Source: Adapted from the Economist Intelligence Unit, 2015.
The Ocean Economy
For centuries the oceans have been used for fishing and for transport and trade. However, such use remained relatively marginal in relation to the bulk of human activities. With globalization, economic growth and technological innovation, the usage of the oceans for economic purposes has increased substantially. The term "ocean economy" is often used to characterize the wide range of activities that are related to the exploitation of maritime resources (such as food and energy) or the use of the ocean for transport and commercial purposes. The term "blue economy" is used as well, mostly when related to the sustainable use of the oceans. Three types of oceanic regions help articulate the ocean economy, with coastal areas representing the most extensively used because of their adjacency and ease of access. In recent years, Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) have been formalized for the purpose of sovereign ownership of energy and mineral resources, as well as fishing rights. The deepsea (or high seas) is usually composed of international waters with navigation being its more prevalent use. The extraction of resources on the high seas is subject to international regulations, commonly managed by the United Nations.
There are three groups of activities related to the ocean economy:
  • Harvesting of living resources. The most conventional use of ocean resources concerns fisheries, which account for about 15% of the world's protein intake, with aquaculture accounting for about 20% of all the fish harvested. A growing share of the seafood is coming from aquaculture since conventional fish sources are challenged by overfishing and that the global population requires additional protein sources. With scientific advances, marine biotechnology enables a more extensive usage of marine resources for the pharmaceutical and chemical industries.
  • Extraction of non-living resources. The use of the oceans to extract energy and mineral resources is relatively recent. Seabed mining is an emerging technology enabling to extract minerals from nodules are various depths. Although this activity can take place at almost any depths, the mineral rights are only available within an EEZ. Mineral rights for the high seas are managed by the International Seabed Authority, but no significant commercial ventures have so far been realized. Oil and gas is extracted from offshore platforms, mostly on the continental shelf within EEZs. The use of the oceans as a source of renewable energy is also beginning, particularly in terms of offshore wind farms and the use of tidal energy. In many areas, the scarcity of fresh water supply has incited the construction of desalination plants, which account for a growing share of the world's freshwater production.
  • Maritime trade and commerce. With globalziation, international trade and maritime shipping have experienced a substantial growth. This went on part with the expansion of port facilities and their associated logistical activities. The use of the oceans for touristic purposes is expanding, particularly in tropical and subtropical ares. The ongoing development of coastal resorts is occupying a significant amount of coastal real estate that has been captured by large hotel chains. Cruise shipping is also expanding with larger ships servicing more itineraries and has created an entirely new dimension to the ocean economy. Human coastal settlements have emerged in the past to take advantage of the commercial opportunities offered by maritime shipping. Many of the world's most important cities are port cities. The process now continues, in part driven by the economic and esthetical amenities offered by coastal areas.