The Ocean Economy – economic value vs environmental impact

South Africa’s oceans have the potential to contribute R177 billion to GDP by 2033 – an attractive prospect given our lacklustre economic outlook. But the ocean economy is a fragile ecosystem and economic value should be extracted responsibly. This will require striking a balance between economic and environmental impacts; extensive collaboration; and regulatory innovation. This is what we discussed at our recent Sustainability Forum on the Ocean Economy where we heard from the following speakers:

John Duncan, Senior Manager: Marine Programme at WWF

Our oceans produce 70 – 80% of our oxygen, absorb more than half of all man-made CO2, and regulate our climate. 90% of world trade is carried by sea, seafood makes up 17% of global protein intake, and up to 12% of global livelihoods are associated with fisheries and aquaculture. With a value of $24 trillion, the ocean is the 7th biggest economy on the planet. Thus it is important that we take an ecosystem approach as our planet cannot sustain pressure past a certain level and fortunately Operation Phakisa has brought a focus to marine planning. It is vital that we protect our marine ecosystem, and WWF has initiated both the Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative, raising awareness on sustainable fish species with the public and retailers, and the Responsible Fishing Alliance, a collaboration with the fishing industry to ensure management of marine ecosystems for a sustainable future.

Jonty Jankovich-Besan, MD of I&J and Chairman of the Responsible Fisheries Alliance (RFA)

South Africa’s commercial fishing industry supports 27 000 direct jobs and employs 100 000 people, while its deep-sea trawling industry generates R4 billion in annual revenue. Through the RFA, the fishing industry works with WWF to manage the oceans as they are 20 – 30% overfished and 90% utilised. The RFA is also a leading member of the Safeguard Our Seabed Coalition, which is calling on government for a moratorium on seabed mining as phosphate mining is the biggest strategic threat to the industry. The Department of Mineral Resources has granted of a third prospecting right for marine phosphate mining, but this type of mining disrupts crucial nurseries and spawning areas critical to maintaining healthy fish stocks.

John Smelcer, Head of Oil & Gas and Candice Gabriel, Partner at Webber Wentzel

While mining has been the mainstay of South Africa’s economy, oil and gas mining is a very new industry in SA. Opportunities exist to develop the gas economy to impact on our energy needs from recent gas finds in Mozambique and other Southern African countries. The opportunities include upstream exploration; importing liquefied natural gas from international markets and neighbouring countries; and the development of a services sector, including rig repair at Saldanha Bay. With multiple stakeholders, the government is critical to steward relationships in this nascent industry.

Operation Phakisa recognises the value of the ocean, but we need to ensure collaboration across the various regulatory regimes within the value chain. With Oil and Gas regulated by the Department of Mineral Resources, the fishing industry governed by the Department of Agriculture’s Marine Living Resources Act, and the environment regulated by the Department of Environmental Affairs’ NEMA and Protected Areas Act, the opposing objectives need to be acknowledged, and a policy framework created to ensure responsible commercial exploration of the oceans with socio-economic benefit of all.


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