Caribbean countries such as Belize are heavily dependent on their marine resources. At the same time, Caribbean societies are faced with many developmental needs but they have not fully harnessed the bounty of the sea. There is an opportunity at the moment to develop a blue economy that not only provides economic benefits but also help to maintain and improve the health and integrity of marine ecosystems.
There is a growing number of Caribbean states who are expressing their desire to explore policies for a blue economy in the region. The Outcome Statement from the Caribbean Regional Dialogue held in 2015 in Washington D.C. attended by regional finance ministers and Central Bank governors notes that “developing the Caribbean Blue Economy offers strong potential for the Caribbean region and its member countries to help broaden output, exports, employment and revenue and to benefit from the array of assets and opportunities offered by the Caribbean Sea.
What is the blue economy? The blue economy is made of up of economic activities that either take place directly in the ocean, or use outputs from the sea for consumption or as a source of income. The blue economy is defined as a sustainable ocean economy that balances economic activity with preserving the long-term capacity of healthy coastal and marine ecosystems.
The blue or ocean economy already provides small countries like Belize with many and varied goods and services and economic benefits. For instance, our biggest industry, tourism, is for the most part a marine based industry, dependent on healthy marine resources such as fish stocks and coral reefs. The Caribbean Development Bank points out though that "while a number of blue economy initiatives can be highlighted within the Caribbean, the scope and scale remain below the potential, mainly because the blue economy has not been formally recognised as an important economic driver. Leveraging a blue economy strategy will allow Caribbean countries to more effectively drive the triple bottom line of sustainable development: Growing the economy, protecting the environment, and advancing social well-being.”
Capitalizing on newer areas of the blue economy, such as using the oceans to generate energy, and bio-medicine could help drive economic growth in the Caribbean region including Belize. Moving into newer areas of investment however will require having the right and proper policies in place. Also, financing investments in key blue economy areas such as sustainable infrastructure or research and development remains a significant challenge for Caribbean countries with a narrow economic and tax base, and in many cases high public debt. Private investors would be willing to put money into well-structured deals, but the region needs to create a unified policy to drive the sector and make it easier for people to invest.
Grenada, which has 26,000 sq kms (10,000 sq miles) of ocean within its territory has become the first Caribbean nation to develop a Blue Economy Master Plan. The concept being discussed is now emerging as a new development paradigm for the sustainable development of our oceans and responds directly not just to the UN Sustainable Development Goal 14 but also to the need for economic growth and development of coastal and ocean dependent countries including Small Island Developing States (SIDS). The World Bank, the Caribbean Development Bank and the UNDP are committed to supporting Caribbean countries in their transition to a blue economy. Canada will later this year in November co-host the Global Sustainable Blue Economy Conference along with the Government of Kenya, in Nairobi.
In general, Belize has all the components of a blue economy. It has been a leader in the Caribbean on the sustainable management of it's natural resources though some challenges remain. To dive into a blue economy, Belize will need to develop robust and coherent policies and develop strategies that will develop new marine based industries while ensuring the health and integrity of its marine ecosystems. The current Growth and Sustainable Development Strategy is already a good step in the right direction. This will need to be modified and revised to reflect a stronger role for the blue economic in its growth strategy.