EC Blue Growth Infographic (Credit: European Union 2014)

Defining ‘Blue Growth’

The concept of a ‘blue economy’ came out of the 2012 Rio+20 Conference and emphasises conservation and sustainable management, based on the premise that healthy ocean ecosystems are more productive and a must for sustainable ocean-based economies. Thus, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), ‘Green [/Blue] growth’ is the fostering of economic growth and development while ensuring that natural assets continue to provide the resources and environmental services on which our well-being relies (A/CONF.216/16: Report of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20). According to the World Bank, ‘blue economy’ comprises the range of economic sectors and related policies that together determine whether the use of oceanic resources is sustainable.  This concept seeks to promote economic growth, social inclusion, and the preservation or improvement of livelihoods while at the same time ensuring environmental sustainability of the oceans and coastal areas. For the Food and Agricultural Organization ‘Blue Growth’ is a cohesive approach for environmentally compatible, integrated and socioeconomically sensitive management of aquatic resources including marine, freshwater and brackish water environments.Blue growth’ looks to further harness the potential of oceans, seas and coasts by promoting growth, improving conservation, building sustainable fisheries, fostering cooperation between countries and acting as a catalyst for policy development.

Blue Growth as seen by the EC

For the European Commission, ‘Blue Growth’ is an initiative to harness the untapped potential of Europe's oceans, seas and coasts for jobs and growth. ‘Blue Growth’ is the long-term strategy to support sustainable growth in the marine and maritime sectors as a whole (COM/2012/0494 final).  It is the maritime contribution to achieving the goals of the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.  ‘Blue growth’ is possible in a number of areas which are highlighted within three components of the strategy:  (1) sectors that have a high potential for sustainable jobs and growth, (2) components to provide knowledge, legal certainty and security (this includes MSP to ensure efficient and sustainable management of activities at sea) , and (3) sea basin strategies to foster cooperation between countries (e.g. the Atlantic Action Plan follows the Atlantic Strategy the Commission adopted in 2011). 

Five sectors have been identified with a high potential for growth:  aquaculture, coastal and maritime tourism (blue tourism), marine biotechnology (blue biotechnology), ocean energy (blue energy), and seabed mining. Although the Commission does not define "the blue economy" the European Economic and Social Committee notes the definition given in the EU's third interim report of March 2012 entitled Scenarios and drivers for sustainable growth from the oceans, seas and coasts’, which states that "blue growth” is 'smart, sustainable and inclusive economic and employment growth from the oceans, seas and coasts'.  The maritime economy is perceived by the EC to consist of all the sectoral and cross-sectoral economic activities related to the oceans, seas and coasts.  This definition also includes the closest direct and indirect supporting activities necessary for the functioning of the maritime economic sectors.  Activities can be located anywhere, including landlocked countries.  Maritime employment is all the employment (measured in terms of full time employment) resulting from the above activities related to the oceans, seas and coasts.

For more information, please see ‘Innovation in the Blue Economy: realising the potential of our seas and oceans for jobs and growth’ (COM(2014) 254 final/2) and the accompanying Marine Knowledge 2020 roadmap.

Going forward

There is a growing literature base supporting the various interpretations and providing a commentary on ‘blue growth’ and its implementation. A Technical Study of MSP for Blue Growth (EU, 2018), coordinated by the EU MSP Platform, focussed on developing visions for MSP; investigating current and future potential spatial demands for key maritime sectors; and developing indicators. In many ways ‘Blue growth’ is becoming a catch-all term to express ‘more holistic management of complex marine social-ecological systems’. 

For a summary of emerging research see: and papers in same Special Issue.


How will ATLAS contribute to ‘Blue Growth’?

Within ATLAS, the FP7 Project MESMA (Monitoring and Evaluation of Spatially Managed Areas) generic MSP framework is being used to test future blue growth scenarios against a backdrop of potential climate change. MEMSA was a multi-million-euro project with experts working to develop the framework over a number of years.  ATLAS is extending this previous research by applying the framework in case study areas representing the full biogeographic, regulatory and jurisdictional situations occurring across the North Atlantic basin both to facilitate Blue Growth and to provide practical examples of area-based management that can aid the formulation of new regulations to protect biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction.


In doing this, ATLAS WP6 will support Blue Growth via MSP by providing examples of spatially managed areas that will seek to:

  • reduce sectoral conflicts such as potential conflict between deep-sea mining and biotechnology resources
  • improve the investment environment for infrastructure needed for operations such as open ocean aquaculture
  • increase coordination between countries including in situations with extended continental shelf claims and unresolved jurisdictions
  • balance development activities and environmental protection such as oil and gas prospecting with fisheries and conservation

By: Prof David Johnson, ATLAS partner, Seascape Consultants Ltd., UK, with input from Dr Anthony Grehan, NUI Galway, Ireland.