Covid-19 and the Sustainable Blue Economy in Africa: More challenges and different opportunities

Leila Ben Hassen.

By Leila Ben Hassen.

Today, 8 June, all ocean lovers and stakeholders celebrate the United Nations World Ocean Day 2020, with this year’s theme being” Innovation for a Sustainable Ocean”.

During the last few years, African governments have shown increasing commitment towards the blue economy (all ocean and sea-based activities) and implemented new policies to achieve SDG14 by 2030. There has been more collaboration between the private sectors, civil societies, academics and local communities.

The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed how deeply human’s health, wellbeing and economies are linked to the oceans. We have all been concerned about the spread of the virus in the air but let’s not forget that more than 50% of the oxygen we breathe derive from the seas.

It is important to be aware that humanity is largely dependent on the oceans; by recognising this, we will definitely show them more respect, particularly when scientists have proved that there are ocean-based solutions for preventing cancer, and pandemics such as HIV. Scientists have been diving into the oceans to find a remedy to the coronavirus.

However, this pandemic has exposed the weaknesses in our global system in terms of health, infrastructure and communications; it has clearly exposed the importance of science, research and innovation worldwide.

In Africa, the response was not uniform in the 54 countries. Overall, the continent has shown that for different reasons it has dealt well with the virus. According to the WHO’s Africa Regional Office, the total number of cases on the Continent is 175,423, with 4,862 deaths (as at 6 June); impressive figures compared to the USA, with 1.98 million cases and, tragically, over 110,000 deaths.

In countries such as Tunisia, Senegal, Rwanda and Ghana, as innovation and technology have helped to reduce the spread of the virus, the crisis has revealed so many talented individuals.

Unfortunately, many other talents in Africa are today facing job losses and financial difficulties.

Time to review, reflect and reshape

The value of global ocean assets is estimated at over US$24 trillion (source: WWF), making it the seventh largest economy in the world in GDP terms. Hence, there is no surprise over the large impact of the coronavirus on the sea-based economy, formal and informal jobs and food security.

The disruption of the pandemic has affected various traditional and emerging sectors within the blue economy. Globally, Covid-19’s impact on tourism has caused on average a 25% drop in income, amounting to a $7.4 billion loss, and could put 75 million jobs at risk.

The World Trade Organisation estimates a fall in world trade of between 13% and 32% for 2020. Since over 80% of worldwide trade (in total volume) is carried by sea, the estimated downturn suggests a significant decrease in human-based marine activity over the coming months.

The International Monetary Fund estimates that the whole world has entered into a recession, and while the full economic impact of the pandemic is difficult to predict, preliminary estimates place the cost at US$2 trillion.

In the first month of the crisis, it was estimated that the income of informal workers on the Continent dropped by 81%. In Africa, 85.8% of employment, and 95% of youth employment, is informal.

The lockdowns and reduced demand for seafood have seen fishing activity fall by as much as 80% in China and West Africa, but the increase of consumer demand for frozen and processed seafood products has affected food security and led to an increase in illicit maritime activities, smuggling and piracy. Maritime shipping activities have dropped by up to 30% in some regions.

On the bright side

Covid-19 and the widespread lockdowns have delivered unusual environmental benefits: lower carbon emissions, clearer air, cleaner oceans, less acidification of the water and a definitely stress-free environment for sea mammals.

Biodiversity is in many places also benefiting from reduced human activities.

Our world is changing – most business is not as usual so conservation communities must be ready to respond and adapt. Organisations must now urgently act to prevent further biodiversity loss and more extinctions before it is too late.

We talk about innovation and this should cover all sectors of the blue economy (both traditional and emergent), starting from education on the subject, which should be digitalised, accessible and affordable, through to improvements in fishing, wave energy, coastal tourism, ports, shipping and innovative financing.

All the innovative technologies, equipment and solutions should take into consideration climate change, the environment, and social and economic impacts.

Waves of opportunity

The Covid-19 crisis presents an opportunity to:

  • Encourage innovation and technologies for ocean business and the ocean environment
  • Allocate budgets for science, research and development
  • Support new initiatives to improve measurement of the ocean economy
  • Create new business models and innovative financing solutions focusing on social and environmental impacts
  • Implement new rules and policies for vulnerable businesses within the blue economy
  • Enhance collaboration between the public and private sectors, civil societies and local communities
  • Improve communication between scientists, the media, the stakeholders and the public
  • Acquire new skill-sets to adapt to the new social and economic environment


The speedy response by governments and private sectors in facing the Covid-19 pandemic can give us great hope that many other outstanding and important issues related to the ocean’s health can also be rapidly treated. As they say, where there is a will, there is a way!

Happy World Ocean Day.


Founder, Blue Jay Communication

Organiser, Africa Blue Economy Forum (ABEF)



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