Water has always been a part of my life. I was blessed to grow up in Pearl City near the beautiful shores of the island of O’ahu in Hawaii and developed my passion for the ocean from my father – a marine biologist and part-time scuba diving instructor. His love and understanding of the power and benefits of the ocean left an indelible mark on me and my attitude to and respect for something that provides so much life and energy for the world we live in. So much so that I followed suit, gaining my diving certification at the tender age of 10.
I guess you could say the ocean, and water in general, is in my blood. Part of who I am. It’s why I’ve tried, wherever possible, to live near water as my studies and career have taken me to Ithaca, Boston, Beaumont, Scotland, and now, Houston. And, I’m not alone. It’s what marine biologist Wallace Nichols calls our ‘blue mind’.1 A recent study by a UK group, the Blue Gym Initiative, found people are generally healthier and happier than those living inland. It’s difficult to put a figure on happiness, but the team behind the eight-year study estimated in a separate paper that greater exposure to the marine environment could be valued at nearly $250 million.2
Blue Gym Initiative’s study also found that most people living or working near water have a far greater personal connection to environmentally-friendly behaviors. We acknowledge and are reminded constantly of the immense role water plays in our lives, and the urgent need to protect our seas and use marine resources sustainably. That’s why it should come as no surprise that I’m personally passionate about marking World Oceans Day on the 8th of June.
Driving the blue economy
Oceans produce up to 80 percent of the earth’s oxygen,3 capture as much as two-thirds of greenhouse gases produced by humans,4 and help to keep the planet cool by absorbing 90 percent of excess heat.5 They’re also vital to economic growth, hence the growing recognition of the ‘blue economy’. Blue economy assets are valued at more than US$24 trillion6, making it the seventh largest economic power in the world in terms of GDP.7
Three billion people depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods and 80 percent of all international trade is carried by the sea. My specialist sector – energy – has strong ties with the ocean. Since the first offshore drilling rig was built in 1896 off the coast of California,8 brave women and men have worked in hostile conditions to bring oil and gas to the world.9 Today there are more than 12,000 such platforms. The energy industry has often been the target of criticism for its role in fossil fuel extraction, but in more recent years it’s been one of the driving forces behind the change in our attitude and approach to marine sustainability and climate risk. Renewable sources of energy may appear to be a relatively recent development, but the first offshore wind farm was erected way back in 1991,10 and today, offshore wind provides 0.3 percent of the global electricity supply.11 By 2050, offshore wind could power one-tenth of demand, saving over 3 billion tons of CO2 annually. In the US, the Biden administration has made clear that it sees the environmental and employment benefits of leveraging the ocean’s natural powers,12 while smaller countries with an abundance of natural resources, such as Scotland,13 are on the verge of becoming global pioneers in marine energy.
Our blue future
KPMG’s new paper, You can’t go green without blue, predicts that the blue economy will grow much faster than the green economy in the coming years, but the guiding principle of sustainability lies at the heart of both our ‘green’ and ‘blue’ futures. It is anticipated that the world’s traditional maritime sectors will have to radically transform, embracing circular economy principles and setting sustainability targets. This might mean using wastewater of farmed fish as crop fertilizer, recycling ship materials at end of life and, of course, incorporating more renewables into the energy mix.
The pressure to change is heating up, with 20 of the biggest investors in shipping – representing half of all global shipping finance – signed up to the Poseidon Principles to promote climate-related reporting and decarbonization.14 Despite these efforts, investors are still largely neglecting blue finance. Currently, the vast majority of asset owners – around 90 percent – don’t directly address the blue economy in their investment portfolios.15 There should be more innovative examples of blue finance, in partnership with governments. Our oceans may be suffering, but they have enormous untapped potential. Amazingly, they could, sustainably, provide more than two-thirds of the fish and meat required to feed a global population of 10 billion.16 Meanwhile, ocean forests could absorb even more of the world’s carbon and produce enough biomethane to completely replace fossil fuels.17
For me, World Oceans Day is about the combination of the great waves being made with the planet’s biggest source of energy and my personal connection and experiences – from the high-tech innovation to the majesty of breaking waves on O’ahu, the whale watching and gazing at the horizon while feeling the sand between your toes, to the profound economic opportunities our blue planet presents.
It’s been my lifelong dream to set foot on an offshore oil rig and see the ocean from a different perspective. My scuba diving days may be long gone, but my love of water and the ocean will never leave me.
16 https:\oceanpanel.org\sites\default\files\2019-11\19_HLP_BP1 Paper.pdf