Oceans were the origination of life on earth, the origination of modern civilization and the origination of trade. Each of these represents the three ecosystems of life: environmental, social, and economic. It is indeed only fair that the ocean is given the right focus and attention to sustain all three forms of life.

Ports are seen as gateways to a territory – where an early explorer or adventurer would land and go forth. We see it the other way around, with ports and harbours being the gateways to the oceans with their vast pool of resources, promise of trade and commerce, and engines of the environment.

It is this nature of ports and harbours that position them uniquely at the trisection of all three ecosystems. Ports and harbours have traditionally been seen as economic ecosystems for the import and export of goods, bringing in fish and other mineral resources for terrestrial consumption, and the movement of people. The cities and areas around ports grew, with dependency on the ports, ships, logistics and allied businesses. About 40% of global population lives within 100 kms of the coastline and approximately half of the international tourists travel to coastal areas.1 Indeed, 13 of the world’s top 20 most influential cities have a port associated with them.2 They are centers of maritime trade and commerce and have evolved into urban agglomerations, and their social ecosystems have an important role in the global cultural scene.

The time has come for port cities to be the nerve center for environment action. As ships become bigger, they resemble large industrial units consuming fuel, oil, waste, and ballast water that, if discharged with inadequate precautions, can damage the sensitive maritime ecosystems.3 Roughly 80 percent of coastal pollution is generated on land, and unplanned urbanization and waste disposal from coastal cities would only add to it.4 Ports are also rapidly focusing on establishing port-based supply chains, free trade and industrial zones, and offshore energy centers, thereby spurring industrial activity close to coastal areas. The impact of untreated industrial discharges, on land, in the air and into water can ultimately affect coastlines and add to the oceans.

In such a scenario, ports could play a pivotal role in supporting the blue economy to help build a green economy. As the nerve center of trade and industry, ports can stipulate norms for the nature of industries that can be set-up and incentivize those that are eco-friendly. They can monitor the type of ships that visit the ports and their discharges. Ports can provide data on fishing and mining activities and build awareness and support programs for responsible ocean commercialization. By controlling access to the oceans by acting as gateways, ports can control, monitor or influence the nature of their activities and the related jurisdictional areas of their users and related value chains right up to the hinterland. A port that invites green ships can, over time, attract companies that have a shared value and vision for green logistics.

Ports might be physically limited by their geographical reach and institutional boundaries. However, in their role as a key economic center and partner in supply chains, ports can have a strong voice in economic and social planning. They can influence the stakeholder ecosystem. Moreover, they can have a global impact through their extended arms, i.e. shipping. Ports, thus, may be green in not only their own use of water, energy and other resources but also become the catalyst for the green and blue economies.

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1 Factsheet, The Ocean Conference, UN, New York, 2017
2 Ceoworld.biz
3 The Role of the International Maritime Organization in Preventing the Pollution of the World's Oceans from Ships and Shipping | United Nations
4 Oceans – United Nations Sustainable Development