Towards wider use of ocean space
Other sectors Maritime Oil and gas Power and renewables Food

The oceans cover around 71% of the Earth’s surface and are an important source of food, minerals and energy. However, several factors threaten the ocean ecosystem, including overfishing, pollution, and acidification.

Ocean health is under severe pressure. A better understanding of marine ecosystems is crucial to achieving more sustainable ocean management. With only 5% of the oceans mapped in detail, new technologies will facilitate the mapping and extraction of ocean-based resources. Autonomous systems are ideally suited to explore and monitor ocean resources in areas posing logistical challenges.

As ocean use intensifies and new ocean areas open up, new industry sectors are moving offshore and new structures being developed to accommodate them. The oceans also represent an area of development for crowded coastal areas. Floating cities may offer a housing solution in response to the effects of climate change.

Vast value, anticipated growth

Toward 2030, the OECD estimates that the global value added in the ocean economy will grow to more than USD 3 trillion.

The OECD values the ocean economy’s output in 2010 at USD 1.5 trillion in value added, or approximately 2.5% of world gross value added (GVA)1. While the share of industrial capture fisheries is small (1% of value added), inclusion of the estimated value generated by artisanal capture fisheries (mainly in Africa and Asia) would add tens of billions in USD to the capture fisheries total.

Toward 2030, the OECD estimates that the global value added in the ocean economy will grow to more than USD 3 trillion (in constant 2010 USD) and maintain its share of world total GVA at around 2.5%. These estimates are conservative, and do not include a number of ocean-related industries for which adequate data are not available. For the same reason, the estimates understate activity in certain industries (such as shipping) for which numerous countries have had to be excluded. The modest growth or even contraction expected in some large industries (e.g. offshore oil and gas) masks comparatively high rates of growth expected in others (e.g. marine aquaculture, offshore wind, fish processing, port activities) and holds back overall average growth in the ocean economy. Many segments in the ocean economy have the potential to outperform the growth rate of the global economy.

Ocean health under severe threat

According to a report by the Intergovernmental SciencePolicy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, plastic pollution has increased tenfold since 1980, and 300–400 million tonnes of heavy metals, solvents, toxic sludge and other wastes from industrial facilities are dumped annually into the world’s waters. Fertilizers entering coastal ecosystems have created more than 400 ocean ‘dead zones’, totalling more than 245,000 km2 – a combined area greater than that of the United Kingdom2. A transformation to sustainable practices is crucial to preserving productive and resilient oceans and seas. The report ‘Global Goals, Ocean Opportunities’ from the UN Global Compact3 elaborates on how to protect and preserve the ocean while achieving increased production.

The common need to exploit the oceans in a sustainable manner requires coordination and collaboration, which may enhance geopolitical relations.

Competition for resources

Increased use of the ocean space is driven by increasing demand for resources such as food, energy and minerals, as well as limited and shrinking land-based resources.

Space limitations also force activities from land to sea, and from coastal areas inshore.

The trend could be limited by high offshore operation costs. A continued decrease in productivity of the ocean ecosystem is another potential barrier.

Multipurpose offshore platforms

As offshore facilities for energy, aquaculture and transport compete for marine space, moving operations away from the coast makes logistics and operations more complex and challenging.

Multi-use offshore platforms combine offshore energy generation such as wind, wave, solar, marine currents and ocean thermal energy conversion, to service aquaculture, leisure and transport.

Offshore platforms that combine many functions within the same infrastructure offer significant benefits in economic performance through sharing installation costs, logistics, operations and maintenance. They can also reduce the operations footprint, optimizing spatial planning and reducing the impact on the environment.

While multipurpose platforms can improve economic performance and reduce financial risk, they require co-operation across sectors, potentially complicating implementation.

Regarding governance, it is easier to combine operations from the same industrial sector, where the same regulatory bodies and regulations apply. In the interest of reducing uncertainties and speeding up implementation, it may be prudent to synergize laws, regulations, and policies across sectors, or to negotiate potential trans-boundary installations.

Impacts on society

The need for ocean resources for food, minerals and other valuable products, together with the knowledge of existing environmental vulnerabilities, could lead to fast-tracking circular economy models. The common need to exploit the oceans in a sustainable manner requires coordination and collaboration, which may enhance geopolitical relations.

Conversely, the wider exploitation of oceans can have negative consequences for coastal communities, disrupting traditional livelihoods and impacting fragile coastal ecosystems. Governance of the oceans is often unclear, with different regulatory systems overlapping and major areas left without governance. This may lead to geopolitical disagreements and conflict.

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