Blue Growth is a new strategy recently launched in the EU, wherein seas and oceans are seen as drivers of the European economy. It represents about 5.4 million jobs and is expected to generate a gross added value of almost €500 billion a year. Shipping, coastal and cruise tourism, offshore wind, shipbuilding, aquaculture and blue biotechnologies are considered to be some of the most promising sectors of the Baltic Sea maritime economy.
Last week, I attended the 5th Annual Forum of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region and the Baltic Development Forum Summit hosted by the City of Turku in Finland. Most of the sessions were related to this strategy, as well as to smart solutions and innovation.
Oddly enough, business people and economists used the same terminology in their presentations that I often use when discussing the future of the Baltic Sea, like “thriving ecosystems”, “natural capital” and “resilience,” but it quickly became evident that their context was completely different from mine. While I talked about the value of the natural world , they discussed finance and economic growth. I did not hear a single speaker express concern about:
1) The fact that we live in a world of limited natural resources;
2) The notion that continued growth may not be possible; or
3) That our marine environment has deteriorated to a point that it is already challenging the way we live.
A recent study commissioned by WWF concluded that a healthy Baltic Sea has the potential to produce €32 billion more than if we just continue with business as usual. This also means it has the potential to produce over half a million more jobs.
The continuing decline of the state of the sea will result in potentially irreversible losses, and undermine any economic predictions that are founded in the restoration of healthy ecosystems. It’s hard to imagine why these issues aren’t of concern to those pushing an economic agenda. I am saddened to say that besides the superficially similar terminology they used, I feel that we couldn’t be further apart with our views.
Oceana believes that the only solution for profitable and sustainable blue economies is the kind that is built on healthy ecosystems. I had a chance to present this view to the private sector in the only session dedicated to the value of the Baltic Sea; by discussing the benefits of marine protected areas. In addition to the fact that that all Baltic Sea creatures and habitats deserve to be protected in their own right, we also need to have a healthy sea in order to have sustainable economies and profitable fisheries in the future. We need clean waters, clean beaches, and non-poisonous fish to eat in order to maintain the various recreational uses of the sea, which also could have huge economical potential.
A restored Baltic Sea would be worth so much more than it is in its current state.