Photo Credit: Sacha Styles

Oceans play various, yet important, roles in our daily lives. But when it comes to waste, oceans have been that drawer everyone has at home, the so-called “out of sight, out of mind” zone. This behaviour, so common in our households, has dramatic proportions in the oceans.

For a long time, we have believed oceans were so vast that waste couldn’t have a negative impact upon them. Well, apparently, we are wrong.

Our economic footprint is materially damaging the oceans to an extent never realised before. An increasing number of various studies confirm the presence of microplastics in wildlife, which apart from the obvious negative effects, contributes to sunblocking, higher sea-water acidity in our oceans, indirectly killing important ecosystems such as coral reefs.

In return, we are now raising questions, so far unanswered, on the potential effects of microplastic presence on the food chain and ultimately to human health.

Plastic, we have a problem.

Source: Alfred Wegener Institute — Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research

Plastics are a material with unrivalled functionality aligned with a low production cost. Despite many different applications, the most common one is packaging, which makes up 26% of total global production. This material, when produced in a linear supply model, has a lower production cost when compared to recycling, which leads to disposal. Due to that reason, plastic-based materials are currently the number one ocean polluter. It is estimated that between 8–9 million tonnes of plastic end up in the ocean every year. This staggering amount comes only from land-based industries, but if we take into account the debris from fisheries, experts suggest this might reach 12 million tonnes every year.

Eunomia — Plastics in the Marine Environment Report (2016)

It means that, on average, everyone in the entire world population each contributes over 1kg of plastic to pollute the oceans every year, regardless of everyone’s recycling efforts.

According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, it is estimated that over 150 million tonnes are currently drifting in the oceans. In a business-as-usual scenario, by 2025 (not so far away) oceans will contain 1 tonne of plastic for every 3 tonnes of fish, and by 2050, there will be more plastics than fish. This is, simply, catastrophic. If no actions are taken at a consumer, business and government level, we are materially putting the world at stake as we know it.

Waves of Change

A shift from a linear approach to a circular supply chain framework is seen by many as an effective way to fight ocean pollution, and set some of the cornerstones for the next generation of the ocean economy — a model that minimizes human impact whilst empowering the oceans as a route for economic development and growth.

Oceans have an undeniable economic and cultural value. A few key fact indicators shared last year by OECD demonstrated that:

  • More than one-third of the global population lives in coastal communities
  • Ocean-based industries employ up to 31 million people around the globe
  • 90% of international freight is carried by sea

The Blue Economy

The next generation ocean economy could more than double its contribution to the global value added, reaching $3 trillion. The value increase is estimated to be fostered by maritime and coastal tourism, offshore wind energy and port activities.

The main challenge these businesses face is the fact that they need to embrace sustainability, in order to prevent the degradation of the natural element that is vital for their proposition.

The ocean-based industries need to promote ocean health to create wealth. As such, the growth of the ocean economy can’t be achieved without developing sustainable practices.

Maritime and coastal tourism

© The Nature Conservancy

Understanding the oceans’ economic value can allow us to extract the most out of it. According to Ocean Wealth, the lifetime value of a single shark can reach up to $1.9 million, meaning they need to have enough food supply to generate this level of return. As such, an overfishing control policy in particular regions can materially help the fishing communities with other revenue streams coming from tourism.

Sustainable Ports

Photo Credit: Shaah Shahidh

Ports and harbours are the starting point of globalisation as we know it today and are synonymous with economic prosperity. They usually represent a huge economy hub network with a very strong presence in any supply chain, meaning they have a great persuasion power on effectively driving change towards a more sustainable economy.

Although shipping is considered to be one of the most energy-efficient modes of transportation, with increased energy efficiency and reduced emissions, the shipping industry continues to pursue strategies to reduce emissions worldwide. Following this strategy, the port of Vancouver has been doing some relevant work towards its vision of being the world’s most sustainable port. As part of their strategy focusing on economic prosperity, a healthy environment and engaging with communities, the port implemented valuable actions towards this vision. For instance, they started providing shore power which allows ships to turn off their engines while in port, an initiative which has saved 671 tonnes of fuel.

Offshore Wind Energy

Wikimedia Commons

The offshore wind energy industry is expected to increase up to 8% by 2030. The technology improvements registered in the last years have made it possible to install wind turbines offshore and, benefiting from higher wind speeds, offshore wind power’s electricity generation is higher per amount of capacity installed.

The UK is currently at the forefront of this industry, having installed in its network seven out of the top ten most powerful wind farms in the world. The ambitious strategy to set the country as an industry leader had positive results, bringing more than 2GW of capacity online in the past 12 months. The objective is also to shape the supply chain network contributing to different stages of the product, increasing content contribution up to 35%.

Currently, offshore wind farms generate nearly 10% of UK’s electricity.


The future of the ocean economy very promising but requires additional strategic views on how to empower communities, demand more sustainable actions from their supply chains, and ultimately require from law-makers adequate policies to drive economic growth in the blue economy.

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