Our lives, and global commerce, are inextricably linked to the ocean that surrounds us. More than one-third of the earth’s population — nearly 2.4 billion people — live within 60 miles of an oceanic coast. Hundreds of millions of jobs are supported by maritime economic activity, and waterways carry some 90 percent of international trade. According to the World Economic Forum, the gross marine product of the ocean is $2.5 trillion per year, making it the world’s eighth-largest economy.
The ocean not only sustains our livelihoods, it also sustains life. It helps to slow climate change by absorbing 30 percent of carbon dioxide emissions and 90 percent of the excess heat trapped by greenhouse gases, both crucial as our planet gets increasingly hotter.
The well-being of our planet and of our economy is predicated on the health of the ocean. Companies must protect it from overfishing, pollution, habitat loss, and climate change. In recent years, organizations including the World Bank, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the United Nations, and the US Economic Development Administration have explored the development of sustainable business opportunities that support the “blue economy” in such industries as shipping, fisheries, aquaculture, tourism, and energy production. Crucially, these initiatives focus on the renewable use of ocean resources and preserving the health of marine and coastal ecosystems.
Humanity will be in dire straits if we can’t find a way to responsibly manage this essential natural resource.
Companies must recognize the importance of the blue economy, acknowledge the danger of exploiting the ocean, and admit that it is our duty to protect it at all costs. We are interconnected by oceans of blue and not divided by political boundaries. Our efforts must be multijurisdictional. They should cross sectors and international borders, drawing from the deep well of knowledge across government, academia, science, and business communities.
The US Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy recently announced funding for research projects with potential to make a large-scale difference, including technologies that turn the ocean’s spontaneous motion into energy, and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution announced its Vision 2030 pledge to advance ocean science for the global good.
Meanwhile, thanks to a grant provided by the US Department of Energy, Hull is working with Aegis Technology Inc. to develop a tidal turbine system that can supply power to charging stations for electric vehicles and boats. Researchers at Resolute Marine Energy are focused on using wave power as the fuel for autonomous underwater vehicles and desalination systems. Littoral Power Systems of New Bedford uses water currents and a catch system to collect plastic debris in rivers before it enters the oceans.
And recently, UMass Amherst released the results of its Phase 1 study of the North Shore Blue Economy and a vision for the next decade, including sustainable fisheries, offshore wind farms, and growing a network that brings together the area’s life sciences, marine science, and technology leaders to provide training and research and development for innovative opportunities. The New England Aquarium is collaborating with partners around the world to protect this delicate ecosystem, and its scientists advise some of the nation’s largest seafood companies on methods to enhance the sustainability of commercial fisheries.
We can make a difference by working together to invest in our greatest global asset, setting standards and policies that protect the blue economy, and tackling climate change.
While many investment efforts today are focused on green initiatives, business leaders should look at the economy and opportunities through a new lens. Take an active role in strengthening the blue economy by reimagining global supply chains that aim to protect this precious resource, aligning with local authorities to take a stance on pollution, illegal fishing, and other imminent matters such as designating marine protected areas and minimizing ocean noise, while investing in programs and coalitions that support marine conservation.
The ocean is vast, but so is our power to make a difference.
Jane Steinmetz is the managing principal for Ernst & Young LLP’s Boston office.