By Tamaisha Eytle, Program Officer and Miguel Guirao, Eastern Caribbean Support Officer

Consider some key and compelling facts about the world’s precious oceans: with every other breath, they are responsible for most of the oxygen we take in. They absorb 30 percent of all CO2 emissions. Oceans are the source of 30 percent of the world’s oil and gas resources and serve as the highway for some 90 percent of globally traded goods. Not impressed? Well, perhaps consider the fact that more than 3 billion people depend on our oceans for their basic livelihoods. This is why here in the Caribbean, the new Accelerator Lab hosted within the UNDP Sub-Regional Office for Barbados and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) will focus on the blue economy.

Andrew Hudson, Head of Water and Ocean Governance Programme at UNDP, refers to the blue economy as the utilization of ocean resources for human benefit in a way that sustains the overall ocean resource base into perpetuity. Essentially, the blue economy is about opportunities and livelihoods gained from the ocean and how we access these opportunities while maintaining the ocean’s health.

In a region highly dependent on natural resources for us in the Caribbean, it has become increasingly evident that the blue economy is a vital area for development and more targeted investment. The new “Blue Lab” sends a strong signal on the need for safeguarding and strengthening our marine economies. The lab is working to promote ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking and experimentation; supporting small island developing states in the sustainable development of its ocean-based economic sectors.

Photo by: Michael Atwood/UNDP Latin America and the Caribbean

The new portfolio of experimentation that the Blue Lab will be focusing on, falls in line with other “blue” initiatives that have emerged all around the region and are shaping their own contribution to the blue economy, including:

  • Barbados is only the third country in the world to establish a Ministry of Maritime Affairs and the Blue Economy. The Ministry, created in 2018, is dedicating personnel and government resources to guide the strategic development of the blue economy for the island. As the first nation in the region to make this monumental move in actually devising policies to protect the environment -it’s clear that Barbados is serious about being BLUE! Additionally, citizens are increasingly taking action in the sector and working to ensure that their role maintains at the centre of all development. For example, repurposing and finding alternative uses for the recent influx of sargassum seaweed. The sargassum has been linked to the rise in sea-surface temperatures and greatly impacted the Caribbean coastlines and marine spaces. Local enterprises have used the sargassum to their advantage. Oasis Laboratory is creating jewelry, beauty products and soaps out of sargassum and Red Diamond Compost is making a bio stimulant fertilizer.
  • Grenada established the Blue Growth Coastal Master Plan in 2016, the region’s first of its kind planning strategy; paving the way for dialogue and replication across the OECS countries.
  • Dominica became the first state in the region to complete a Scoping Study on the Blue Economy. Such studies are key to examining the opportunities and challenges of the blue economy, effectively mapping and informing future research and policies.
  • The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) launched the IDB Blue Tech Challenge in 2018, designed to provide support to pilot and scale commercial models that reinforce the ocean’s economy. This includes providing assistance for cutting-edge technologies that contribute to the sustainable management of oceans and coastal resources (or marine ecosystems) for basic livelihoods, food security and economic development of the Caribbean.
  • The Branson Centre for Entrepreneurship has as part of its mission to promote dynamic Caribbean economies and support the blue economy. The center has created an incubator program and investment boot-camp for entrepreneurs focussing on Belize, Jamaica and Barbados.
  • The Caribbean Regional Oceanscape Programme created the first successful investment project addressing the blue economy in the region in 2017. The programme provides aid for developing coastal and marine spatial plans across the OECS countries and works to implement policies to stimulate ‘blue growth’, build capacity, and raise awareness on issues.
  • The University of the West Indies, a leading research institute, through its Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies (CERMES) created the Sargassum Symposium in 2015 and 2018 to examine the biodiversity issues on trade and tourism and explore potential opportunities and community solutions created from the influx of sargassum.

It’s evident that these initiatives are expanding opportunities for engagement and experimentation that cannot be ignored and the Blue Lab is ready to support. The blue wave is here, and it is here to stay.

Stay tuned to the blog to hear about the portfolio of experimentation that the Blue Lab team is preparing in the Caribbean!

Tamaisha Eytle is Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Programme Sub-Regional Associate Officer at UNDP Barbados and the OECS. You can follow her on Twitter.

Miguel Guirao is Resilience and Innovation Specialist at UNDP Barbados and the OECS. You can follow him on Twitter.

Building the world’s largest learning network around development challenges. 91 Labs in 115 countries. http://acceleratorlabs.undp.org/

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