International Waters learning Exchange & Resource Network

10. Blue economy

The term “blue economy” refers to the use of the marine environment and its resources for sustainable economic development. The concept of the blue economy clearly covers a broad range of economic sectors (fisheries, renewable and non-renewable energy, tourism, aquaculture, transportation, bioprospecting, mineral extraction, and nature conservation) and related environmental issues (pollution, climate change, ocean acidification, over-harvesting and habitat loss). There is also explicit recognition of the role of the marine environment in delivering multiple ecosystem services, both marketed and non-marketed. The challenge of the blue economy concept is to understand the economic importance of these multiple uses, how they interact, and how to manage the overall use of the marine environment over the long term. It is recognised that addressing this challenge requires collaboration across stakeholders, jurisdictions and scales. The blue economy concept seeks to promote economic growth, social inclusion, and the preservation or improvement of livelihoods while at the same time ensuring environmental sustainability of the oceans and coastal areas. It is directly relevant to and compatible with the concept of LME management.

Measuring the importance of the blue economy draws on several of the tools outlined in this toolkit, specifically on economic impact assessment (chapter 3.2), valuation methods (chapter 4), natural capital accounting (chapter 5), and blue carbon (chapter 9.4). The Example Box on the state of oceans and coasts in the East Asian Seas describes preliminary results on the importance of the blue economy in this region.

►WWF report on principles for a sustainable blue economy.

►World Bank report on the potential of the blue economy.

Example Box 11: State of Oceans and Coasts in the East Asian Seas Region

This case presents preliminary results of a regional State of Oceans and Coasts (SOC) report for East Asian Seas prepared by Partnerships in Environmental Management for the Seas of East Asia (PEMSEA). The purpose of the SOC is to measure progress and outcomes of the implementation of the SDS-SEA, UN SDGs, and other related international commitments.

The regional SOC report integrates information from national SOC reports and sub-regional and LME reports; synthesize the common issues, shared resources and values from the East Asian Seas; and present solution options and recommendations to ensure the flow of ecosystem services, improve ocean health, and promote the blue economy. In this context, the blue economy was defined in the Changwon Declaration 2012 and focuses on the economic perspective of the ocean economy and the natural oceanic capital while meeting the goals of healthy oceans and a more sustainable development. It involves a paradigm shift towards a sustainable, innovative, and inclusive ocean economy that ensures economic growth, welfare, ocean health and resilience.

The SOC report has a blue economy theme to highlight: (a) the contributions of oceans and coasts to national economies, income, livelihood and welfare; (b) state of ocean health, which could affect the ocean economy and ecosystem services; (c) the EAS region’s transition from the traditional ocean economy to blue economy, and investment opportunities; (d) innovative policies and governance mechanisms supporting blue economy development.

The entire ocean economy is measured as the sum of the economic activities of ocean-based and ocean-related industries, together with the natural assets, goods and services of marine ecosystems upon which these industries depend on, and people rely on for food, income, livelihood, recreation, shoreline protection, climate regulation, etc. The ocean economy as reported by eight countries in their draft SOC reports was estimated to be worth around $1.42 trillion in value added. Around 50 million people (in five countries) are employed in the ocean industries. For seven countries, the total estimated value of coastal and marine ecosystems is around $531 billion. The potential blue carbon value in the region was estimated to be $111 billion for mangroves, and $77-95 billion for seagrass.

Table 10. Summary of the size of the blue economy in East Asia


Ocean economy

Value of ecosystem services
(US$; billions)

US$; billions

Share of GDP (%)


















RO Korea








Timor Leste




Viet Nam