“The ocean economy may be a victim of the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis, but it also holds solutions for rebuilding a more resilient, sustainable and equitable post-COVID world.”
– A Sustainable & Equitable Blue Recovery to the COVID-19 Crisis Report
Ocean and coastal habitats provide an essential workplace for the world’s small-scale fishers, and coastal communities rely on the ocean for jobs, food, health, and cultural traditions. In fact, the ocean economy adds approximately US$1.5 trillion in value globally (OECD 2016). But the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionally impacts the ocean economy and these communities, especially those from Small Island Developing States (SIDS).
A new special report commissioned by the High-Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy (the Ocean Panel) recognizes the ocean economy’s vital role and the pandemic’s devastating impacts on ocean workers and the marine sector—and importantly, offers recovery solutions.
“A Sustainable and Equitable Blue Recovery to the COVID-19 Crisis”, as the name implies, recognizes the power of nature to help solve daunting global issues like climate change and pandemics. The report was released ahead of Climate Week NYC and a Rare-facilitated high-level roundtable meeting of coastal countries, where officials issued a joint message acknowledging the importance of the small-scale fishing sector to a blue (or green) recovery: that by implementing coastal and marine nature-based solutions, small-scale fishers can improve food security, nutrition, and the local economies of coastal nations, and enhance coastal resilience from climate change.
As a member of the Ocean Panel’s Advisory Network, Rare supports the five blue stimulus opportunities for government investment in COVID-19 crisis recovery outlined in the report. These proposed solutions deliver short-term relief to the economy and long-term economic, social, and environmental resilience. Moreover, they are considered a win-win for immediate assistance and forward-looking sustainable planning, known as a ‘no regrets’ investment strategy.
Fish Forever, Rare’s coastal fisheries program, prioritizes the report’s solution related to coastal and marine ecosystems: Invest in Coastal and Marine Ecosystem Restoration and Protection. Fish Forever uses behavioral insights to inspire fishing communities — fishers, fish buyers and traders, community members, and their local government — to adopt more responsible behaviors related to coastal fishing and implement nature-based solutions to protect their natural resources.
Investing in a nature-based solution like restoring and protecting coastal and marine ecosystems benefits coastal fishing households and their communities. This solution also has a host of benefits critical for a blue recovery, including the following five:
- Improves Food Security – Protecting coastal ecosystems supports ample fish resources and fish breeding habitat, which safeguards fishing communities by strengthening food security during times of crisis. Technology innovations, like Rare’s OurFish App referenced in the report, show how a nature-based approach to resource management benefits the community and improves food security: the app digitally helps to manage and understand fish stock and finance trends and enables fishing communities to monitor the value, type and local amount of fish caught.
- Enables Sound Financial and Household Decision-Making – Establishing Savings Clubs led by small-scale fishers empowers its members, often majority women, to manage their long-term household finances. It also raises awareness of the actions needed to enforce fish sanctuaries for coastal habitat protection and community livelihoods’ sustainability. This approach to behavior change “can powerfully affect the long-term strategy behind coastal fisheries conservation and the goal of ending overfishing,” as the report explains.
- Enhances Economic, Social, and Environmental Resilience – Investing in coastal and marine ecosystem restoration and protection can also expand job opportunities, such as protected areas enforcement officers, development planners, environmental engineers, and ecological restoration scientists. In addition to job security, nature-based solutions support the healthy natural resources that protect small-scale fishers’ livelihoods.
- Manages Natural Resources Sustainably – Ensuring coastal and marine ecosystem integrity further increases economic productivity by improving fisheries and tourism opportunities. Sustainable management also allows for more significant investment opportunities in blue carbon activities focused on climate mitigation and adaptation benefits from mangroves, seagrasses, and tidal salt marshes.
- Builds Community Pride – Stakeholder engagement and collaboration with public and private sectors, including small-scale fishers and their families, are critical for building pride in and ownership of more sustainable behaviors and community-based programs. Co-owning and managing natural resources and ensuring the inclusion of women and Indigenous communities has also demonstrated long-lasting benefits and delivers on many of the UN’s sustainable development goals.
Farmers and fishers rely on healthy ecosystems and strong local governance and management to thrive. Building back better from the impacts of COVID-19 will require a global blue recovery effort that not only prioritizes nature-based solutions but empowers coastal communities and their leaders to champion blue solutions.