Our oceans are a precious part of our planet, a thriving and bounteous blue cradle of life. Researchers estimate that the ocean may be home to 700,000 marine species, ranging from the microscopic plankton to the gigantic blue whale. Increasingly, ocean life is coming under threat from human activity – more than 1 million marine creatures die every year from plastic waste alone.

Although the ocean may seem another world to many, it is indispensable to human life too. More than 3 billion people directly and indirectly rely on the ocean for their livelihoods. From fishing to tourism, the ocean provides a source of income for communities around the world, and the damage we do to our oceans has a detrimental impact on these societies. Actions to save our oceans not only benefit marine life, but they also help humans prosper too, which is why the theme for World Oceans Day this year is Life & Livelihoods.

Understanding problems

In many cases the industries and jobs that rely on the ocean have contributed to environmental degradation and pollution of our marine life. Examples include plastic pollution from fishing gear, of which a few tens to a few hundreds of thousands of tonnes are discharged each year. Then when it comes to microplastics, an estimated 16 thousand tonnes of marine paint enters our oceans annually. Overfishing is a problem and then there is human activity in the ocean that contributes to climate change. Greenhouse gases emitted from maritime traffic constitute over 3% of total global emissions,  as well as contributing to air pollution. For these jobs and marine life to survive and thrive we need to make our relationship with the ocean more sustainable. At Eunomia we have carried out research around the world that aims to raise awareness of these challenges and recommend evidence-based solutions that protect and restore the ocean and therefore support livelihoods.

Changing business models

On behalf of the European Commission, we carried out a study on green jobs in the ‘blue economy’ – those which rely on the marine environment – and what needs to happen to improve sustainability of green jobs that rely on the marine environment. We identified numerous examples of environmentally sustainable jobs reliant on the marine environment: an ethical fishmonger based in the UK where fishers receive a fair price and financial reward for fishing with environmental sensitivity; a strategy to promote educational scientific tourism and sustainable production of high-quality salt in the salt pans that straddle the border between Italy and Slovenia; and a ferry company operating routes between Germany and Denmark which aimed to use hybrid ferries on its routes using zero-emission batteries. To support these, we identified that increased access to finance for sustainable marine economic activity should be prioritized, along with greater knowledge-sharing and research funding to allow technical barriers to be overcome.

Policies that prevent plastic pollution and create jobs

At the beginning of this year we carried out a study for a centre for international cooperation with Mediterranean countries  – the Regional Activity Centre for Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP/RAC) on the impacts of single-use plastic items in four Mediterranean countries and identified key mechanisms for reducing marine litter which also supported the creation of sustainable jobs. We found that a deposit return scheme (DRS) for beverage containers in the countries studied would prevent 16,000 tonnes of marine litter by 2030, and save £15 million in waste management costs. On top of this, a DRS would create 11,500 jobs. These jobs offset those lost in manufacturing due to reduced consumption, and contribute directly to actions that reduce damage to the oceans.

We also completed a study which identified investment opportunities to reduce plastic pollution in the wider Caribbean region, and provide social benefits and support economic growth for communities, at the end of last year with KfW Development Bank for the Sustainable Ocean Fund (SOF).

It is clear from our research that initiatives which protect our oceans also provide multiple sustainable employment opportunities – making sea-side communities and island nations cleaner, healthier, and more economically resilient.

Featured image: Aravindan Ganesan via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)