Use tech to save blue economy, governments told

Dr Philip Osano

Dr Philip Osano, Africa Centre Director of the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) addresses delegates during the High-Level Side Event on blue economy in Gigiri, Nairobi, on march 3, 2022.

Photo credit: Faustine Ngila /Nation Media Group

World governments have been urged to commit more budgets towards marine life technology projects to achieve a sustainable blue economy.

Speaking during a High-Level Side Event on blue economy at the culmination of the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) in Gigiri, Nairobi, environmentalists asked countries with coastlines and large water bodies to come up with innovative ways to support their blue economy sustainability strategies.

Dr Jacqueline Uku of the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association (WIOMSA) said that innovation in aquaculture could prove critical in saving marine life and boosting livelihoods of communities living near oceans, seas, lakes and rivers.

Digital tools

“We need to tap the talent of the youth who can create digital tools and software to make marine management easy,” she said.

Dr Jan Robinson, a government public sector representative from the Seychelles narrated how his country laid out a blue economy strategy in 2014, banking on innovation.

“Despite the challenges occasioned by the Covid-19 pandemic and the global geopolitical squabbles, innovation remains very important in sustaining the blue economy,” he said.

He urged governments to use technology to monitor fish migratory patterns and boost sustainable fishing.

Dean at the Faculty of Science and Technology at the University of Nairobi Prof Francis Mulaa demonstrated how Chiromo Tech, an aquaculture startup founded by the institution is using technology to conserve marine ecosystems.

 “We are focused with scoping, design, financing, building, operating and transferring of complete value chains locally and regionally,” he said.

Marine environment

The startup uses Big Data analytics and machine learning in its fish farm innovations to grow fingerlings, dispense feed, control fishing volumes, monitor fish health, check water quality and assess delivery grades and project business profitability.

Dr Uku said WIOMSA has created a science policy platform which links scientists and policy makers to inform decisions relating to the management of human activities affecting Kenya’s coastal marine environment.

One of the organisation’s projects is supporting seaweed farming at the South Coast where it works with local communities, the government and private sector to conduct research and unite farmers and exporters.

The event, which was a follow up to the global vision upheld during the Sustainable Blue Economy Conference held in Nairobi in November 2018, also addressed how governments can transform scientific knowledge and research into actionable business opportunities.

Also notable during the dialogue was the transformation of energy systems in the blue economy to reduce carbon emissions that harm marine life in Africa and the world.

“Sweden and Norway have supported the African blue economy. We are looking at options for green energy in

Revitalise marine systems

Africa but we need this across all oceans and seas,” said Dr Philip Osano, Africa Centre Director of the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI).

Prof Felix Dodds of the University of North Carolina, United States, said the world needs both green and blue bonds to revitalise marine systems.

“We need to use our capital markets to finance the blue economy because billions of dollars are needed. We have to ensure there is no blue wash or lack of accountability,” he remarked.

While promising reasonable pricing for blue bonds, he said pilot studies will be needed on how to invest within communities living in marine areas.

Green bonds finance projects and activities with environmental benefits, often facilitating the shift to a low-carbon, climate-resilient and resource-efficient global economy while blue bonds focus on community sustainability. In a blue bond, earnings are generated from the investments in sustainable blue economy projects.

“Climate finance can help a great deal. We need grants for research and development. We have to include local communities in ocean governance and regulation,” said Dr Robinson.

Principal Secretary at the State Department of Shipping and Maritime Ms Nancy Karigithu emphasised on the need for world governments to decarbonise the blue economy.

Reducing carbon emissions

“Reducing carbon emissions from the shipping industry and creating capacity in developing green energy projects will help protect marine zones,” she said.

She noted that apart from creating wealth, millions of people depend on water bodies for their livelihoods and a balance ought to be struck between curbing overfishing and maintaining coastal communities’ sources of income.

Dr Uku acknowledged that vulnerability within communities is happening but commercialisation of marine projects to support livelihoods needs support from the private sector.

“Seaweed is used in the manufacture of shampoo, gels and toothpicks. We export a kilo at Sh25 instead of processing it and selling a litre of shampoo at Sh160.”


She added that technological support from the private sector would create value addition to such products and ride on economies of large scale.

Kenya hosts Africa's maritime technology centre at Jomo Kenyatta University of Science and Technology and according to Ms Karigithu, it helps prevent pollution from ships, works with port authorities and shipping stakeholders to ensure compliance with international requirements for a clean blue economy.

“It raises awareness on climate change, conducts pilot projects on ship fuel consumption and disseminates academic research to help achieve the Paris Agreement.”

Underscoring the urgency for governments to see science through a global lens, Executive Secretary of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of Unesco Dr Vladimir Ryabinin revealed that the global ocean economy is worth Sh280 trillion.

“While investments in sustaining global oceans have hit Sh110 trillion, with Sh30 million being set aside for coordinating ocean observations, only 1.7 per cent of total funds spent on science goes to marine research,” he disclosed.

He called for the use of data science in sustainable ocean planning, saying it could go a long way in reducing ocean salinity and regulating the ever rising temperatures and sea levels.

Globally, only 16 countries are creating standards on sustainable ways of managing marine environments with most blue economy projects being initiated in developed countries.

“We also need to see developing countries coming up with initiatives. Only Kenya, Ghana and Namibia are keen on the blue economy in Africa,” said Dr Vladimir.

Chief Administrative Secretary in the Ministry of Education Sarah Ruto hinted that the government will be considering creating courses for marine technology studies in universities.