New England's Blue Economy

We hear a lot about the Green Economy, but what about the Blue Economy?

According to the World Bank, the Blue Economy refers to “the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods and jobs, and ocean ecosystem health.” It encompasses economic sectors ranging from renewable energy and climate change to fisheries, transport, and tourism, and it’s a big deal for communities located near oceans, rivers, and lakes.

Across cultures and continents, water has played a leading role in the development of human civilization. Historically, water provided sustenance, offered protection from enemies, and enabled efficient transport and trade. Access to water resources enabled the development of history’s great civilizations, allowing coastal communities to flourish economically. Over time, technological advancement has contributed to the evolution of the ocean-related economy into the $1.5+ trillion sector it is today. Unfortunately, exploitation of ocean resources in modern times has contributed to major environmental degradation that threatens the future sustainability of our planet. This has spurred global and local interest in the Blue Economy, which emphasizes the unmistakable link between the sustainable use of resources and sustainable economic development.

Strengthening New England's Blue Economy

The Blue Economy took center stage at the 2017 Fall Meeting of the Massachusetts Economic Development Council (MEDC), which was held on Cape Cod at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI), one of the world’s premier institutions for ocean research. The theme of the meeting was what the Blue Economy means for Massachusetts and New England.

Sensor equipment used for ocean research at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. Some components are manufactured by local companies.

Communities up and down New England’s coast were built around fishing, whaling, shipbuilding, and other industries intrinsically linked to the ocean. But as economic forces shifted, many of these places turned their back to their maritime past, or transitioned into summertime tourist destinations. When you think of ocean-related economic activity in New England, beaches and gift shops are probably what come to mind. But, many communities are strategizing on how to move away from a tourism-centric approach and get in on the huge amount innovation that is occurring within the ocean economy. We highlighted some of this cutting-edge innovation in a recent article: Marine Tech Makes a Splash.

The presence of WHOI on Cape Cod has attracted various companies to the region that develop and manufacturer equipment that are used in ocean research. These tech companies have allowed the Cape to diversify away from a purely seasonal visitation-based economy and support high-paying jobs and permanent residents. Regional organizations are dedicated to expanding the role of the Blue Economy on the Cape. For more information on the Cape Cod Blue Economy, visit www.bluecapecod.org

Portland, Maine, a client of Camoin Associates, has implemented strategies for maintaining and growing their working waterfront, encouraging shipping through the Port of Portland. Other communities like Plymouth, Massachusetts, have undertaken environmental remediation efforts to allow for oystering along shorelines that until recently were far too contaminated to support aquaculture, leading to the development of spinoff industries locally. Groton, Connecticut, has a large economic base related to shipbuilding and the Navy, and Camoin Associates has worked with the Town and greater Southeastern Connecticut Enterprise Region (seCTer) to leverage ocean-related assets for economic development.

By connecting environmental sustainability to economic development, the Blue Economy has the potential to transform New England’s coastal communities. Implementation of strategies that recognize this sector’s potential will surely pay off as the Blue Economy continues to grow.

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