Kudos to the government for working with the United Nations Development Programme to explore the possibilities offered by the so-called “blue economy.”

At a time when financial services and tourism both face serious threats, the ongoing efforts could even lead to the third economic pillar the Virgin Islands so badly needs.

The term “blue economy” — which is currently in vogue internationally after being coined in a 2010 book by the Belgian entrepreneur and author Gunter Pauli — typically is used to describe sustainable use of the world’s oceans and coasts.

Though VI leaders should be cautious about being drawn into a trend just because it sounds catchy, we believe the movement has real possibilities here.

In many respects, of course, the concept is not new to the VI: For hundreds of years, the territory’s waters have been used for fishing, transportation and other economic activities. More recently, the ocean has also powered the growth of the tourism industry, which relies heavily on yachting, scuba diving, beach-going and the like.

But we suspect much more could be done. The VI’s exclusive economic zone extends as far as 200 nautical miles offshore, meaning that an enormous portion of it is essentially untapped at a time when technological advances in areas such as aquaculture, renewable energy and bioprospecting are opening new windows of opportunity.

Sustainability, however, must be the watchword. Already, the VI is rapidly destroying much of its marine environment through careless practices. Coral is dying due to runoff and irresponsible anchoring; mangroves and other essential coastal vegetation are cut indiscriminately; and pollution is adversely affecting the land and sea environments alike.

As the territory works toward harnessing the “blue economy,” then, it first must ensure that proper environmental legislation and policies are in place — and are consistently enforced.

To that end, it is welcome news that the government is partnering with the UNDP to develop a strategy to harness the “blue economy.” This step, which we trust will include plans for enhancing environmental protections, is crucial.

The territory’s recently announced participation in the UNDP’s Blue Lab Accelerator Programme is also a positive step that should help harness the private sector’s energy and ideas. We hope the community will take full advantage of the grants and other assistance offered through the initiative.

We were also pleased to hear about related plans, which include awarding a “blue badge” to companies that meet certain requirements; building a mangrove nursery; and promoting solar-powered cooling devices for fishers.

The “blue economy” that has meant so much to the VI’s past and present could also be its future. We look forward to hearing more.

 


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