Caribbean set to ride 'blue economy' wave, say economists

GRAND ANSE, Grenada (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Caribbean countries should dive into the “blue economy” to exploit marine resources, giving their economies a much needed boost, while protecting coastal eco-systems, economists said.

The island nations - which have 80 times more sea than land - been hampered by low growth and high debt, and they will need to attract financing to develop sectors like ocean renewable energy and marine biotechnology, they said.

“We very much see the blue economy as fundamentally central for the Caribbean region’s economic growth,” said Tahseen Sayed, the World Bank director for Caribbean countries, in a speech.

The value of global oceans is estimated to be $24 trillion, the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) said in its “Financing the Blue Economy” report, released Thursday at its annual board of governors meeting in Grenada.

That estimate was based on activities such as fishing, tourism, transport and carbon sequestration, which refers to the storage of carbon dioxide and other forms of carbon as a strategy to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Capitalizing on newer areas of the so-called blue economy, such as using the oceans to generate energy, could help drive economic growth in the region where one person in five lives in poverty, said the report.

“We’ve been unable to fully harness the potential of these resources,” Roger McLeod, CDB economist and report co-author, told the conference.

Private investors would be willing to put money into well-structured deals, but the region needs to create a unified policy to drive the sector and make it easier for people to invest, said speakers.

The Nature Conservancy, a U.S.-based group, proposed that Caribbean nations negotiate debt-for-nature deals, as it has done with the Seychelles.

The East African island nation designated a third of its marine area as “protected” in return for The Nature Conservancy agreeing to buy up nearly $22 million of its outstanding $406 million sovereign debt.

Grenada, which has 26,000 sq kms (10,000 sq miles) of ocean within its territory, is one country now negotiating a debt-for-nature swap as part of its Blue Growth Coastal Master Plan.

Related projects could also involve funding to improve fisheries, and develop sustainable energy, said Rob Weary, a senior director at NatureVest, which funds deals for The Nature Conservancy.

“The private sector capital is interested in the debt restructuring work because of the cash-flow it creates for conservation,” Weary told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

He said renewable energy projects would be likely to attract investors.

“It’s a true impact,” said Weary. “They get their money back with a return and you generate all this cash for the environment.”

(This story corrects name of director in par 12.)