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Defining the blue economy

There are many different definitions of what the blue economy is. This article discusses their differences and similarities.
Digital illistrations showing sectors of the blue economy: aquaculture, marine biotechnology, fisheries, coastal tourism, ocean energy and marine infrastructure and transport

Blue economy

The ‘blue economy’ is an emerging concept that encourages sustainable utilisation, innovation and stewardship of our ocean and its life-giving ‘blue’ resources. In this activity, you will learn about the concept of the blue economy and how New Zealand is applying their blue economy mission.


Different ways to express the same values – According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the “sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem.”

  • European Commission defines it as “All economic activities related to oceans, seas and coasts. It covers a wide range of interlinked established and emerging sectors.”
  • The Commonwealth of Nations considers it “an emerging concept which encourages better stewardship of our ocean or ‘blue’ resources.”
  • Conservation International adds that “blue economy also includes economic benefits that may not be marketed, such as carbon storage, coastal protection, cultural values and biodiversity.”
  • The Center for the Blue Economy says, “it is now a widely used term around the world with three related but distinct meanings- the overall contribution of the oceans to economies, the need to address the environmental and ecological sustainability of the oceans, and the ocean economy as a growth opportunity for both developed and developing countries.”
  • A United Nations representative recently defined the Blue Economy as an economy that “comprises a range of economic sectors and related policies that together determine whether the use of ocean resources is sustainable. An important challenge of the blue economy is to understand and better manage the many aspects of oceanic sustainability, ranging from sustainable fisheries to ecosystem health to preventing pollution. Secondly, the blue economy challenges us to realise that the sustainable management of ocean resources will require collaboration across borders and sectors through a variety of partnerships and on a scale that has not been previously achieved. This is a tall order, particularly for Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and Least Developed Countries (LDCs) who face significant limitations.” The UN notes that the Blue Economy will aid in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals, of which one goal, 14, is “Life Below Water”.
  • Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge Team in New Zealand defines the Blue Economy as “Marine activities that generate economic value and contribute positively to ecological, cultural and social wellbeing.”

The global blue economy

The sun's glint beams on the South Pacific Ocean viewed from space

In the old ‘business-as-usual’ model, nations develop their ocean economies through the exploitation of maritime and marine resources. Often, they don’t pay adequate attention to the effect of these activities on the future health or productivity of the same resources and the ocean ecosystems in which they exist. The ‘blue economy’ concept provides a more holistic vision that embraces economic growth – when it is sustainable and does not damage other sectors. Similar to the ‘green economy’, the blue economy brings human wellbeing, social equity and environmental sustainability into harmony.

The blue economy embraces economic opportunities. But it also protects and develops more intangible ‘blue’ resources such as traditional ways of life, carbon sequestration and coastal resilience in order to help vulnerable states mitigate the devastating effects of poverty and climate change.

The worldwide ocean economy is valued at around US$1.5 trillion per year, making it the seventh largest economy in the world. It is set to double by 2030 to US$3 trillion. The total value of ocean assets (natural capital) has been estimated at US$24 trillion.

A recent report from the Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge project demonstrates that New Zealand has the potential to generate a unique and world leading blue economy that generates national income gains through a focus on livelihoods, community values and ecosystem health.

For those interested in the future of the oceans, the idea of a blue economy has provided new terminology in which many different groups can join a constructive debate about sustainable development.

Blue Economy

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

This video shared by the European Commission discusses the blue economy, with the aim to foster blue growth in a smart, sustainable and inclusive way.

Similarities and differences

In the comments section below, share if your country’s government defines the blue economy differently. Share any thoughts or ideas that might explain these differences in terminology. Do you think there be benefits or disadvantages in having multiple definitions?


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Blue Tomorrow: Understanding the Blue Economy

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