COVID-19 Damages the Economy, but Recovery Must Consider the Environment

There’s no denying that the new coronavirus has negatively impacted the economy, all around the world. Everyone and everything such as airlines, restaurants, export/import, and entertainment, is lacking in cashflow. Not just that, though. COVID-19 has also affected the sea. No, not the marine life, but the marine jobs, products, and services, which have been valued at $2.5 trillion a year.

Because of the pandemic, maritime shipping has dropped in in activity of up to 30 percent in some regions. Because of self-isolations and lockdowns, there’s been a reduced demand for seafood, and so fishing activity plummeted as much as 80% in China and West Africa. Nations which depend water tourism have shut their borders as well.

In total, the global impact of COVID-19 may amount to a $7.4 billion loss and could put 75 million jobs at risk. Yeah, we usually don’t hear so much from the “blue economy”, but the impact is quite significant.

Since our planet has more water than land, I think it’s safe to say that rebuilding ocean economy is important. However, like all types of economy, we still need to make it not just stronger, but also more sustainable after the pandemic ends (which hopefully happens soon).

Make ocean/beach tourism more sustainable

ocean and beach tourism should be made more sustainable

Beach sells, and before coronavirus, this tourism had a value at $390 billion globally and comprises a significant portion of the GDP of many nations. Therefore, people who depend on ocean tourism and consequently have a stake in ocean health can’t be abandoned right now.

They need recovery funds so that they can restore coastal ecosystems like coral reefs and mangroves. This type of tourism gives a lot of ROI (return on investment) and healthy marine ecosystems is vital for ocean tourism.

During the Great Depression, there were similar nature-based programs in the form of job creation, namely the Civilian Conservation Corps Stimulus fund may be able to keep workforces active and they can install sustainability upgrades in hotels, drinking water stations to reduce plastic pollution and water treatment systems, or training staff so that they can have more sustainability skillset.

Cut down shipping emissions

a cargo ship freighter

Conventional shipping is most of the time done through the ocean, and approximately maritime shipping carries an estimated 90% of the planet’s cargo. From this number, we know that the ocean traffic has a big contribution to global carbon emissions.

The International Maritime Organization has mandated that shipping emissions be reduced by 50% by 2050. Since there’s a reduction in shipping activity during the pandemic, this time is as good a time as any to start moving towards that goal.

Unused ships can be upgraded so that next time they can have increased fuel efficiency, which leads to emission reduction. Additionally, people who are involved for this matter could secure political support to prepare for future demand to be met with zero-emission vessels.

Asia represents more than 95% of the world’s shipbuilding by tonnage. Therefore, these opportunities could bear fruitful outcome in countries such as China, South Korea, and Japan. If we want to focus more on accelerating progress towards decarbonizing shipping, there should also be aid or opportunities to prepare ports to provide zero-emissions fuels.

Acknowledge and support mariners

mariners should get some love too

If you’ve ever seen tv shows that document the daily lives or endeavors of seamen (NatGeo’s Wicked Tuna for example), you’ll know that their lives are rough. As much as I love the sea or ocean, I don’t like venturing it. So, I respect people who work in these environments.

But anyway, people who work in the shipping and fishing industry are important for us all. Simply put, they’re the delivery drivers and grocery clerks of the ocean economy. Unfortunately, their positions are vulnerable.

We can support them by providing them with viral and antibody testing and administering, as well as safe transit home after being at sea for a long period of time. Moreover, crews should have access to secure communication channels that enable them to interact with people at home. Enhanced communications would confer the added benefit of combating slavery at sea.

Consider the possibility of farming the sea

aquaculture in Western Greece. Photo by AlMare Wikimedia Commons
aquaculture in Western Greece. Photo by AlMare Wikimedia Commons

According to scientists, there are around 845 million people worldwide who are nutritionally vulnerable to any decline in seafood. Sadly, COVID-19 could make things worse because the pandemic can disrupt food trade and labor networks in the ocean economy.

To avoid the worst, we can use stimulus funds to support smart aquaculture. Ocean farming is a way to provide nutritional support to vulnerable local populations without significant environmental impact. After investing in smart, sustainable agriculture is done, we can start to move towards this one.

Incorporate more tech in the ocean

we should also implement more technology in ports

According to GreenBiz, another way to fast-track the reopening of ocean economy is to direct stimulus funds towards marine technologies. That way, we can understand and observe our ocean more efficiently and effectively.

Due to the pandemic, fisheries observer programs that help the industry collect vital data to enhance catch, enforce laws and protect endangered species have been suspended. If we incorporate technology such as AI to the monitoring systems, we can maintain these data pipelines and won’t have to worry if there’s another trouble in the future.

Other than that, we can also expand machine learning-powered interpretation of satellite data and enhanced drones that can curtail illegal fishing. In certain regions, conventional marine patrols have been reduced because of the pandemic. The drones and satellite data could connect sustainable fishers to local consumers via apps when restaurants and markets are closed.

Don’t feed the greed

Commercial fishing of cod. Photo by Asc1733 Wikimedia Commons
Commercial fishing of cod. Photo by Asc1733 Wikimedia Commons

The bright side of COVID-19 is that all living thing can thrive (including the invasive ones, but oh well). During the World War II, many fishing vessels were forced to stop fishing. As a result, there was an increase in fish populations like cods. Similar situations, right? But we shouldn’t let greed take over.

Instead of overharvesting the fish, we should use fisheries science to design intelligent harvest-yield protocols that maximize the long-term benefit of any possible COVID-19 gains. After all, sustainability is still important in order to keep the marine ecosystems healthy.

Keep ocean parks (protected areas) the way they are

A sign on ocean floor prohibiting spearfishing or any kind of fishing. Photo by O'Dea at Wikimedia Commons
A sign on ocean floor prohibiting spearfishing or any kind of fishing. Photo by O’Dea at Wikimedia Commons

We have vast waters, but the unfortunate truth is that only 7,4% of our ocean is protected. We need ocean parks in order to protect and preserve marine biodiversity as well as help boost breeding fish populations that spill over to enhance regional fisheries. Ocean parks could also create jobs in tourism.

However, some have suggested that because the blue economy is getting damaged by the coronavirus, we should open the ocean parks to industrial fishing. This kind of fear and sense of urgency won’t give us favorable outcome in the future, because these parks are long-term ocean investments that take decades to mature, but only days to erase.

GreenBiz stated that getting rid of ocean parks to restore the blue economy would be a blow to sustainable blue tourism. The authors of the article said, “Such actions would be akin to dismantling and selling off all the rides in Disneyland during COVID-19 — a short-sighted disservice to local jobs and economies.”



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