What is 'blue economy' and why is James Shaw discussing it with a Caribbean minister?

'Blue economy' was the topic of discussion as a minister from Barbados spent time in New Zealand with Green Party co-leader James Shaw - but what does it mean?

Kirk Humphrey is the Minister of Maritime Affairs and the Blue Economy in the Caribbean island nation of Barbados - the first Minister of the Blue Economy in the world. 

He met with Shaw, New Zealand's Minister for Climate Change, on Friday to discuss 'blue economy' and how New Zealand can work with Barbados and other Caribbean countries on progressing maritime conservation. 

'Blue economy' is an economic growth model designed to ensure sustainable use of the marine environment. The idea is to manage traditional and emerging offshore activities in a more integrated way. 

Michelle Voyer, a research fellow at the Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security, describes the model as maximising the economic benefits from oceans while protecting the ecosystems. 

Voyer said in ocean managemnet people tend to focus on their own sector and not the big picture. 

"The people who look at shipping look at shipping, people who look at fisheries look at fisheries and same for all the other sectors," she told Forbes

"The blue economy is the big picture, and it is thinking about, across all these different sectors, how do we think about their management in a more integrated way?"

Shaw met with Humphrey in Wellington to discuss the blue economy model following Barbados' request to join the New Zealand-led Ocean Acidification Working Group. 

Green Party co-leader and Climate Change Minister James Shaw and Barbados Minister of Maritime Affairs and the Blue Economy Kirk Humphrey.
Green Party co-leader and Climate Change Minister James Shaw and Barbados Minister of Maritime Affairs and the Blue Economy Kirk Humphrey. Photo credit: Supplied

The group held its first workshop in Dunedin this year where 17 Commonwealth countries including from the Pacific, Africa and Caribbean heard from international ocean acidification experts. 

"Ocean acidification is a global issue, so it needs countries working together to find common solutions - especially those of us for who the ocean is important to our ways of life," Shaw said. 

Ocean acidification is caused by the water absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, changing it often too rapidly for creatures that live in it. 

"A more acidic ocean won't destroy all marine life in the sea, but the rise in seawater acidity of 30 percent that we have already seen is already affecting some ocean organisms," the Smithsonian Institution warns.  

Despite the distance between Barbados and New Zealand, Shaw said they share "strongly aligned interests" in the areas of climate change, issues facing small island states, multilateralism, and the rule of law. 

He said with New Zealand having the fifth largest exclusive economic zone in the world, the "principles of the blue economy" are important to the Government. 

"I was interested to hear from Minister Humphrey about the work he is doing in Barbados to protect the marine environment and marine resources from chemical runoff from land, which is similar to the issues we have in New Zealand around freshwater quality."

It follows the Government's announcement on Thursday that farmers and councils will be held responsible for freshwater quality under new proposed standards to protect waterways "under serious threat". 

The National Party said while it encourages the improvement of waterways, many of the changes proposed will have perverse effects on the primary sector and the wider economy.

Former Prime Minister and National leader John Key launched one of the world's largest ocean sanctuaries in the Kermadec region in 2015.