Africa’s “blue world” is made up of vast lakes, oceans and rivers. The African Union (AU) calls the “blue economy” the “New Frontier of African Renaissance” and there’s been a lot of talk and forums focusing on it over the past year.
The so-called “blue economy” is not confined to fishing and tourism; it also includes things like transportation, deep sea coastal mining and energy.
Thirty-eight of Africa’s 54 states are coastal. The island nation of Mauritius, for example, is one of the smallest countries in the world. But it has territorial waters the size of South Africa, and lying on the ocean bed are potential sources of metals, minerals, and oil and gas.
A new offshore deep sea mining industry is already taking shape in Namibia, vacuuming diamonds from the ocean floor. Proponents see a sparkling future in the ocean, as onshore mineral deposits dry up.
While the blue economy has the capacity to provide desperately needed jobs, the challenge is all about how to exploit water resources in a sustainable way. As efforts get under way to exploit the continent’s ocean ecosystem, environmentalists are warning more research is required to shape policies.
So what’s behind the “blue economy” concept? Is it more than just the rebranding of marine exploitation?
“The blue economy is about using and utilising ocean resources sustainably, without damaging it … It’s problematic, but it’s still a long time into the future,” says Dr David Obura, the director of Coastal Oceans Research and Development in the Indian Ocean (CORDIO), East Africa.
According to Obura, it’s all about transformation. “We really need to transform the way sectors and countries plan among each other, and also appreciation by the economic and corporate powers that the value is generated from ecosystems or assets that can be damaged. And you need to manage them sustainably, just like you manage a hedge fund … so you don’t destroy it while you are exploiting it.”
Educating Africans about their marine resources is also an important aspect of transformation, according to Obura.
“The sea is still behind other priorities in most Africans’ minds and mentalities, from the countries down to the individuals – and we need to transform that. Awareness about climate change in the ocean connection, plastics and ocean pollution is leaping to the front in the last few years. We’re trying to ride the wave and get that awareness and get the education systems also building that into the curriculum.”