Key opportunities to boost growth in the Caribbean Sea

A World Bank report released a few weeks ago examines how the transition to a ‘blue economy’ for Caribbean countries can not only generate growth, but also help countries gain greater resilience to external shocks by better preserving the ocean.

“The Caribbean Sea represents a tremendous economic asset for the region not only in terms of high value natural resources such as fish stocks, oil and gas, but also as a global hotspot for marine diversity and tourism. Maintaining ocean health is synonymous with growing ocean wealth, and finding this balance is how we’ll be able to better invest in the Caribbean blue economy,” said Pawan Patil, World Bank Senior Economist and co-author of the report.

The report ‘Toward a Blue Economy: A Promise for Sustainable Growth in the Caribbean’ estimates that Caribbean waters generated US$407 billion in 2012, which represents more than 17 percent of Caribbean GDP, including mainland countries.  This amount mainly comes from cargo shipped through Caribbean waters, tourism and oil and gas production. In recent years, revenues from aquaculture have risen, but declined for open sea capture fisheries.

At the same time, the promise of growth is accompanied by increasing threats to the ocean environment. About 166 million people in the Caribbean live within 100 km of the sea. Tourists come to the region largely for its beautiful beaches and sea attractions, which puts tremendous pressure on the very coastal ecosystems that drive economies. About 75 percent of the region’s coral reef is considered to be at risk from human activity and 85 percent of wastewater enters the Caribbean Sea untreated.

“The report highlights the opportunities offered by the Caribbean blue economy and identifies priority areas for action that can generate blue growth and opportunities for all Caribbean people, while ensuring that oceans and marine ecosystems are sustainably managed and used,” said Sophie Sirtaine, World Bank Country Director for the Caribbean.

The authors highlight ten principles for investments in a Caribbean blue economy and provide a framework for policymakers to set smart policy and measure economic and environmental benefits. Report recommendations include eco labels to promote sustainable fishing practices and aquaculture; offshore winds and other marine renewable energy systems; and environmentally friendly coastal hotels.

In the Eastern Caribbean, Grenada is the first country to develop a vision for blue growth as the country’s future and has become a leader in the fight against climate change. The small Caribbean economy, also known as the “Spice Island”, has successfully developed a high value seafood export business to the US and nearby Martinique.

“Our Prime Minister has seen how important these tourism and fishing industries are for the people of Grenada, and is committed to ensuring that our oceans and environment are protected,” said Dr. Angus Friday, Grenada’s Ambassador to the United States.

Other small island states around the world such as the Seychelles and Mauritius have championed the blue economy and Eastern Caribbean countries have adopted a regional policy and action plan in 2013, which the World Bank is supporting.

The report suggests key priorities to help countries move toward a blue economy and broaden opportunities for the Caribbean people, while improving ocean health:

- Strengthening regional and national policies to better coordinate and monitor coastal and ocean management across sectors such as fisheries, tourism, transport, energy and environment. The Eastern Caribbean Regional Ocean Policy is a good first step, but more needs to be done to foster integrated planning for establishing geographical zones of sea uses and protecting ecosystems.

- Implementing smart policies to promote a healthy, resilient and productive marine environment, as well as build resilient infrastructure: Maintaining coral reefs and biodiversity is critical for the sustainable development of tourism and fisheries. More climate resilient coastal and port infrastructures are also essential for improving connectivity and competitiveness in small island economies, vulnerable to extreme weather events and natural hazards.

- Promoting investment in blue economy enterprises: Start-up finance with better capacity and technology development will be essential to support small blue economy businesses and generate ‘blue jobs’.

- Raising awareness about the blue economy: This will not only require creating the awareness and political will needed for the transition toward a blue economy, but also identifying future skill needs, and developing educational and vocational training to meet this demand.

The analysis was conducted in collaboration with key partners including The Commonwealth Secretariat, the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States and the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University.