WHAT is “blue economy” and why is it important to us? Do we have a good understanding of what constitutes blue economy? These are questions I usually get when I mention the term in studies and consultations undertaken on the matter.
While the term is not widely used yet in Malaysia, the focus on blue economy has gained enormous momentum at the regional and international levels.
There is no single definition of blue economy but I like one provided by the World Ocean Summit in 2015 which described it as a sustainable ocean economy that emerges when economic activity is in balance with the long-term capacity of ocean ecosystems to support the activity and remain resilient and healthy.
An important issue of the blue economy is to understand and better manage the many aspects of coastal and oceanic sustainability, ranging from sustainable fisheries to ecosystem health to pollution. A second significant issue is to realise that the sustainable management of ocean resources requires collaboration among the different stakeholders and across the public-private sectors, and most likely on a scale that has not been previously achieved.
The blue economy concept has essentially evolved from the broader green movements and in a growing awareness of the threats imposed on ocean ecosystems by human activities such as overfishing, habitat destruction, pollution and the impact of climate change. It is increasingly gaining importance as governments adopt and implement a more sustainable balance between economic growth and maintaining ocean health.
In a broader sense, the concept should be able to show the critical role and contribution of ocean economic activities and coastal and marine ecosystems to national economies, provide evidence for a region-wide ocean policy and decision-making on related areas, and examine the benefits, costs and impacts at the international and local levels. These have created opportunities for industries to transit to more environmentally sustainable practices and for new and innovative investments to be focused into promoting and restoring ocean health.
Malaysia is located in the Indo-Pacific region with its coastlines bordering the Andaman Sea, Straits of Malacca and Singapore, Gulf of Thailand, South China Sea, Sulu Sea and Sulawesi Sea. The coasts and seas are part of the nation’s social, economic, security, cultural and natural parameters, which are interlinked and influenced by internal as well as external factors. These sectors are dynamic and continuously changing, providing goods and services and in turn being affected by their utility.
The seas surrounding Malaysia contain productive and diverse habitats with the major ecosystem being mangroves, coral reefs and sea grasses, among others. These are productive natural ecosystems that contribute significantly to human, food, economic and environmental security.
Malaysians benefit from the coastal and marine areas in various ways. The local communities are dependent upon healthy ecosystems and habitats which supply many species of plants, animals and microorganisms that provide food, medicines and other products for use on a daily basis. This, in part, explains why the Government has become a party to several multilateral environmental agreements such as the Convention on Biological Diversity.
Various studies focusing on the valuation of ecosystem services have been conducted to justify the interest in biodiversity protection on economic grounds. For instance, total economic valuation studies have been carried out in the major national marine protected areas, with the values recorded to be between RM39.6mil and RM3.6bil. The total value of ecosystem services for the country is projected to be about US$17.7bil.
The contribution of the ocean economy to the country’s GDP was valued at 23% in 2015 alone, with about 4% of the total employment share in the ocean sectors. Just a decade ago, the same was reported to be only about 13% of the country’s GDP.
The blue economy concept also focuses on development of the existing ocean sectors to further generate employment, promote entrepreneurship in new areas of economic activities, facilitate the inter-connectedness of the regional economy, and contribute to sustainable development and climate change mitigation.
Major priority areas identified include fisheries and aquaculture, ocean energy, ports and shipping, oil and minerals exploitation, and sustainable tourism activities through various platforms at the national and regional levels.
The ocean sector, which is crucial to Malaysia’s economy through its resources and ecosystem services that support trade and industries, requires proper management and conservation strategies to achieve maximum economic, environmental and social outcomes. This will involve participation from the relevant stakeholders and assessment of the physical and human resources required; investment in research, science and technology; collaboration; and review and formulation of policies.
Some of the initiatives that could be undertaken include developing a blue economy profile and conducting pilot studies of the ocean to help define and refine Malaysia’s conception of a blue economy, and promoting the use of ocean economy data in marine planning at the national level to facilitate further engagement by Malaysia with other countries in the region on related areas.
It is envisaged that blue economy initiatives would further drive sustainable development at the national level. The overall management of Malaysia’s seas should hence focus on balancing the need to continue or perpetuate the provision of goods and services from the sea while allowing for sustainable development.
CHERYL RITA KAUR
Head, Centre for Coastal and Marine Environment
Maritime Institute of Malaysia
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