By Meredith Brooks, AltaSea Strategic Grants and Special Projects
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact lives and economies across the globe, normal life as we know it has –at least for the moment– shifted to a period of uncertainty for many people and industries. Many media outlets have shared articles contending that we are amidst an experiment in a new way of living. Some of the shifts in behavior will certainly be short term, but we have an unprecedented opportunity to permanently adopt others for the betterment of our society and planet.
One of the greatest shifts on display is the direct impact that we can have on our natural world. From climate change to wildlife, we are seeing undeniable demonstrations of human impacts (and lack thereof) on the environment. With more people working from home than any time in recent history, there are fewer cars on the road and planes in the sky. There is some remarkable evidence that natural systems are rebounding with the decrease in human outdoor activities. Satellites have detected less pollution in the air, people can see fish and wildlife in the canals of Venice for the first time in decades, and turtles are successfully nesting on crowd-free beaches in Central America. Recent surveys found that fish and native algae populations in the often-overcrowded Hanauma Bay and other reefs across the Hawaiian Islands are increasing. The long-term impacts of these short-term changes have yet to be understood, but either way, nature is indeed demonstrating the influence that humans have on all other living things. While it may not be realistic to make the type of sweeping changes necessary to have these immediate results become permanent, some modicum of changes to our collective behaviors to increase sustainability can lead to significant changes down the road.
With Climate Change looming as a serious potential global disaster, focusing on sustainability can help to improve human and environmental health as well as the health and stability of both the economy and food supply. Current concerns over the status of the global economy and all that it encompasses are valid. The pandemic has unearthed cracks in fragile systems of order across the world, from healthcare to food security. The World Trade Organization projects that trade may fall up to 32% in 2020 as supply chains and other economic activities are disrupted due to the pandemic. Few industries and communities are immune to the impacts. In many areas, food insecurity and poverty are growing, and there are serious concerns that the economic fallout from this pandemic will push a half billion people into poverty. In other areas, farmers are destroying perishable crops they can no longer sell. Outbreaks are limiting the capabilities of some large terrestrial protein plants in the U.S., and agriculture labor shortages are having an impact. The impacts of the pandemic will be far-reaching and long-term. While we are limited in the physical actions we can take at the moment, this situation is creating an opportunity for us to consider the best way to build and rebuild moving forward to ensure our future food, economic, and environmental security.
The Blue Economy, which encompasses the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods and jobs, and ocean ecosystem health, is an ideal system for our global society to invest in. With sectors ranging from transportation and coastal resilience to fisheries and aquaculture, the emerging Blue Economy thrives on sustainable technologies to support the food system and create jobs, markets, and opportunities for people around the world. For example, aquaculture can utilize coastal resources to produce more food, reduce America’s $12B seafood trade deficit, and help restore ecosystems. From coastal and ocean mariculture to IMTA farming of bivalves and algae, including carbon-sequestering kelp, aquaculture is just one facet of a Blue Economy that can sustainably mitigate the impacts of our changing climate and address other global issues.
One beneficial impact of these times is that many people are reconnecting or connecting with nature for the first time as they search for opportunities to ‘escape.’ This connection to nature will help lay the foundation that is necessary to enact a sea change to create a more sustainable and secure society. Hopefully, as we emerge from this season, we can all consider strengthening our food, economic, and environmental security by investing in the Blue Economy, as well as commercial and consumer buy-in to reduce waste and make mindful choices. In the EU, leaders are leading the way by calling for post-pandemic recovery plans to include the continent’s “green transition,” and, the European Commission is pressing forward with its Renewed Sustainable Finance Strategy. It has been said that if we work together in this dark moment, it could be our finest hour. Partnership during times like these can instill in us a greater appreciation for the ability of the government, private and public sectors to tackle the world’s most serious problems together.