Dolphin Bonds and Biotechnology: How to Invest in the Blue Economy

The Seychelles usually evoke images of unspoilt beaches, turquiose oceans and lush jungles, but recently the Indian Ocean island has been in the news thanks to financial innovation.

Following the financial crash in 2008, the Seychelles ran into major financial problems and had to rely on an IMF bailout to recover, but since it has also been exploring ways in which it can build a more resilient economy.

Dolphin Bonds

This year the Seychelles launched a world first, a “blue bond” which will use the money raised from the product to protect the marine life around the island by expanding protected ocean areas. These new reserves will be off limits to oil exploration and fishing. 

The bond will also back artisanal or low impact fisheries which will help provide livelihoods for local people while avoiding overfishing and the collapse of fish stocks.

The bond was designed with help from the World Bank and the Prince of Wales’ Sustainability Unit and sold directly to institutional investors.

Although a small bond, it is highly innovative and its success in protecting the environment and helping the local economy could spur others to copy it and in turn help boost the “Blue Economy”.

The Blue Economy looks to make sea and coastal based investments sustainable and avoid the pillaging of the world’s oceans and seas which have ruined countless marine environments.

Dying Oceans

The health of the world’s oceans and marine life is in a critical condition and requires immediate attention from business and governments. Across the globe fish stocks have been plundered, while plastics and pollution have flooded the oceans.

Climate breakdown threatens coral reefs and many other forms of sea life through rising temperatures and acidification.

It is estimated the there are an incredible 5 trillion bits of plastic floating around in the world’s oceans. Much of this plastic has coallesed around a giant “garbage patch” in the Pacific Ocean which is roughly three times the size of France.

A new approach is clearly required and the Blue Economy emphasises better stewardship of the world’s oceans through sustainable fisheries, tourism and construction which conserves or enhances the marine environment.

Opportunities in the Blue Economy

The blue economy offers opportunities for businesses who want to help protect the oceans and develop their ventures across a surprisingly wide number of sectors.

Ecotourism:

Whale watching and sea safaris along with activities such as snorkelling and scuba diving are all part one of the world’s biggest industries – namely tourism. Globally this sector is set to grow massively in the next few years, particularly as more Chinese visitors travel abroad for the first time. Protecting marine environments is a must for the ecotourism sector, pristine coasts and coral reefs are big draws for visitors. Ventures that are able to both protect marine environments while also attracting visitors can thrive while promoting Blue Economy values.

Aquaculture:

Currently the global demand for fish does not match the supply. Humans have already severely depleted the oceans of fish and shellfish. In order to meet demand farming fish or aquaculuture sustainably is a must.

Aquaculture can often be to the detriment of the environment, causing pollution, spreading disease among wild fish and resulting in farmers killing natural predators such as seals that attack their stocks.

However if carried out in a sustainable manner aquaculture can provide quality fish without damage to the environment. Consumers increasingly demand sustainable fish so the aquaculture sector can expect to enjoy a boom.

Renewable Energy

Investing in offshore renewable energy such as floating wind farms and now increasingly solar panels has a bright future. Installing and maintaining this technology provides investment and jobs for coastal communities. Tidal barrages, wave power and even ocean thermal energy conversion can also be tapped from the sea.

In some countries construction of land based wind or solar farms has become difficult due to local objections, this will make sea and lake based farms even more attractive to investors.

Cleaning up the ocean:

A Dutch NGO has taken up the mighty challenge of cleaning up the great Pacific Garbage Patch. By using a 600 metre long floater and 3 metre skirt to passively catch the plastic moving in tandem with oceanic currents. Once captured the team will concentrate the rubbish, bring it ashore where it can be sold to recycling companies.

NGOs will often be on the forefront of the efforts required to rehabilitate the world’s marine environment. But there is also undoubtedly a role for the private sector to play in designing and implementing innovative solutions to the problems of cleaning up waste and pollution in the ocean.

Sustainable Infrastructure:

The demand for sustainable ports and the development of coastal cities and communities is set to rocket. The realisation that infrastructure must be done in a manner which minimises damage to the environment and helps to reduce carbon emissions (through suitable materials and construction), but also in terms of its resilience in the face of climate change.

Rising sea levels, increasing storms and changing weather patterns will severely impact coastlines and new infrastructure has to take this into account or be doomed to early obsolescence.

Blue Biotechnology:

Perhaps the most unexplored facet of the blue economy is biotechnology, this is utilising marine animals to help create new commercial enzymes or pharmaceuticals. For example Yondelis was developed from soft bodied animals to make the first cancer fighting  drugs from marine animals. The anti viral drugs Zovirax and Acyclovir were both extracted from nucleosides isolated from Caribbean sponges.

This sector is still relatively small but has the potential to grow into a high skill, high value market with potentially wide societal benefits.

The Challenge

The marine environment faces enormous and almost overwhelming challenges, but there is now momentum now behind the blue economy movement. It is now up to business, governments and NGOs to scale up their efforts to make an real impact and reverse the years of damage inflicted upon the marine world. Investment in the sectors listed above, if executed in the right way can push the blue economy in a new positive direction.

 

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