Our oceans give us us food and fuel, medicine and minerals as well as providing for our leisure and pleasure. But this bounty can be finite and fragile.
Degradation of coastal and marine ecosystems threatens the physical, economic and food security of local communities, as well as resources for global businesses.
How can we live more sustainably in harmony with our oceans and access their riches without costing the Earth?
Blue growth (or blue economy) is the idea that healthy ocean ecosystems are more productive and are essential for sustainable ocean-based economies.
Taking better care of our oceans or ‘blue’ resources – sustainable management, conservation and restoration of coastal and marine ecosystems – is vital not only to the creatures that live in them but to humans who live alongside them.
Kelps are large brown seaweeds that grow in ‘underwater forests’ in shallow oceans around the world. Common around Scotland’s coasts, kelp beds are protected in 17 locations around Scotland by a suite of Marine Protected Areas.
Dense forests of kelp develop wherever there is bedrock or large, stable boulders for attachment. They grow best in strong water movement, from either waves or currents, and can grow to depths of more than 30m in clear waters.
They provide food and shelter for many marine animals, support important food chains and play a big role in recycling coastal nutrients. Kelp forests are even thought to provide some coasts with a degree of protection from storms, by absorbing some of the energy of the waves.
The Undersea Larder
The oceans have always provided us with food, but we’ve fished some species to extinction and are killing others indirectly by ruining their homes. How can we take sustenance more sustainably from our seas?
Many fish species are moving toward the poles in response to ocean warming, disrupting fisheries. A recent study predicts that climate change will force hundreds of ocean fish northward, hitting North American fisheries that depend on Pacific rockfish, Atlantic cod and black sea bass especially hard.
From Sea to Shop
The resources we find in the oceans have a surprising range of uses. Kelp is a natural, sustainable resource, and can grow up to 60cm per day. It is used to make many products: toothpaste, shampoo, salad dressing, puddings, cakes, dairy products, frozen foods and even medicines. Researchers are even exploring its potential future uses in renewable energy generation. Kelp harvesting needs to be managed to ensure that the scale, intensity and methods of collection do not result in long term damage to kelp beds. When harvested in rotation to allow for regrowth we can keep using this ocean bounty.
Making Waves in Energy
A low-carbon future is essential to the health of our oceans and, as luck would have it, the seas can help us achieve lower carbon emissions. Our oceans store vast quantities of energy; from the petrochemicals and heat in their bedrock to the renewable power of their tides and waves. Petrochemicals are finite, and their use as fuel is one of the main drivers of our climate crisis. Wave and tidal energy alone, however, could provide around 10% of the world’s and 20% of the UK’s current electricity needs. Scotland is a world leader in the development of wind, wave and tidal energy technologies and is building a future that places marine-based power firmly in the energy mix.