Caribbean Sea earns US$400B a year

But economic activity, pollution threats loom

Wednesday, September 14, 2016





A World Bank report released yesterday has put the economic value of the Caribbean Sea to the region — to include all its services, from fishing, transport, trade, tourism, mining, waste disposal, energy, carbon sequestration and drug development — at US$407 billion per year based on 2012 data, or just shy of 18 per cent of the region’s total GDP.

The figure, it concedes, is an underestimation because the region’s ocean economy to date "is not well measured or understood". Nonetheless, it is projected to nearly double by 2050. In tandem with that increase in economic activity and earning is a projected rise in the number of threats to the ocean from the very activities which it supports.


"In the Caribbean Sea, 70 per cent of beaches are eroded due to destroyed reefs, sea level rise, [and] excessive coastal development. Eighty per cent of living coral is now dead and lost, 85 per cent of wastewater is untreated and dumped into the sea. By 2030, plastics will surpass the weight of fish in the sea," said World Bank senior economist and co-author of the report, Pawan Patil.


The other authors were John Virdin, Sylvia Michele Diaz, Julian Roberts, and Asha Singh.


The team found, too, that 46,000 pieces of plastic are estimated to be afloat on every square mile of the ocean. That puts the Caribbean Sea’s US$5-billion annual trade, its 200,000 direct jobs, its 100,000 ancillary services, food security for 40 million coastal inhabitants, and over US$2 billion in dive tourism at risk.


"The goal, then, is to decouple economic growth from environmental decline," according to the report.


"The Caribbean needs the ocean as a source of wealth but it also needs to protect the ocean as a future source of wealth," World Bank Country Manager for the Caribbean Sophie Sirtaine said, stressing the need for the oceans to be sustainably developed.


She was speaking at the media launch of the report at the World Bank’s Washington office, in which journalists from the region participated via the Internet and phone.


The report, titled ‘Toward a Blue Economy: A promise for Sustainable Growth in the Caribbean,’ was released ahead of the third Our Ocean conference to be hosted by US Secretary of State John Kerry in Washington, DC, tomorrow and Thursday, and International Coastal Clean-up Day to be observed on Saturday.


It examines how the blue economy — loosely defined as the sustainable balance of economic earning activities with preservation of the natural environment — may be achieved in the region. Among its key recommendations are:


• Develop and strengthen regional and national policies to better integrate the governance framework for the Caribbean Sea. Clear, coordinated mechanisms for integrated coastal and ocean management implemented across relevant sectors such as fisheries, tourism, transport, energy, and environment will be essential.


• Implement policies for a healthy, resilient, and productive marine environment in the Caribbean
. Policies should explicitly reflect the principle that coastal communities’ livelihoods and the economy generally depend on the health of the oceans.


• Provide education and raise awareness about the blue economy
. Many small Caribbean states have chronic gaps in skills in marine research, planning, and decision-making. Professional training programmes will need to shift gears to meet this demand. For the countries’ populations at large, basic education about the ocean’s role in future prosperity will help raise awareness and create political will for needed changes.


• Ensure maritime surveillance, monitoring, and enforcement
. In many countries, illegal fishing by neighbouring states is a key concern. Small Caribbean states need to enhance capabilities to identify threats to their maritime space in a timely manner by sharing and integrating intelligence, surveillance, and navigation systems into a common operating picture. Regional cooperation on these issues will allow sharing of limited resources.


• Build the infrastructure for a blue economy. Improved coastal and port infrastructure is a critical asset for economic growth and development in Caribbean small states. Once constructed, it must be protected, notably from flooding and sea surges, given its frequent siting near sea level. Rather than fortifying these assets, a more affordable approach is often to restore natural barriers that reduce hazards of flooding and erosion.


• Support research and development for a blue economy
. Research & Development supports sustainable economic growth and job creation, as well as informed governance and regulation of the marine sector. At present, the region suffers from a general paucity of data relating to its waters. States would do well to buttress their own data collection and also to seek better access to the findings of the numerous international research vessels that cross the Caribbean Sea to carry out hydrographic/bathymetric surveys, biological sampling, and environmental characterisation.


• Support business development and sustainable finance. The region’s countries need policies to promote investment in existing blue economy enterprises and in new ones. In the island states, the greatest potential for value addition and job creation may be in small and medium-sized enterprises within the blue economy value chains. Finance for start-up and help with capacity and technology development will be crucial for these firms.


"The report highlights the opportunities offered by the Caribbean blue economy and identifies priority areas for action that can generate blue growth and opportunities for all Caribbean people, while ensuring that oceans and marine ecosystems are sustainably managed and used," said Sirtaine.


The analysis was conducted in collaboration with The Commonwealth Secretariat, the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States and the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University. Work started in April 2015.


"At 2.75 million square kilometres, the Caribbean Sea covers less than one per cent of the world’s ocean area, but is a crucial resource in the Caribbean, in particular for the 40 million people who inhabit its small island states," the World Bank said.


"The Caribbean Sea represents a tremendous economic asset for the region not only in terms of high-value natural resources such as fish stocks, oil and gas, but also as a global hot spot for marine diversity and tourism. Maintaining ocean health is synonymous with growing ocean wealth, and finding this balance is how we’ll be able to better invest in the Caribbean blue economy," Patil added.


The authors highlighted 10 principles for investment in a Caribbean blue economy and provide a framework for policymakers to set smart policy and measure economic and environmental benefits. They made reference to the sub-region of the Eastern Caribbean (EC), and described its Eastern Caribbean Regional Ocean Policy and Action Plan as a good first step, and profiled Grenada, the EC’s "first country to develop a vision for blue growth", which includes a high-value seafood export business to the US and nearby Martinique.


Yesterday, Patil said finance ministers and central bank governors from the wider Caribbean have approached the World Bank in support of the thrust towards developing the blue economy and that there was hope that the discussions will lead to a larger project that will include the rest of the region.


"It’s not too late to turn the tide of any of the unsustainable actions now being practised," Patil told journalists.


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