The unfolding story of Barbados’s blue economy
The Caribbean island state is determined to create jobs and boost growth while protecting life under water
Barbados is the most easterly island in the Caribbean island chain. It is a beautiful island that is 34 kilometres long and 23 km wide, totaling only 432km2. While many countries claim to be small – and are small in comparison to larger developed countries – Barbados is small even in comparison to other Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) like itself.
Notwithstanding its size, Barbados could never legitimately be accused of thinking small. Indeed, in 2002, the late Kofi Annan, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, associated the island with the capacity to punch above its weight.
But now Barbados is at crossroads and is facing a tough economic environment. It must determine for itself where it wishes to go and how it intends to get there. It must then navigate the difficult economic terrain without any economic blueprint or bequeathed leadership strategy.
The country must find its own way. The new government led by the Prime Minister Mia Mottley has chosen to do just that and is determined to face its many challenges head-on with an ambitious but inspiring agenda to transform Barbados.
This is important as Barbados is faced with traditional challenges pertaining to its limited diversification, fiscal frailty and susceptibility to the impact of hurricanes and other forces of nature.
The pervasive nature of a lingering recession demanded that the government be more strategic in its programs and policies.
Recent times have seen the emergence of new and more potent threats related to climate change and the ferocity of its consequences, including the influx of sargassum seaweed on many of the islands’ beaches. This has reinforced the need to think blue.
In response to this and other related challenges, the prime minister, two days after winning the general election in May, announced the creation of a Ministry of Maritime Affairs and the Blue Economy.
Despite its small land space, Barbados’s maritime space is over 400 times bigger, covering 183,436 km2. For Barbados, this maritime space represents a potential of opportunity that could and should be utilized in a sustainable way to advance the economic interest of the country, while at the same time protect the environment. In a nutshell, this is what we aim to do through our efforts to build a blue economy in Barbados.
Despite that certain aspects of the blue economy, for example fishing and seaport services, have traditionally been part of Barbados’s socio-economic landscape, the blue economy as an economic sector remains underdeveloped, fragmented and unexplored.
The government is now seeking to consolidate the blue economy to give it a status of important economic significance, underpinned by a philosophy that the ocean matters. In fact, for the first time the island can tackle its many challenges led by a single ministry committed to reversing the fragmented approach that previously existed.
The new approach has resulted in the design of an action plan for Barbados’s maritime sector to tackle, an issue raised by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), which has identified several areas of concern that needed to be addressed.
We are now working to address challenges in the fisheries sector, including the introducing of much needed legislation, improving value-added in the maritime sector, utilizing available technologies, and making advances in the use of aquaponics. This will be supported by an ongoing program to monitor and map fish stocks and other marine life, to study migratory patterns, and to assess economic benefits that can be derived from utilizing marine species that are not traditionally harvested.
For the island’s main port, we are exploring the separation of cargo and cruise tourism, which would allow it to have the technology needed for modernization and make it more competitive.
The blue economy would also allow Barbados to elevate its Coastal Zone Management Unit. The idea is to ensure it has a more strategic role in the planning processes to utilize the information and expertise it has to incorporate the risk vulnerability and hazard maps. This again would allow it to better assist the sustainable development of the coast and ensuring coastal protection given the undeniable truth that the sea is rising.
A blue economy also brings with it significant opportunities. Above all, it allows Barbados to set about determining a baseline for what exists in its ocean and assign economic values.
Furthermore, it will allow Barbados to create marine-managed areas (MMAs) to restore marine life – from plankton and fish to plants and reefs – which has suffered dramatically as a result of human activity. The aim is to restrict activity in these areas and to allow for marine research and the conservation of marine resources and ecosystems.
The blue economy will enable Barbados to forge technical cooperation with other more advanced blue economies and learn from best practice, which would make the country more competitive. It also offers the potential to deepen partnerships with the international community and organizations to strengthen the joint effort to preserve life under water.
Development of Barbados’s coastline, by adding new berths and jetties, will help increase trade and other activities. We will also look at the strengthening and creation of new industries such as boat building, net making, fish processing, aquaculture, pharmaceuticals and marine-based cosmetics.
In addition, in partnership with the private sector, Barbados is currently exploring the construction of islands offshore to generate new sources of revenue for the country.
It is envisioned that such infrastructural developments will not only serve to enhance the coastal landscape of the island, but will help further develop the country’s tourism offering, boost tax revenues and stimulate foreign direct investment.
The creation of a blue economy is central to another goal of the current government: ensuring that Barbados is a fossil-fuel free country by 2030. The ultimate focus is to harness alternative energy that can be derived from the ocean, the wind and the sun.
There is no doubt that blue economy provides Barbados with a platform on which to build new industries, increase job opportunities for residents and improve gross domestic product.
Focusing on the blue economy will serve to ensure that there is economic growth in Barbados while valuing two of its most valued resources: the ocean and the people who survive on it.