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From Pasir Ris to Washington- Blue Economy’s role in Revitalizing the deep blue

Updated: May 17

Ocean Purpose Project was invited to deliver a keynote address at the Oceans@Duke Blue Economy Summit 2023 and share our suite of regenerative ocean projects to Duke University’s prestigious gathering of ocean specialists.

The Blue Economy, also known as the ocean economy, refers to the sustainable use of the world's oceans, seas, and coasts to promote economic growth, improve livelihoods, and enhance ecosystem health. Common Blue economy sectors are maritime transport, offshore fuel and related industry as well as fisheries and aquaculture, and the processing and trade of these resources. This was the backdrop to Ocean Purpose Project’s exciting trip to meet American oceanauts on the Eastern seaboard of America and discover the vast opportunities for economic development and environmental sustainability, especially in the United States and globally.

It was a mad rush to the airport, travelling with our intern Vishnu who was bubbling with excitement, his first trip to the US in his lifetime. Although our 31 hour trip chalked up the carbon footprint which we offset with our partner Greensteps, purchasing 12 trees in Indonesian forests, I realised the length and breadth of this country from watching outside the plane window- The Alaskan cold right down to the western seaboard of San Diego and California and then crossing the wide expanse of multiple states, through mountains and plains, rivers and lakes that the world hears about on a daily basis but seeing it throughout a day of travelling takes a different meaning.

Mathilda and Vishnu in the plane, on the way to North Carolina

America after all, has the world's largest exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of 13.5 million square kilometres, which offers enormous potential for the development of Blue Economy sectors such as aquaculture, marine renewable energy, and maritime transport. According to a report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the US ocean economy contributed $373 billion to the nation's gross domestic product (GDP) in 2018, supporting 2.3 million jobs.

While the OPP Team of me and Vishnu were up in the air, a landmark bill was introduced in Congress calling for a federal study on the possibilities of coastal seaweed farming, and creating a new seaweed farming fund to push First Nations people, especially those in Alaska to “reduce cost barriers for indigenous communities, emboldening them to participate in coastal seaweed farming,” according to sponsors of the bill Reps. Jared Huffman, D-California, and Mary Peltola, D-Alaska who incidentally is from the Yup'ik peoples of Western Alaska. This combined with the American aquaculture industry, one of the fastest-growing sectors in the Blue Economy utilize abundant marine resources while potentially increasing the production of seafood, reduce imports, and create new jobs. Additionally, aquaculture can reduce the pressure on wild fish stocks and provide a sustainable source of protein.

Eager to learn more about the contributions of the First Nations communities of the Eastern states, I turned the inability to sleep into a free fall into learning about the eight (8) state-recognized tribes located in North Carolina: the Coharie, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the Haliwa-Saponi, the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, the Meherrin, the Sappony, the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation and the Waccamaw Siouan. In my opening address, I wanted to give thanks to these original custodians of the land, something that I had learned during my time at Murdoch University in Western Australia where every single speech always gave respect to the Nyoongar people before beginning.

Mathilda and Vishnu sharing cool insights with other attendees

The trip was spectacular in realising the amazing innovations on display- from seaweed textiles to investment funds to meeting with amazing representatives pursuing their masters from around the world who were focused on marine renewable energy, another emerging sector in US Blue Economy highly dependant on bi-partisan support especially with its significant offshore wind energy potential and several large-scale projects in development along the Atlantic coast. Maritime transport is another critical sector in the Blue Economy, with the United States having some of the busiest ports in the world. The maritime transport sector supports trade and commerce, and the development of new technologies can improve efficiency and reduce the environmental impact of shipping. Sharing our work in ocean plastic derived hydrogen to power shipping left a few jaws on the floor- a reaction that made me giggle.

Mathilda giving her speech as the keynote speaker at the event

It was nerve wrecking to represent not only Singapore but the entire Asia and share my journey to some of the most influential blue specialists of North and South America. You can watch my speech here.

Mathilda and Vishnu pictured with the organizing committee from Duke

Roundtable discussions were intriguing as this was an area where Asia and Europe were quite ahead of the curve, discussing the economic impacts of marine renewable energy to create jobs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and enhance energy security. I learnt from the amazing stories of Asia Williams from the Waitt Institute, Reece Pacheco of Propeller Venture Capital who spoke of recruiting “a blessing of narwhals” (the blue economy’s version of unicorns). I marvelled at the intensity of Angelique Pouponneau who I follow on Linkedin as she painted with clarity the legal challenges, ironies and sometimes hypocrisies of Blue Economy’s sustainability agenda.

It was in a panel discussion that I heard the amazing work of Paul Adjin-Tettey, “a son of the sea community” as he called himself who worked with small holdings fisher communities in Ghana and had amazing support for capacity building, education and industry knowledge sharing sessions as part of his role as the at the Fisheries Commission for the Republic of Ghana. The community sharings from him and fellow Asian Rocky Guzman from the Asian Research Institute for Environmental Law in the Philippines gave me renewed insights on ocean community management and getting the right tribe to imbibe the right vibe.

It wasn’t all work and no play, garden addict Vishnu took me to visit the gardens at Duke University and spend some precious moments in nature while observing the brilliant red birds called the Northern Cardinal who frequented the trees and flowers, no wonder that’s the main name of sports teams in the area. The Duke campus culture seemed to be one gathered around pockets of green and gardens, an energy of bright minds that is hard to ignore.

Mathilda and Vishnu exploring the beautiful Duke Gardens

The Blue Economy is not limited to the United States, and many countries worldwide are exploring the potential of the ocean economy to support economic growth and environmental sustainability. According to a report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the global ocean economy is projected to double in size by 2030, reaching $3 trillion.

The Blue Economy offers vast opportunities for economic development and environmental sustainability, both in the United States and globally. The sustainable use of the world's oceans, seas, and coasts can promote economic growth, improve livelihoods, and enhance ecosystem health. With proper governance and investment, the Blue Economy can contribute to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, such as ending poverty, promoting sustainable economic growth, and protecting the planet.

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