World Catching On to Importance of Blue Economy

In this week's episode of "EARTH A New Wild," my colleague M. Sanjayan visits Papua New Guinea, the Bahamas, the Sea of Cortez and New York City to spotlight just a few of the ways people are interacting with our oceans.

Humans have always depended on the "blue" covering most of our planet. Yet only recently have we become more aware of the magnitude of our impacts -- and realized what we must do to conserve and be able to continue to benefit from these waters.

Case in point: In January, the deadlock at the United Nations about how to manage the high seas was finally broken. The U.N. agreed to begin a two-year process to discuss the elements of a legally binding agreement on the high seas, or areas beyond national jurisdiction, which are the waters beyond 200 nautical miles [370 kilometers] from the coastline. They will report back to the U.N. General Assembly by the end of 2017.

Setting up a process for discussion may not sound like much progress, but for an organization of 193 member states that often moves at a glacial pace, it is a sign that oceans have moved up the agenda of international affairs.

It may surprise you to learn that 60 percent of the world's oceans are waters that do not belong to any one country. They are owned by everybody and nobody at once, a situation that understandably makes sustainable management a challenge. This step forward for high-seas conservation is a reflection of a growing awareness among government and business leaders that our oceans underpin human well-being through a global "blue economy."

It takes time to get every country on the planet on the same page regarding oceans, but the momentum for change is growing.

One of the draft U.N. Sustainable Development Goals that will replace the Millennium Development Goals later this year is dedicated entirely to oceans and coasts. Some of Asia's economic giants are holding summits on blue economy. The governments of the Netherlands and Grenada are doing the same. And let me tell you, there will be no blue economy -- no sustainable fisheries, no coastal economies and livelihoods, no ocean-based tourism and no mariculture -- if we do not take care of the marine ecosystems that underpin these valuable industries.

So what do government officials and corporate CEOs need to do to secure a sustainable blue economy that can continue to generate benefits and prosperity for people?

Sebastian Troëng is the senior vice president and managing director of the Betty and Gordon Moore Center for Science and Oceans at Conservation International. This is was first published on Conservation International's blog Human Nature.