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Ocean Solutions that Benefit People, Nature and the Economy

Illustrating how a sustainable ocean economy, where protection, production and prosperity go hand in hand, can create a healthy ocean that provides solutions to global challenges.

A triple win for people, nature and the economy: effective protection, sustainable production and equitable prosperity.
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Report at a Glance

‘Ocean Solutions that Benefit People, Nature and the Economy’ is a report commissioned by the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy and written by SYSTEMIQ and the Ocean Panel Expert Group co-chairs in December 2020.

It sets out to create a new narrative, paired with an ambitious and feasible action agenda, by drawing on the latest scientific research and analyses, including insights from 19 previous Ocean Panel-commissioned papers.

The report details how to achieve a sustainable ocean economy where people have more opportunities and better health, nature thrives and resources are distributed more equitably.

Humanity’s Well-Being Is Intertwined with the Health of the Ocean

Billions of people have personal connections to the ocean, and it plays an essential role in the daily lives of all of the planet’s inhabitants.

The ocean makes life possible by providing half of the earth’s oxygen, and it contributes more than $1.5 trillion a year to the global economy. What happens in the ocean affects not only fishers in Fiji, but farmers in Zimbabwe whose imported tools may have travelled to Africa in a container ship, and whose air quality and climate are affected by what happens in the ocean.

For coastal populations, the ocean is not only a source of food and livelihoods, but also an intrinsic part of their culture and heritage. For the millions of people who earn their living from the ocean, it is a source of income and a way of life. For the 40% of the world’s population that live within 150 kilometres of the coastline and the hundreds of millions of others who visit it, the ocean is central to their lives—including cultural, spiritual and recreational enjoyment.

For life to endure and for humanity to continue enjoying the innumerable benefits that the ocean provides, a new relationship between humanity and the ocean is needed.

It is imperative to not only accept that the future of people and the ocean are interconnected, but that thinking differently can unleash benefits for both—and to illustrate what that different thinking looks like. This timely report charts the way forward.

The Ocean’s Enormous Potential is in Trouble

Human stressors affect virtually the entire ocean, making it more difficult for the ocean to sustain human life on earth. Climate change, overfishing, habitat destruction, biodiversity loss, pollution and other problems are damaging ocean health. Underrepresented and underserved communities bear a disproportionately large share of the burden of these impacts.


Creating a Sustainable Ocean Economy Through the Three P’s: Protection, Production and Prosperity

Abandoning the false choice between economic development and environmental protection, a sustainable ocean economy brings diverse stakeholders together to achieve common goals—the three Ps of effective protection, sustainable production and equitable prosperity.



In this new paradigm, groups work together by adopting integrated and balanced ocean management approaches in which each of the three Ps contributes to the others. This approach does not mean just leaving the ocean alone; it means proactively managing human activities to use the ocean wisely (rather than using it up), in order to create a healthier ocean that can help solve global challenges by providing healthier and more sustainable food, renewable energy and solutions to climate change.

Investing in a sustainable ocean economy also presents an excellent economic opportunity, with each $1 invested yielding at least $5 net benefits, and often more.

Although the Threats to the Ocean Are Great, Solutions Exist

Achieving a sustainable ocean economy is possible, but it will not happen if business continues as usual. To transform the entire ocean system, it is important to get the fundamentals right.

Five building blocks can set the foundation for a sustainable ocean economy:

  • Using data to drive decision-making
  • Engaging in goal-oriented ocean planning
  • De-risking finance and using innovation to mobilise investment
  • Stopping land-based pollution
  • Changing ocean accounting so that it reflects the true value of the ocean.

With these foundations in place, sector-specific reform, innovation and research can be implemented and accelerated.

The Ocean Is Too Big and Too Central to the Planet’s Future to Ignore

For years, the overarching view was that the ocean is so vast that it is simply too big to fail. The folly of this approach is now evident. Now the dominant narrative is that the problems are so complex that the ocean is too big to fix. This view is also misguided. The ocean’s problems are real, but actions already are being taken to solve them.

The ocean is not too big to fail, and it’s not too big to fix – it is too big to ignore.

The more we learn about the ocean, the more we see that it holds answers to the most pressing challenges facing humanity, including climate change and food security. It’s time to shift away from thinking of the ocean as a victim and toward seeing it as an essential part of the solution to global challenges.

The choice is not between ocean protection and production, but instead, ocean protection and production together can help build a healthy and prosperous future for all.


The lead authors of this paper are Martin R. Stuchtey, Adrien Vincent, Andreas Merkl and Maximilian Bucher. Contributing authors include Peter M. Haugan, Jane Lubchenco and Mari Elka Pangestu.

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