Halifax-based research group eOceans has come up with a definition for the “Blue Economy” that only includes activities that are tied to ocean health.

Some academics and some experts in southern hemisphere countries use a similar definition, and eOceans would like to see it widely adopted, particularly among governments and businesses. The company believes the oceans community should clarify that the Blue Economy, the Green Economy, and the Ocean Economy are three separate things.

Founder and CEO Christine Ward-Paige gave the new definition as: “Activities where success is fundamentally tied to ocean health; other ‘Blue’ activities are not displaced; and there is sufficient data, understanding, and willingness to prioritize ocean health and community wellbeing”.

The company decided to create this definition in order to facilitate its own work. The venture builds systems that allow users to track aspects of the Blue Economy, including ocean issues and species.

“How we define the Blue Economy matters to how it is tracked and also how we prioritize and invest in it,” said Ward-Paige. “We needed to define which activities are Blue, and which can be moved along the gradient from Red to Blue.”

Ward-Paige said that in recent years, concern has been growing among academics about the loss of equity and environmental goals in the term "Blue Economy".

The concept arose at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit and became popular when large-ocean states proposed using it to support economic activities that integrate conservation and sustainable uses.

Over time, the term has changed to include most ocean activities, Ward-Paige said, and there is less emphasis on sharing benefits and profits with the community. 

For example: a huge mining or aquaculture site that pushes out and excludes, or degrades the conditions, so that no one else can fish or run their business would not be Blue..

In its own, widely used definition, The World Bank defines the Blue Economy as including transport, renewable energy, and waste management, which eOceans sees as problematic because these activities could cause a loss of ocean health and traditional access.

The eOceans definition excludes many commonly cited activities but also expands it to include social and cultural values. Ward-Paige said there are cases of special sectors, such as aquaculture and artificial reefs and restoration, which need to be considered individually before being called ‘Blue’.

The core idea is that ocean health is central to all genuinely Blue activities, and all Blue activities support ocean recovery and restoration.

“In Canada, for example, only 30 per cent of wild fish stocks are considered "healthy", she said. “Do we Canadians really want to 'sustain' that, or do we want to rebuild it?”

A former research scientist at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, she said more marine scientists are becoming involved in entrepreneurship, which she sees as a good thing: “Ocean science is very complex, the number of variables is very diverse. Academics understand the ocean and how to balance the risks and benefits.”

Speed of understanding and action is vital due to the rapidity of ocean change.

Ocean assets are still valued at US$1.5 trillion annually, even after centuries of misuse, she said. Now, humans are increasingly looking  to the seas for climate regulation, medicine, carbon stores, food, and other activities that need to be balanced against ocean health.

“I realized we can’t keep doing things the way we did in 1950. There are so many issues -- carbon emissions, ocean acidification, invasive species, etc., and now the growing ocean economy.”

Ward-Paige said eOceans’ definition of the Blue Economy can also help prioritize Green activities that support the Blue Economy, such as cleaning water, and reducing noise and pollution. It can also help standardize activities in planning exercises, such as in the design of Marine Protected Areas.

“This definition may also impede blue-washing, increase awareness and interest in the topic, and build a more equitable, fair, connected, and collaborative ocean space in the face of our need to protect and recover our ocean assets.”