All hands on Deck - Sailors for the Sea

All hands on Deck

By: Maria Damanaki, Global Managing Director for Oceans, The Nature Conservancy | November 3, 2015

An opportunity for conservation and the economy

It’s a familiar story—one I’ve been told throughout the majority of my career: conservation and development can’t co-exist. Another version is that with the rapidly growing population and increasing demands on our planet’s natural resources, we’ll never be able to keep up.

The ocean is often considered the last frontier. And while we still have much to learn, and conditions to meet, I fully believe that healthy oceans and economic growth can coexist.

Today, one out of every 10 people depends on the ocean for their livelihood. 30% of the global population lives in coastal areas, and according to scientists at Texas A&M University, we can expect a 200% increase in the amount of urban land within coastal zones by 2030. Meanwhile, 16% of animal protein comes from the ocean. And we are hungry for more.

The world is increasingly looking to the ocean to provide more energy, more jobs, and more food, among other drivers of our economies. And investments are following these trends.

Ninety percent of global trade happens over the oceans, and shipping traffic is accelerating across the world, reflecting the growth of emerging economies and movement of natural resources. Investments in ports to accommodate bigger boats and faster turnaround times are being made today. The renewable energy sector is booming offshore as well, with investments in wind turbines expected to grow by a factor of 100 by 2030.

And, governments and development agencies are investing billions of dollars in coastlines around the world from New York to Indonesia in an effort to slow the impacts of sea level rise and to reduce risks to communities and infrastructure.

This development, be it for risk reduction or economic growth, will happen. And here lies both the challenge and the opportunity. These trends are a call to action. People are the biggest threat to our oceans when we pursue unregulated and uncontrolled growth, but we are also the biggest hope when we pursue thoughtful, science-based growth, inspired by sustainability.

This is about governments, industries and communities working hand-in-hand with conservation experts to shape these global trends and place what I call Blue Growth by Design on a sustainable trajectory. To do this, we must change our collective relationship with the ocean today.

Blue Growth by Design

Blue Growth by Design ensures conservation has a voice in ocean development — making the many connections between healthy oceans and other pressing global challenges including poverty, jobs, climate change and economic stability. If governments, industries and communities work hand-in-hand with conservation experts to shape these global trends, we can place blue growth on a sustainable trajectory. 

Grounded in science, we can make smart development decisions. We, as the human race, know less about what goes on beneath the surface of the water that takes up 70% of our planet, than we know about the surface of the moon. We have to face this challenge.

The Conservancy and our partners are conducting a first-of-its-kind mapping of the ocean’s full value to people, which can be seen at We are taking a fresh look at mangroves, reefs, seagrasses, and salt marshes in terms of jobs, food security, risk reduction, recreational revenue and other quantifiable functions. We are examining these values at local levels and in key coastal population centers around the world, where this information is needed to inform development decisions.

But nobody can do it alone – we must find new allies and financial drivers to ensure a thriving ocean economy for people and nature.

All Hands on Deck

In order to put the principles of Blue Growth by Design to work, we truly need all hands on deck. This is a moment for governments, communities, coastal planners, conservation experts and the private sector to work together to advance sustainable ocean development.

Our work in Grenada and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines in the Eastern Caribbean is a good example. We are working with government agencies, the Red Cross of Grenada and local communities to understand the role of nature in coastal protection, the local economy and disaster preparation and recovery. Together, we are restoring mangroves and coral reefs that slow storm waves before reaching the community, produce fish for local consumption and market and reduce erosion of local beaches. These solutions support the local economy and increase resilience of the community. This is Blue Growth by Design.

Also, earlier this year we announced a first-of-its-kind impact investment debt for Nature Swap between The Nature Conservancy, Seychelles Government and the Paris Club. The deal allows the country to redirect a portion of its current debt payments to fund much needed marine conservation, ocean-use planning and climate adaptation activities on the ground. This broad collaboration of stakeholders and organizations can put the Seychelles on a stronger sustainable path for growth, and is another example of how governments, communities, scientists and conservationists can work together.

And these principles can work on an even larger scale. When I took office in my previous role as the EU Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, only four fish stocks were being fished sustainably in the EU. Today 27 stocks are being fished sustainably. This was only possible through intensive collaboration between communities, fishers, the seafood industry and government leaders. If projections hold over the next five years, we could see 15 million more tons of fish in the sea, 30% more jobs and the equivalent of over US$2 billion in additional revenue.

This can work. And while we’ve still got a long way to go, these examples give me great hope for the future.

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