Earth’s oceans have long been an important resource throughout thousands of natural evolution processes and human history. Life forms here on earth first emerged in the world’s oceans. It also has been a witness to many of the world’s greatest migrations, triumphant and devastating wars, and prosperous and rich civilizations. Today, our oceans remain pivotal to human survival. Thus, in 2012, the World Bank and United Nations gave emphasis on the importance of the “blue economy”.
71% of the Earth’s surface is made up of water, while the remaining 29% consists of land mass like the continents and islands. 96.5% of all the earth’s water is contained within the oceans as salt water and the 3.5% freshwater like lakes, rivers, ground water, and even frozen water in the glaciers and the polar caps.
Aside from being an important resource, the world’s oceans are also the home for millions of aquatic life forms and crucial in supporting the continuation of human life and progress and economic development. In fact, 50% to 80% of the world’s oxygen production comes from the oceans. In addition, the primary mode of transportation for global trade is through ocean shipping, making 90% of the world’s traded goods transported over the waves. That is why oceans are regarded as the one of the main arteries in today’s highly globalized economies.
As oceans cover over 70% of the world’s surface, it undeniably plays an indispensable role in regulating the world’ temperature. Serving as a heat reservoir, oceans absorb solar radiations and gradually release the necessary heat to drive atmospheric circulation influencing weather conditions and climate patterns.. Also, oceans absorb carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that causes human-induced global warming, from the atmosphere and store it for years to millions of years slowing down the devastating outcomes of the rising temperatures.
One of the most palpable benefits we humans get from our vast oceans is as a source of food from capturing fishing or culturing. This includes a variety of fishes, aquatic plants, marine mammals, and even seabirds. As a matter of fact, the world produces about 200 million tonnes of fish and seafood annually. This comes from wild fish catching and fish farming. Some of the world’s leading fish-producing countries are China, Indonesia, India, Vietnam and the United States.
These are some of the importance of our oceans. It spans from the continuity of all life forms to the continued development of human civilizations. However, despite all these, the world’s oceans face both natural and human-induced threats that, if not addressed in due time, will definitely cause great havoc. That is why in 2012, during the Rio+20 conference, many of the world’s nations recognized the relevance and importance of the blue economy concept.
Blue economy, driving sustainable development and promoting inclusive and long-term benefits
According to the World Bank, the “blue economy” refers to the “sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of the ocean ecosystem”. Blue economy covers various industries that directly or indirectly depend on the vastness of the seas. This includes fisheries, tourism, maritime transport, aquaculture, seabed activities, marine biotechnology, bioprosering, and the like.
The blue economy seeks to go beyond its usual business and economic benefits and starts to include ocean health to its priorities. It is without a doubt that this kind of endeavor requires a long-term strategy aimed at supporting sustainable economic growth through ocean-related sectors and activities. Thus, the blue economy is deemed to be relevant to all countries and can be implemented in different scales. In order to make this vision a reality, the blue economy must be supported and anchored to research-based policies.
One grave threat to the blue economy blueprint is the continued rising ocean temperature that is driven mostly by human-induced climate change. A blue economy approach underscores the impacts of climate change on marine and coastal ecosystems and how to mitigate it. Hence, the importance of the blue economy approach is not limited to what we do with our oceans but it also includes human activities that happen on land.
Various ocean threats, both natural and human-induced, like acidification, sea-level rise, higher water temperatures, changes in ocean currents, plastic pollution, overfishing, seabed mining, and illegal fishing methods like seabed or bottom trawling, among many others, are few of the concerns that certainly blue economy approach wants to address. Seabed or Bottom Trawling is one of the many unsustainable methods that causes destruction to marine life and ecosystem in general. It is a method of fishing that involves dragging heavy weighted nets down the seafloor to catch fish. It definitely favors commercial fishing companies as it can catch large numbers of products in consequence of the destruction of the ecosystem making the method divergent from sustainable practices.
Valuing the Blue Economy in the Philippine Context
These threats to ocean health are happening across the globe. However, the coastal cities and states are the most vulnerable to unsustainable ocean activities. The Philippines, an archipelago of more than 7,000 islands and has a total coastline of 38,289km, is not spared from its catastrophic aftermaths. Therefore, the blue economy approach necessitates the country to achieve greater heights.
According to a paper published by the Department of Foreign Affairs in 2017 titled Valuing the Blue Economy Using a Philippine Lens, the Philippines has a total coastal population (those living within 10km from the shore) of 55.26 million or 60% of the total population of the country and more than half of the cities and municipalities are regarded as coastal. That is why it is not surprising to note that the Philippines, 2018, is regarded as 8th top fish producing country with its total production of 4.35 million metric tons (MT) of various ocean/sea outputs.
Further to the foregoing discussion, according to the 2020 data reported by the Philippines’ Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), the fishing industry contributed 1.52% to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and provided around 2.08 million livelihood for Filipinos. These bountiful harvests resulted from the vast waters that the Philippines is blessed to have. The country has a total territorial water area, including our Exclusive Economic Zones, of 2,200,00 sq km.
The numbers provided above exclude other benefits from other ocean-related activities like tourism, offshore oil and gas, seabed mining, and marine transportation sectors in the Philippines. With that, we can further visualize how huge the ocean-related industries in the Philippines and how it contributes not just to the country’s economic development but more importantly, in transforming the lives of millions of Filipinos.
Hence, the blue economy in the Philippines provides important sources of livelihood and resources for the majority of Filipinos. The Philippine government’s definition of the blue economy is the “sustainable management of marine resources and the marine-linked sectors in the economy.” Only if the State agents and other stakeholders consider the fishing industry, tourism, trade and other economic activities combined with the necessary infrastructure and technology support, it is fair to argue that the industry has a huge potential to spur inclusive growth and development in the country.