economy alongside an action agenda for how to get there. You can read more about the report in our recent blog.
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This high return on ocean investment, says the Blue Paper, comes from four key areas:
- Conserving and restoring mangroves: Nutrient-rich mangroves create safe habitats for fish, increasing their productivity. They also act as natural barriers from powerful waves, protecting coastal communities from dangerous storm surges caused by hurricanes while also sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.
- Scaling up offshore wind production: Renewable energy sources, like offshore wind, improve air quality and reduce the emission of climate change-causing greenhouse gasses. Their planning, construction and maintenance directly creates jobs for the communities they’re built in and around.
- Decarbonizing international shipping: Zeroing out the carbon emissions from ships would further decrease the prevalence of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere and reduce ocean acidification. Shipping produces more than a billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) and greenhouse gasses each year—that’s 3% of global emissions and more emissions than a G7 country like Germany.
- Increasing sustainable seafood production: Looking to our ocean for food will provide protein alternatives to those from land-based agriculture while creating new nutrient-rich food sources for a global population that is predicted to hit 9.7 billion people by 2050.
It’s no secret that the ocean is a powerful force, both environmentally and economically. Globally, the ocean provides 3.5% to 7% of the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and ocean-based industries contribute to about 31 million direct full-time jobs. For reference, the population of the United States is currently about 330 million. Just in the United States in 2018, the blue economy grew faster than that of the rest of the country, adding $373 billion to the national GDP and supporting 2.3 million jobs.
As a society, we tend to treat the ocean’s bounty like we’re pirates, despite how important it is to us. We show up and take what we want—whether it’s fish, minerals, oil or a plethora of other finite resources—and we leave. What we need to do is treat the ocean like we’re its guardians instead, where we work with and care for it so that we can enjoy the fruits of our labor—a healthier society, a healthier ocean, a healthier planet and therefore a stronger economy. This is how Indigenous communities around the world have always treated the land they live on and the ocean that supports them. We can learn from them and do it too.
There’s been a lot of talk about the public health crisis, joblessness and financial insecurity due to the COVID-19 pandemic and how to recover by building back better. Investing in our ocean can be the key to help our economy grow again after the virus is finally under control.
If we want to reap a return from the ocean we need to invest in it. This means an increase in coastal projects, sustainable ocean businesses, supporting people and communities and other activities that will require extensive ocean planning to reduce use conflicts. Luckily, the United States already has organizing bodies called Regional Ocean Partnerships (ROPs) which are in various stages of planning and addressing management challenges unique to their region. The Regional Ocean Partnership Act seeks to enable ROPs to receive federal funding to conduct scientific research, improve coastal resilience and address conservation and restoration management challenges. This legislation was highlighted in a recent report from the U.S. the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis that recommends policies that will help reign in climate change, many of which are ocean-centric and overlap with recommendations for a sustainable ocean economy made by the High Level Panel. If this bill becomes law, it will go a long way to secure more predictable funding to further advance collaborative, regional ocean efforts. Building on this, Ocean Conservancy has recommendations on climate mitigation for the Biden-Harris administration that will benefit the ocean and our communities.
Throughout history, people have said that the ocean is too big for us to hurt. They were wrong. Today some people have the audacity to say the ocean is too big for us to help. They are wrong too. If we invest in it well, acting as guardians for future generations instead of pirates, I think the ocean is just big enough to bail us out of the mess we’re in now and help us all have brighter and healthier futures. But that’s a choice we have to make.