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Blue Growth in Europe

Is Blue Growth compatible with achieving Good Environmental Status?

The ‘Blue Economy’ or ‘Blue Growth’ is a term that everyone seems to be talking about in the marine world. It refers to the sustainable economic development of the oceans and has established itself as a popular policy concept, especially in the Small Island Developing States (SIDS), the APEC nations and the European Union. The concept is growing in popularity, having spread to India, Africa and beyond.

It is considered by many as the hope and the future for the marine economy. For developing island and coastal nations, the concept of the sea as an expanding source of wealth is extremely appealing. These nations need economic growth, and they look to the blue economy as a key element in their strategies for raising the living standards of their peoples. In the wealthy and industrialized world, the story is different. The sea offers the potential to maintain current economic and industrial patterns by providing new resources to replace and augment those on land — which in some cases are becoming exhausted or too expensive to obtain.

aquaculture blue growthAccording to the EU, ‘Blue Growth’ will harness the potential of Europe’s oceans seas and coasts for jobs, value and sustainability. Through a number of studies undertaken for the Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (DG MARE), it has been estimated that blue growth could help to increase the number of maritime jobs in the EU from 5.4 million in 2012 to approximately 7 million in 2020, with Gross Value Added from the maritime sector increasing from around €500 billion to €600 billion over the same period.

DG MARE is focusing its efforts on five main sectors that it thinks will contribute the most to this growth – aquaculture, coastal tourism, ocean energy (including wave, tidal and other sources) seabed mining and blue biotechnology (using marine organisms for pharmaceutical products).

But will economic growth come at the expense of the marine environment? The sectors listed above, and many other maritime industries such as shipping and fishing are known to have negative impacts on the environment, or have the potential to threaten the achievement of Good Environmental Status required under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive.

We spoke to Haitze Siemers from the European Commission, DG MARE about its role in supporting blue growth and on making sure any growth is sustainable:

It is clear that we need to approach the development of the blue economy very carefully. Europe’s seas are already under significant pressure from over-exploitation, pollution, ineffective management and climate change. Irresponsible or unsustainable growth will inevitably cause greater damage.

Research and innovative technology have a vital role to play in ensuring that any future growth in the marine environment will be sustainable and not cause damage to vulnerable species or habitats.

Effective implementation of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive and the Maritime Spatial Planning Directive will also be crucially important in ensuring that the cumulative impacts of growth in certain industries are considered and that biodiversity is not put at risk.

To have a truly sustainable blue economy safeguarding biodiversity is imperative – a healthy marine economy needs healthy seas.