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The Blue Economy: A South African perspective

By Nicole du Plessis, SAEON Egagasini Node
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Development of the ocean space is increasingly becoming seen as a means for developing countries to increase their economic growth.

The value of the ocean economy has been predicted to be as much as $24 trillion according to a study done by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

The ocean space is therefore increasingly coming under pressure as new technologies are making ocean exploration and extraction of resources more economically viable. Developing countries are starting to regulate activities in their national boundaries as well as becoming more actively involved in participating in regional and international policies and regulations such as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).


Defining the Blue Economy

As yet, there has been no definitive definition for the Blue Economy. The term was introduced into the mainstream by Gunter Pauli. His book, The Blue Economy: 10 years - 100 innovations - 100 million jobs, described 100 of the best nature-inspired technologies that could affect the economies of the world, while sustainably providing basic human needs - potable water, food, jobs and habitable shelter. Pauli's idea of the Blue Economy is a zero waste society by using all produced materials in a series of cascading industries.

More commonly, the term "Blue Economy" is being used interchangeably to mean the Oceans/Marine/Coastal Economy, although it is becoming increasingly recognised to mean the sustainable economic development of these spaces, i.e. uncoupling economic growth from environmental degradation.

Ecosystem services is a relatively new term which seeks to recognise the value that the natural world and various ecosystems hold. These services have been grouped into four broad categories:

  • Supporting services, e.g. primary production and soil formation;
  • Provisioning services, e.g. food and water;
  • Regulating services, e.g. climate regulation and purification of water; and
  • Cultural services, e.g. recreational use and heritage value.

One method of quantifying these services is Ecosystem Accounting, a new field which is being applied to the coastal and marine environments to emphasise the benefits of protecting the environment while developing potentially harmful ocean industries. This is a useful tool which allows one to attach a value to services provided by the natural environment - making it easier for many people to understand why protecting certain areas is beneficial.

Most recently the UN Economic Commission for Africa published Africa's Blue Economy: A Policy Handbook, which looks at a number of the challenges and opportunities presented within the marine environment and provides policy recommendations.

National and international policies

South Africa has developed the Oceans Economy initiative under Operation Phakisa (OP). This has seen all stakeholders in the country's ocean environment participate in a six-week lab to develop a roadmap (or in the case of OP, what is termed 3ft plans) for short, medium and long-term goals.

The Oceans Economy Lab was initiated in 2014. Very importantly, it was decided to include the development of ocean governance and protection services in the process, along with the various ocean industries including transport and oil and gas exploration (offshore mining was included within the OP Mining Lab and was not included in the Oceans Economy Lab).

This recognises that these various industries would have overlapping spatial uses as well as environmental impacts and, with the use of Marine Spatial Planning, seeks to minimise conflicts, determine the best use of the ocean space and determine which areas need to be protected to maintain ecosystem functionality.


Delegates at the 22nd Meeting of the Indian Ocean Academic Group held in Indonesia in October this year

With the primary objective being inclusive economic growth, the OP Oceans Economy initiatives are:

  • Marine transport and manufacturing activities (such as coastal shipping, trans-shipment, boat building, repair and refurbishment);
  • Offshore oil and gas exploration;
  • Aquaculture;
  • Marine protection services and ocean governance;
  • Small harbours; and
  • Marine and coastal tourism.

SAEON's role in Operation Phakisa

SAEON contributes to Operation Phakisa through hosting (at the Egagasini Node) the South African Marine Research and Exploration Forum (SAMREF) launched in January 2016, as well as participating in the development of various other initiatives such as the Ocean and Coastal Information Management System (O&C IMS) and Marine Spatial Planning (MSP).

South Africa forms part of the international Blue Economy community by way of its participation in the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), of which SA is currently the Vice-chair (taking over the chairship in 2017). SA was a founding member of IORA in 1997.

The Charter of IORA declares that the association seeks to build and expand understanding and mutually beneficial cooperation through a consensus-based, evolutionary and non-intrusive approach. In keeping with this spirit, there are no laws, binding contracts or rigid institutional structures.


Participants in the kick-start workshop held at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens in July 2015, which led to the development of SAMREF (Operation Phakisa Oil and Gas Initiative B3) (Picture: Johan Pauw)

South Africa initiated the Blue Economy Core Group through the IORA Special Fund and this is being led by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC). To date two workshops have been held, with a third scheduled for 2017. There has also been a Blue Economy Conference held in Mauritius in 2015, which focused on Fisheries and Aquaculture, Renewable Ocean Energy, Seaports and Shipping, and Seabed Exploration and Minerals.

The association has also produced a publication titled Prospects of Blue Economy in the Indian Ocean, which provides a summary of what the Blue Economy means for the region as well as a summary of the activities being conducted by various countries within the Indian Ocean region. With SA taking over the chairship of IORA, the South African Chapter of the Academic Group has been re-established, with SAEON's Egagasini Node hosting the Secretariat (with the positions of Vice-chair and Coordinator at the Node).

With the development of the ocean environment and increased recognition not only to develop economic industries but also environmental protection capabilities within a Blue Economy framework, SAEON is well positioned to contribute to the national and regional dialogues in the ocean environment as well as provide students and researchers with opportunities in an ever expanding field of marine science.

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