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The Blue Economy: Shoring Up Opportunities for Island Nations

Red boats in the Caribbean

An aerial view showcasing the entrance to IGY Rodney Bay Marina in Saint Lucia. 

Caught in the crosshairs of escalating global crises, Small Island Developing States (SIDS) meet May 27-30, 2024, together with the international community,  to discuss ways to tackle issues including their vulnerability to the impacts of climate change, exposure to pollution, and economic headwinds.

While their small land size creates unique development challenges for island nations, these countries also have large ocean territories, and sustainable management of these resources already acts as an engine of jobs and GDP. More importantly, their ocean territory holds of the key to future opportunities and prosperity. Coastal and marine-based industries inject the global economy with US$2.5 trillion a year.

The World Bank is supporting island countries around the globe to develop sustainable blue economies to adapt to climate change, create jobs, boost economies, and improve quality of life for communities.

Tackling High Tides 

“Ninety percent of our animal protein comes from fish,” said Arlindo Carvalho, technical coordinator at the Ministry of Infrastructures, Natural Resources and the Environment, in São Tomé and Príncipe. “In our society, the men fish and the women sell fish, so protecting the lives and livelihoods associated with fishing is essential.”

The World Bank’s West Africa Coastal Areas Resilience Program (WACA) is supporting coastal infrastructure improvements in fishing communities of São Tomé and Príncipe.

These efforts include road rehabilitation, building new breakwaters, seawalls, boat ramps, and safer housing for people exposed to storm surges and rising sea levels. Lighthouses have been renovated and outfitted with solar-powered technology.

Due to overfishing, fish stocks are reduced near land. Fishers now face more treacherous voyages in small canoes and boats. As they travel further from the shoreline, they are buffeted by rougher conditions in unfamiliar waters. Even close to shore, sea levels are rising.

Through World Bank projects, safety-at-sea kits, including Global Positioning System (GPS) instruments, electronics protectors, and lifejackets have been distributed to about 3,000 fishers.

“From the beach, the sea may look friendly but when you sail in deep waters it’s dangerous and scary. There are sharks, even whales. It’s easy to lose sight of the land,” said fisherman Célcio Dias. 

When I started fishing, I didn’t have a GPS. I lost many friends. Some got lost, some drifted to foreign countries, and some died. Now that I have a GPS, my family is much less worried.
Célcio Dias
Fisherman in São Tomé and Príncipe
As oceanic changes force fishers to go further from the coast, they are exposed to more danger.
As oceanic changes force fishers to go further from the coast, they are exposed to more danger. Célcio Dias – known as Mano, on the right, relies on a GPS to return safely home. Photo: Flore de Preneuf/ World Bank

Securing Vulnerable Fisheries

Across the globe, coastal fisheries are also an important source of income, nutrition and food for half of households in the Pacific region. They contribute an estimated 49 percent of the overall fisheries input to GDP.

Some 60 percent of the world’s tuna supply is sourced from the Pacific. Risks from climate change include shifts in fishing locations and lower capture numbers. Better fisheries management is vital for generating export earnings and revenues to improve livelihoods, food security, and improve diets.

The World Bank Pacific Islands Regional Oceanscape Program (PROP) supports sustainable blue economy-based livelihoods, helping countries to establish national authorities to better regulate fishing and seafood safety to allow export to the European Union. These efforts include new electronic monitoring and reporting systems and establishing a surveillance center. PROP also supports training and economic activities to help boost employment opportunities.

Through support for the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), which regulates tuna fisheries in the Pacific, PROP initiated essential training to regional fisheries observers, improving safety and building a better shoreline inspection regime.

Through funds from the International Development Association (IDA), the World Bank is supporting countries across the Pacific to sustainably manage their fisheries to protect their economic and food security of the future. This includes support to Marshall Islands for sustainable management of oceanic fisheries and strengthening tuna fishing activities by upgrading monitoring, surveillance and vessel monitoring systems. Work in Tonga is building the capacity of community-based fisheries, and funding fish aggregating devices, marker buoys, safety equipment, and support vessels.

And Kiribati is strengthening its fisheries monitoring and surveillance system, including building and equipping two new centers.

“Growing up as a kid in Kiribati, the ocean was our life,” said Mariaa Henry, fisheries enforcement officer in the Kiribati Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resource Development. “I feel like what I’m doing right now is helping and conserving our resources for the next generation. We have to… sustain our [ocean] resources for our next generation—our grandkids and our great grandkids will feel the benefits of our resources.”

Increasing Coastal Jobs

Island states in the Caribbean face similar challenges. Marine fisheries are subject to illegal and unreported fishing. Some fishing practices present safety risks and sanitation issues, leading to pollution.

The Unleashing the Blue Economy of the Caribbean Project (UBEC), a 15-year, $90 million initiative funded by the World Bank’s PROBLUE trust fund, strengthens the blue economy through investments in fisheries, tourism, waste management and by creating more blue employment opportunities.

A partnership with the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States Commission and the islands of Saint Lucia, Grenada, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, UBEC emphasizes collaboration. Enterprises are scaling up operations through a regional matching grants program that streamlines financing, especially for women entrepreneurs.

“One of the biggest challenges I had was access to financing, which is still a problem today,” said Eget Martyr, who owns a diving company and has worked for more than 30 years in the Saint Lucia ocean tourism sector. “You want to expand, you want to give opportunities to others, to young people, but you just don’t have the resources to expand.”

As island nations seek to adapt to a changing climate, growing the blue economy continues to be their best opportunity for growth, food security and jobs.


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