Marine resources will play crucial role in growth of African and global economies if innovative solutions are designed to tap their potential.
This was a prominent message that came out of a recent global forum which focused on adoption of new forms of technologies to drive sustainable utilisation of the blue economy.
Stakeholders said Africa and the world should find ways to tap the tech-savvy youth to come up with solutions to spur the sector.
Jacqueline Uku of the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association (WIOMSA) said innovation in aquaculture is critical in saving marine life and boosting livelihoods of communities living near oceans, seas, lakes and rivers.
“We need to tap the talent of the youth who can create digital tools and software to make marine management easy,” she said.
Speaking during a High-Level Side Event on blue economy at the culmination of the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in Gigiri, Nairobi, Dr Uku and other environmentalists asked countries to take the lead in pioneering innovative ways to ensure sustainable utilisation of the blue economy.
Dr Jan Robinson, a government public sector representative from the Seychelles, said his country designed a blue economy strategy in 2014, riding mainly on innovation.
“Despite the challenges occasioned by the Covid-19 pandemic and the global geopolitical squabbles, innovation remains very important in sustaining the blue economy,” he told the forum, calling for adoption of technology to monitor fish migratory patterns and boost sustainable fishing.
Prof. Francis Mulaa, dean at the Faculty of Science and Technology at the University of Nairobi, demonstrated how Chiromo Tech, an aquaculture startup founded by the institution, is tapping tech to conserve marine ecosystems.
“We are focused with scoping, design, financing, building, operating and transferring of complete value chains locally and regionally,” he said.
The startup uses big data analytics and machine learning to grow fingerlings, dispense feed, control fishing volumes, monitor fish health, check water quality, assess delivery grades and project business profitability.
Dr Uku noted that WIOMSA has created a science policy platform which links scientists and policy makers to inform decisions relating to the management of human activities affecting Kenya’s coastal marine environment.
One of the organisation’s projects is supporting seaweed farming at the South Coast where it works with local communities, the government and private sector to conduct research and unite farmers and exporters.
The event, which was a follow up to the global vision upheld during the Sustainable Blue Economy Conference held in Nairobi in November 2018, also addressed how governments can transform scientific knowledge and research into actionable business opportunities.
Another key topic at the event was how to transform energy systems in the blue economy to reduce carbon emissions that harm marine life in Africa and the world.
“We are looking at options for green energy in Africa but we need this across all oceans and seas,” said Dr Philip Osano, Africa Centre Director of the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI).
Kenya’s Shipping and Maritime Principal Secretary Nancy Karigithu urged the world governments to decarbonise the blue economy through innovative solutions.
“Reducing carbon emissions from the shipping industry and creating capacity in developing green energy projects will help protect marine zones,” she said.
She noted that apart from creating wealth, millions of people depend on water bodies for their livelihoods, noting that a balance ought to be struck between curbing overfishing and maintaining coastal communities’ sources of income.
Dr Uku acknowledged that vulnerability within communities is happening but commercialisation of marine projects to support livelihoods needs support from the private sector. She said technological support from the private sector would create value addition to such products and ride on economies of large scale.
Kenya hosts Africa’s maritime technology centre at Jomo Kenyatta University of Science and Technology. Ms Karigithu said the centre helps prevent pollution from ships, and works with port authorities and shipping players to ensure compliance with international requirements for a clean blue economy.
“It raises awareness on climate change, conducts pilot projects on ship fuel consumption and disseminates academic research to help achieve the Paris Agreement.”
Dr Vladimir Ryabinin, Executive Secretary of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO, said use of data science in sustainable ocean planning would greatly help in reducing ocean salinity and curbing the rising temperatures and sea levels.
Dr Ryabinin also called for more funds to be channeled towards marine research, noting that the global ocean economy is worth Sh280 trillion.
“While investments in sustaining global oceans have hit Sh110 trillion, with Sh30 million being set aside for coordinating ocean observations, only 1.7 per cent of total funds spent on science goes to marine research,” he disclosed.
Globally, only 16 countries are creating standards on sustainable ways of managing marine environments with most blue economy projects being initiated in developed countries.
“We also need to see developing countries coming up with initiatives. Only Kenya, Ghana and Namibia are keen on the blue economy in Africa,” said Dr Vladimir.
Education chief administrative secretary Sarah Ruto said Kenya is considering introduction of courses for marine technology studies in universities.