Understanding the Blue Economy: Indonesia and Kiribati

Updated: Dec 7, 2021

"No water, no life. No blue, no green."

Sylvia Earle


The earliest known evidence of seafaring dates to Homo erectus’ presence on the Indonesian island of Flores, some 800,000 years ago.[1] Whilst rudimentary wooden rafts carried these hunter-gatherers to new lands, technological development has made humanity masters of the sea.

To date, 14 of the world’s 17 largest cities are built on the coast.[2] The oceans transport 90% of global economic trade.[3] Three billion people in the world rely on seafood as a primary source of protein.[4]

Safe to say, the ocean is an enormous economy.

Defining the Blue Economy

There is a concept in economics, which advocates the sustainable use of the oceans for improving global livelihoods and promoting economic growth, with the condition of preserving the ocean’s ecosystems.

This is the Blue Economy.

The European Commission defines it as “all economic activities related to oceans, seas, and coasts.”[5] However, most blue economy advocates such as the United Nations, World Bank, and The Ocean Foundation state the importance of using the oceans sustainably, and in a way that preserves healthy oceans for generations to come.

The sustainable perspective is an excellent avenue for governments to focus on. Currently, Blue Economy solutions are being advocated as part of the United Nations’ 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, which are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure peace and prosperity by 2030.[6]

Blue Economy strategies include:

  • Harnessing sustainable and renewable energy.

  • Promoting action against illegal fishing.

  • Increasing coastal resilience against sea-level rise.

  • Advocating sustainable eco-tourism to benefit communities and marine life.

  • Protecting marine life as a natural part of the animal kingdom.

  • Promoting scientific research and development on Blue Economy solutions.

Blue Economy Challenges

There are a plethora of global challenges that could be mitigated using Blue Economy thought. Climate change is probably the biggest.

According to the United Nations, climate change could see a sea-level increase by 1m by 2100.[7] This prediction could see 187 million people displaced.

Whilst disasters such as hurricanes and flooding are a natural part of Earth’s climate and atmospheric makeup, there is significant evidence that climate change could worsen the severity of natural disasters and extreme weather phenomenon.

For coastal communities vulnerable to extreme weather, domestic Blue Economy planning stimulates coastal resilience through flood barriers and sea walls. This prevents coastal erosion and excess flooding.

The Blue Economy in Indonesia

As you can see from these pictures, sea-level rise has become a serious problem for the Indonesian capital, Jakarta. Nonetheless, the government has invested heavily in coastal resilience to aid in the fight against the sea.[9]

Indonesia has become quite the poster child for Blue Economists. In and around its 17,000 islands, the government has reduced illegal fishing, is upgrading its maritime observation equipment, and is investing in marine conservation networks.[10]

In 2017, the government introduced the Indonesian Sustainable Tourism Awards (ISTA).[11] The awards were created to promote the proliferation of sustainable tourism development throughout the archipelago, which attracts approximately five million tourists each year [12]

Another significant nation in the Blue Economy scene is the Pacific atoll nation, Kiribati.

The Blue Economy in Kiribati

Blue Economy thought also applies to maritime issues, which refers to seafaring, shipping, or naval activities.

Under the UN Convention of the Law and the Sea (UNCLOS), the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is the economic territory of up to 200 nautical miles beyond a nation's coast.

This gives island nations such as Kiribati, a nation with a land area of 811km², an enormous ocean territory of 3,455,259km²[13].

In this regard, Kiribati’s Blue Economy planning has focussed on using its maritime capabilities to create the largest marine conservation in the world: The Phoenix Island Protected Area. [14]

Surveillance and patrol ships to protect this site have also aided Kiribati’s ability to survey fishing fleets from South Korea, Japan, China, Taiwan, and the US, who pay fees to Kiribati to operate fishing fleets in her ocean territory.[15]

It is estimated that the combined value of Kiribati’s lagoon, coastal and oceanic fisheries exceeds $79 million.[16].

Additionally, the nation's capacity for new sustainable marine projects has grown significantly in recent years, with help from many international, regional, and national initiatives. (See https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/memberstates/kiribati for more details).

Kiribati, therefore, shows great promise for Blue Economy thought.

As a nation considered one of the first to be swallowed by sea-level rise, given current projections, [17] Kiribati’s coastal resilience and sustainable planning deserve attention from Blue Economy advocates.

Final Thoughts

The high seas beyond the EEZs of all nations are considered the common heritage of mankind. They are supposed to be preserved and upheld in a natural balance to ensure future generations may enjoy Earth’s natural state and beauty.

However, the territory behind the EEZ line is liable to irresponsible fishing and poisonous forms of resource extraction. Harnessing the Blue Economy is a responsible, sustainable, and above all, beneficial means to overcome these problems.



[1] https://www.sciencemag.org/news/1998/03/first-seafarers#:~:text=Our%20early%20ancestor%20Homo%20erectus,Flores%20some%20800%2C000%20years%20ago.

[2] https://www.prb.org/rippleeffectspopulationandcoastalregions/#:~:text=Many%20of%20the%20world's%20coasts,cities%20are%20located%20along%20coasts.

[3] https://www.nlai.blue/buy-our-blue-economy-book/

[4] https://www.worldwildlife.org/industries/sustainable-seafood

[5] https://ec.europa.eu/maritimeaffairs/sites/maritimeaffairs/files/2018-annual-economic-report-on-blue-economy_en.pdf

[6] https://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/sustainable-development-goals.html

[7] https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2018/02/WG1AR5_Chapter13_FINAL.pdf

[8] https://www.statista.com/chart/19884/number-of-people-affected-by-rising-sea-levels-per-country/#:~:text=Most%20people%20affected%20would%20live,theoretically%20be%20the%20most%20affected.

[9] https://coastalresilience.org/project/indonesia/

[10] https://www.afd.fr/en/ressources/afd-and-blue-economy-indonesia

[11] https://www.thejakartapost.com/travel/2019/03/23/tourism-minister-arief-yahya-destination-sustainability-certification

[12] https://web.archive.org/web/20110721120843/http://www.budpar.go.id/page.php?ic=621&id=180

[13] http://macbio-pacific.info/kiribati/

[14] http://www.solutions-site.org/node/300

[15] https://www.ffa.int/node/268

[16] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/769213/Commonwealth_Marine_Economies_Programme_-_Kiribati_Country_review.pdf

[17] https://www.iberdrola.com/environment/kiribati-climate-change

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