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Business Leadership in Ensuring Ocean Health and Sustainability

On World Oceans Day, let’s acknowledge that that the future of the ocean is inextricably intertwined with the ocean economy – the diverse range of commercial activity that provides societies with critical ocean goods and services.

And let’s pay tribute to the millions of men and women who work on, under, and around the sea every day to bring us this ocean bounty. They know the ocean better than most on the planet and care about the ocean that their kids and grandkids will inherit.

Although much of the vast and diverse ocean economy is “out of sight and out of mind” for most, the ocean business community is fundamental to the future of the ocean.

Ocean economy

A brief tour of the ocean economy highlights just how much we depend on the ocean business community to provide:

  • Healthy protein from fisheries, with 3-4 million fishing vessels, and from fish farms, with aquaculture growing 7 percent per year the past decades and now producing 50 percent of seafood;
  • 90 percent of international trade through cost- and carbon-efficient delivery via 50,000+ merchant ships crisscrossing the globe;
  • Growing offshore energy sources that supply about 30 percent of hydrocarbons, a rapidly increasing amount of wind energy, and major wave and current energy potential;
  • 98 percent of international telecommunications, carried on more than 1 million kilometers of submarine cables;
  • Recreation and tourism options for every ocean interest, with cruise tourism growing at 8.5  percent per year in recent decades;
  • Desalinated seawater to live in booming coastal cities, with desalination supplying 90 percent of freshwater in some countries;
  • Innovation and technology to discover and document the deepest, darkest corners, furthest reaches, and extreme conditions of planet ocean;
  • Ports and coastal infrastructure that all countries depend on for trade and growth; and
  • Much else that sustains our modern life and growing populations.

However, human use of the ocean is affecting its health and sustainability. The effects of sea-based activities are also accompanied by often much more significant land-based sources of impacts, such as municipal wastes, agricultural runoff, and plastics.

Protecting oceans

Ocean industries operate in a fluid, three-dimensional, interconnected global marine ecosystem. This means its activities, responsibilities, and impacts are also interconnected – as must be industry sustainability efforts. The best efforts by a single company or even a whole business sector will not be enough to secure future ocean health and productivity.

This creates a compelling business case for industry leadership, collaboration, and action in tackling ocean sustainability challenges. Fortunately, there are many good, smart people in good, smart companies who do their best to understand and address ocean sustainable development stewardship and science. These leadership companies strive to conduct business in a manner that balances environmental, social, and economic needs.

Global alliance

To advance responsible ocean business leadership, a group of companies launched the World Ocean Council (WOC) – the Global Blue Economy Business Organization. The WOC is an international, multi-industry business leadership alliance that brings leadership companies together to address sustainability risks and gaps and develop practical cross-sectoral, science-based solutions.

Cross-sectoral WOC working groups are putting this unique industry alliance to work on a range of priorities, such as ocean policy and governance; marine spatial planning; biofouling/invasive species; plastics/port reception facilities; marine sound; ocean data collection and sharing; and port adaptation to extreme weather events, especially in small island countries.

An increasing number and range of ocean industry companies from around the world are distinguishing themselves as leaders in “corporate ocean responsibility” by joining the WOC, and are collaborating to achieve a “blue economy” balance of responsible ocean use and sustained ocean health.

The diverse global ocean business community will gather again at the 7th WOC Sustainable Ocean Summit in Paris on Nov. 20-22, 2019, to further advance the leadership, collaboration, and action needed to sustain the interconnected environment, people, and economy of the ocean.

Paul Holthus, Founding President and CEO, World Ocean Council, [email protected]

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