Blue Economy Is Worth $373B to US Economy, Largely Tied to Tourism and Recreation

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) calculated for the first time the value of commercial activities dependent on the nation’s ocean, coasts, and Great Lakes and found that they “floated” $373B of GDP in 2018 and that their growth was stronger than overall GDP growth that year.  Of all the “sectors” of the “blue economy,” tourism and recreation accounted for more than one-third of the total — a whopping $143B that year.  And yet, in a key region for tourism, the Gulf of Mexico, NOAA forecasts there will be a larger than average “dead zone” this summer — an area of low/no oxygen that can kill fish and other marine life — and at 6700 square miles, it’s larger than the state of Hawaii.

Why This Matters:  Ocean health matters but its impact on the economy is one of the biggest reasons – and now more than ever as we rebuild it. For strong ocean and coastal tourism, we need to end red tides, dead zones, and plastic pollution on our beaches, and conserve areas in the ocean and on our coasts so that people have pristine places to visit.  Protecting 30% of our U.S. ocean and coasts by 2030 is an investment in a crucial part of the nation’s tourism economy and a much better investment than drilling for oil and gas.

The Blue Economy

Americans are far more dependent on ocean businesses and services than perhaps they realize.  The blue economy supports 2.3 million jobs nationwide, and whether it’s recreation, seafood, transportation, communications, energy, or ship-building, the blue economy impacts our lives every day.  As one top NOAA official put it, “It is nearly impossible for most Americans to go a single day without eating, wearing or using products that come from or through our coastal communities.”  Interestingly, offshore “minerals” (aka oil and gas) were worth only $49B to the economy — one-third the value of ocean and coastal tourism, and fishing was only worth $13B, begging the question of whether the costs of these extractive activities are worth their limited economic gains.

Dead Zone and Red Tides Are Recreation Disasters

The same top NOAA official stated that “[n]ot only does the dead zone hurt marine life, but it also harms commercial and recreational fisheries and the communities they support,” in putting the importance of the dead zone forecast in context.  Red tides along the Florida coast over 16 months in 2017-18 “cost the state economy millions of dollars and left beachgoers choking on fumes emitted by the toxic algae,” according to CBS News in Miami.  A bright spot is the proposal to expand one of the nation’s premier ocean parks, the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, that sits in the Gulf of Mexico.  The expansion would “add 15 additional banks, ranging from 70 to 120 miles off-shore, that are comprised of approximately 383 square miles of reefs and bottom features that provide habitat for fish and other biological resources that serve as engines of sustainability for much of the Gulf of Mexico.”   Permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which the Congress is expected to take up next week, would provide critical funding for protection of our Great Lakes, coasts and ocean, and boost the “blue economy” as well.

To Go Deeper: Check out the Virtual Ocean Dialogues co-sponsored by the UN and the World Economic Forum, click here.

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