The world’s oceans and coasts – the Blue World – are the cornucopia for humanity. They provide us with food, oxygen and livelihoods. Most of the world’s international trade travels by sea. Sea floors yield important minerals, sand and gravel. Technology is beginning to tap new sources of energy from ocean tides, waves and wind. Coastal habitats provide firewood, fibres and other resources, are natural carbon sinks and protect from storms and surges. Ocean views have been shown to improve people’s wellbeing and are an important reason homes near the sea have higher value. Tourism that relies on clean beaches, safe water and abundant marine wildlife provides many ocean communities with jobs, income and foreign exchange. Ocean recreation offers both market and non-market benefits to residents and visitors of the coasts.
Throughout the course of history, humans have been drawn to coastal areas to enjoy the bounty of the sea. Oceans and coasts are the foundation of much of the world’s economy and the cultures of many peoples. As much as 40 per cent of the world’s population now lives within 100 km of the shore line. Many of the world’s great cities, markets and industries have risen along the coast because of access to trade and resources. Next to marine fisheries, traditional economic sectors like shipping, power generation and manufacturing are often concentrated in coastal areas. Only recently, however, have we started to understand the economic importance of the ecological health of our seas. Ocean and coastal habitats, species, and ecosystems support natural capital and economic flows, together referred to as ecosystem services, which may
rival global market output in terms of sheer economic value.
Harmonising traditional economic activity
and ecosystem-dependent economic values is a challenge we must address. Because of the fluid nature of the ocean, coastal and marine industries cannot be isolated from the watersheds and ocean ecosystems in which they operate. Economic activities near the sea and even far away have damaged the integrity of oceans and coasts. Human impacts on coasts and oceans have destroyed 20 per cent of mangroves and now put more than 60 per cent of tropical coral reefs under immediate, direct threat. Today, more than 30 per cent of the world’s fish stocks are overexploited, depleted or recovering from depletion, and over 400 oxygen-poor “dead zones” exist in the world.
The decline in the ecological health and economic productivity of the world’s oceans can be reversed by shifting to a greener, more sustainable economic paradigm in which human well-being and social equity are improved, while environmental risks and ecological scarcities are reduced. Technological advances now permit more profitable industrial output with fewer environmental impacts. Research shows that many ocean industries and businesses benefit directly from cleaner, more ecologically robust marine ecosystems. Market mechanisms and innovative agreements now exist to provide financial incentives for people to protect economically valuable marine ecosystem services that traditionally have fallen outside the market. Policies and collaborative solutions are