Oceans: Sector Results Profile

April 2, 2014

The ocean provides valuable natural assets and ecosystem services, which contribute to sustainable economic expansion—or "blue growth." World Bank investments between 2007 and 2013 have supported developing coastal and island countries in improving the health of their ocean environments, and enhancing the value of ecosystem services they provide to local and global economies. These investments focus on strengthening country institutions for managing ocean resources and use, in particular the transition to more sustainable fisheries, establishing coastal and marine protected areas, waste management and infrastructure, and implementing integrated coastal and marine ecosystem management.


For the 54 lower- and lower-middle-income coastal and island client countries of the World Bank, almost two-thirds of their total territory is ocean (as defined by offshore exclusive economic zones). For many of these countries, this ocean space is a crucial source of goods and services that can help end extreme poverty and promote shared prosperity. For example:

West African countries’ waters, from Mauritania to Ghana, produce 1.6 million tons of fish per year, supporting over 3.2 million livelihoods, almost 10 percent of the GDP in Guinea-Bissau and Sierra Leone, and providing over 40 percent of animal protein intake in Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Senegal and Sierra Leone.

The coral triangle between Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, the Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste, includes some of the planet’s highest biodiversity, on par with the Amazon rainforest, including 76 percent of all known coral species and over 3,000 fish species; with more than 120 million people in the region directly dependent on marine resources for income, livelihoods and food (coral reef-related fisheries in Indonesia and the Philippines alone are valued at around $2.2 billion per year, and reef-based tourism is valued at another $258 million annually). 

The Pacific Islands region that includes a number of our client small island developing states supplies one-third of the world’s tuna with a first-sale value of over $4 billion.  

A healthy ocean is also fundamental to the global effort to mitigate climate change. The ocean is a major sink for anthropogenic emissions, absorbing 25 percent of the extra CO2 added to Earth's atmosphere by burning fossil fuels. For example, "blue carbon" sinks such as mangrove forests, sea grass beds and other vegetated ocean habitats can sequester up to five times the amounts of carbon absorbed by tropical forests.

However, many of our oceans are not healthy, and are contributing far less than they could be to the global effort to reduce poverty and boost shared prosperity. This is largely due to human actions diminishing the ability of underlying natural systems to provide optimal levels of ecosystem services. Ocean ecosystems are changing at a rate and scale not seen since the rise of modern civilization, due largely to anthropogenic drivers resulting from the inability of institutions to sustainably manage human actions.

The four key anthropogenic drivers of change in ocean ecosystem that have resulted from institutional weaknesses include: 

• Overfishing: Technological improvements coupled with open access to fish stocks have led to roughly one-third of the world’s ocean fisheries being over-exploited or depleted. Fishing capacity is estimated to be 2.5 times greater than sustainable harvest levels. Through analysis by the Global Program for Fisheries (PROFISH), the World Bank and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimated in 2009 that the lost potential economic benefits from marine fisheries for a single year could be as much as US$50 billion.

• Pollution: Nitrogen fertilizer application has increased fivefold since 1960, but as much as 50 percent of the nitrogen applied is lost to the environment, depending on how well the application is managed. Much of this excess runs off into rivers and streams and eventually to the ocean, resulting in algal blooms that consume most of the oxygen in the water. This has adverse effects on marine life, leading to ‘dead zones.’ There are now an estimated 405 ocean dead zones around the world, covering 246,000 square kilometers—an area larger than that of Great Britain. 

• Habitat loss or conversion (for example, coastal development, coastal deforestation, fishing with dynamite, and mining): Ocean areas are experiencing some of the most rapid environmental change on the planet. An estimated 35 percent of mangrove area in countries with data on this aspect was either lost or converted between 1985 and 2005; and at least 20 percent of coral reefs have been destroyed globally in the last several decades, with another 20 percent having been degraded.

• Climate change and ocean acidification: Over the coming decades and centuries, ocean health will become increasingly stressed by rising seawater temperature, ocean acidification, and ocean de-oxygenation in ways that we are only beginning to understand. Coral bleaching, caused by rising ocean temperatures, is already affecting vast areas of tropical coral reefs, which harbor 25 percent of marine biodiversity.  


Although human actions are driving negative changes in the ability of the living oceans to contribute to global economic growth, they can also drive positive change to reverse this trend and rebuild the oceans’ natural capital. Most of these actions occur in the context of the institutions that govern the way ocean ecosystem services are valued and used. For this reason, the World Bank’s focus in helping to restore ocean health is to support developing countries to strengthen and reform the institutions needed to both enhance the benefits and services that healthy oceans can provide, and to ensure that these benefits contribute to poverty reduction and shared prosperity. This support generally follows five guiding principles:

• Sustainable livelihoods, social equity and food security, emphasizing the importance of marine ecosystems in delivering essential goods and services that underpin millions of livelihoods, social equity and food security; 

• Healthy ocean and sustainable use of marine and coastal resources; ensuring investments contribute to the maintenance, restoration and enhancement of marine and coastal ecosystems, while recognizing that people are an essential part of the global ecosystem; 

• Effective governance systems, supporting innovative systems that provide incentives to private and public sector leaders at all levels to engage and support a healthy ocean and community well-being; 

• Long-term viability, making investments that are economically viable, socio-ecologically sustainable and promote positive, self-sustaining outcomes, especially when transitional funding or other GPO assistance ends; and

• Capacity building and innovation, aiming to build on local knowledge and develop innovative solutions, human resource capacity, educational tools and operating strategies, as well as new finance and policy vehicles.

Guided by these principles, the World Bank provides some $1 billion in financing for sustainable fisheries and aquaculture, and for efforts to conserve and enhance natural coastal and ocean habitats. This portfolio was launched in 2005 with support from a Global Program on Fisheries (PROFISH) to provide global knowledge and support to develop a number of fisheries and aquaculture investments. The Bank is seeking to expand its Program on Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (PROFISH+) to support innovation and reform in ocean financing, technology and governance.  Additionally, the Bank provides some $5.4 billion in financing for coastal infrastructure (e.g. waste treatment), watershed management and other activities that help reduce the volume of pollution entering countries’ coastal waters. 

In 2012-2013, the Bank produced a number of reports to support ocean-related lending activities: Fish to 2030, focusing on the changes in global demand (and supply) for fish over the coming decades, Growing Aquaculture in Sustainable Ecosystems, highlighting locally adapted aquaculture zone management, Evaluation of New Fishery Performance Indicators (FPIs), Hidden Harvest, the Global Contribution of Capture Fisheries, profiling the world’s small- and large-scale fisheries, and Indispensable Ocean: Aligning Ocean Health and Human Well-Being


" Whether or not we are from continental countries or island nations, we are indeed joined by the oceans. "

Lisel Alamilla

Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Development, Belize


Some examples of results achieved with World Bank support, based on financing from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), the International Development Association (IDA), or through trust funds managed by the World Bank, include:

Guinea-Bissau: The Coastal and Biodiversity Management Project in Guinea-Bissau (FY05) helped the country to establish a national parks and protected areas agency and network, protecting 480,000 hectares of the country’s coastal zone (representing over 13 percent of the national territory) together with local communities. In four of the five protected areas established, the effectiveness of park management increased by at least 15 percent from 2005 to 2010, based on the World Bank/World Wildlife Fund protected areas tracking tool that includes indicators such assufficient budget, park management planning, consultation, etc. To ensure that these protected areas are sustainably financed, partners and stakeholders have now established a private foundation, Fundacão BioGuinea. The Biodiversity Conservation Project (FY11) is supporting the operation and fund-raising efforts of this foundation until it is fully capitalized and self-sustaining. 

West Africa: The West Africa Regional Fisheries Program covers nine countries from Mauritania to Ghana, beginning with Cape Verde, Liberia, Senegal, and Sierra Leone in early 2010. The objective of this program is to sustainably increase the contribution of the marine fish resources to the region’s economy through strengthened fisheries governance, reduced illegal fishing, and increased local value added to fish products. In many cases the first priority has been to reduce rampant illegal fishing, and to date there are encouraging signs. In Liberia, the government passed comprehensive fisheries regulations in December 2010 – the first legal framework for fisheries management since the 1970s. It also inaugurated the first fisheries monitoring center with radio and satellite communication links to the fishing fleet to help reduce illegal fishing. Since that time, the government has cut illegal fishing in half and collected almost $6 million in fines. Fishing communities along the coast are reporting higher catches as a result. Similarly in Sierra Leone, through program finance together with partners such as the Government of the Isle of Man, the Environmental Justice Foundation and NEPAD, the Government has brought 14 industrial vessels to port for illegal fishing in the last several years, collecting over $1.5 million in fines. Similar to Liberia, catches in coastal fishing communities have reportedly increased during this time.  

India: The World Bank’s largest "blue" project, the Integrated Coastal Zone Management in India (FY07– FY15) effort is financing national- and state-level capacity building, long-term land use planning, and pilot investments in pollution management, resource conservation, and livelihood improvements. So far, more than 6,000 hectares of mangroves have been planted; 11 new coastal areas have been declared ecologically sensitive; and preparation of integrated plans for two of these has started. Work has also started to stop the flow of more than 100 million liters of untreated sewage per day into the ocean. The first stage of work has started to protect over 150 km of shoreline in the state of Odisha to protect Olive Ridley sea turtles, and aerial photography of a 90,000 km2 area to help identify all sensitive coastal and marine habitats has been completed. Detailed coastal and marine resource mapping, along with extensive studies on prominent protected species are being carried out to help develop integrated management plans and modeling of different development scenarios. For example, in Chilika (the largest lagoon in Asia that supports the livelihoods of some 250,000 fisherpersons) the project is supporting the development of a management plan that includes conservation activities, water quality monitoring, and pollution-reduction in the community.

Bank Group Contribution

The World Bank and Bank-managed trust funds are increasingly supporting initiatives to rebuild the ocean’s natural capital. Many of the Bank’s investments in the oceans over the last five years promote the sustainable governance of marine fisheries, the establishment of coastal and marine protected areas, and integrated coastal resource management. The World Bank’s active ‘blue growth’ portfolio comprises activities worth US$6.4 billion. This amount includes fisheries management, habitat conservation including integrated coastal zone management, pollution reduction and water resource management.


The Bank has been working with dozens of partners to increase investment in healthy oceans. In support of this, the Bank has participated in many numbers of ocean events for both technical and political purposes, raising both the profile and reach of our work, while also contributing to broader ocean community engagement. In addition to bilateral partnerships, the following collectives are in current practice:  

• The Global Program for Fisheries (PROFISH), created in 2005, is a multi-donor trust fund managed by the World Bank to support governance reforms for sustainable fisheries. PROFISH works with a range of partners, including the FAO, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), WorldFish, development organizations, and the private sector.

• The Alliance for Responsible Fisheries (ALLFISH), established in 2009 as a public-private partnership by the seafood industry, works with the International Coalition of Fisheries Associations, FAO, and the Global Environment Facility (GEF), to promote responsible fisheries and aquaculture.

• The Strategic Partnership for Fisheries in Africa is a partnership to promote sustainable fisheries in Africa. It is led by the African Union, with support from FAO and the World Wildlife Fund, and with financing from Bank-managed GEF funds.

• The Capturing Coral Reef and Related Ecosystem Services partnership aims to capture the value of coral reef ecosystem services through support for eco-enterprises linked to green markets, and other incentives to encourage investment in their protection.

• The Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction Program (ABJN) aims to improve global sustainable fisheries management and biodiversity conservation with partners including the GEF, the FAO, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Global Ocean Forum.

• 50in10 is a collaboration initiated by over 30 organizations to achieve a 10-year target to bring 50 percent of fisheries and the global catch under sustainable management while increasing economic benefits by US$20 billion annually.

Moving Forward 

A healthy ocean is fundamental to ending extreme poverty and promoting shared prosperity. The opportunity that comes from addressing the challenges to a healthy ocean, and the benefits that countries stand to gain, such as rebuilding fish stocks and expanding sustainable aquaculture, restoring the productivity of key coastal habitats, and reducing the threats from pollution, is fundamental to the development mandate of the World Bank. Efforts to date by the Bank, as well as the large number of other organizations supporting healthier oceans, have been insufficient to capture this opportunity. A coordinated global effort is needed to improve the health of the world’s oceans and the benefits they provide to the global economy and human welfare. Through our ability to convene a diversity of partners and stakeholders, and to mobilize public investment for governance reforms, the World Bank is uniquely positioned to foster and build an unprecedented global partnership to improve ocean health and support people who depend so dearly upon it. 

Supporters and Beneficiaries 

“It’s been a while since we’ve had lots of fish coming in. Everything is hard now.” –Kismiyah, Fish Seller, Bali, Indonesia

“If the ocean is destroyed, it would be like destroying us because our well-being and wealth are contained within the ocean.” –Alia Ambrau, Community Leader, Papua, Indonesia

“The ocean and food security are of course very much linked … particularly on coastal fisheries. When proper management is in place, the resource will recover.” –Fatima Ferdouse, Chief, Trade Promotion Division, Infofish

“Liberia pledges to do all within its power to develop and implement the GPO.” –Florence Chenoweth, Minister of Agriculture, Liberia

“We need technical assistance and more importantly efficient access to financing sources.” –Tuiloma Neroni Slade, Secretary General, Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat

“Probably what impressed me most is that every member of this group was prepared to put aside their differences to work towards solutions to the problems affecting our oceans. Just goes to show what could be possible on the scale of the GPO.” –John Tanzer, Director WWF Global Marine Programme

“Whether or not we are from continental countries or island nations, we are indeed joined by the oceans.” –Lisel Alamilla, Minister of Forestry, Fisheries, and Sustainable Development, Belize

“I am confident that this partnership, together with existing initiatives will promote an integrated approach, and will go beyond national borders and jurisdictions.” –President Anote Tong of Kiribati



480,000+ hectares
of new parks and protected areas have been established along with a coastal protected areas network in Guinea-Bissau