Sea water and sand ain’t all!
Some years ago, in a stinging rebuke to the illusions of grandeur on the part of many Caribbean politicians, and narrow nationalism exhibited in some countries in the region, one of the Caribbean premier cultural icons, the Mighty Chalkdust, sang that “ALL WE GOT IS SEA WATER AND SAND”.
While the rebuke represented a reality check, as was common in those times, it also failed to appreciate the full potential of the region’s natural resources. This was not just applicable to the Caribbean for globally, many small island states like ours, could only see the economic potential around our islands as fit for tourism development.
But is this really the case? Is the potential of our shores and surrounding waters only limited to an appeal to tourists to come and enjoy or sea and sand, with another s—word sometimes included? The world has come a long way since then with developments taking place at such a rapid pace that what was once considered an undisputed fact quickly turns in the opposite direction.
So it is with the assessment of our coastal resource base. In the context of our history of colonialism, slavery and imperial plunder, the value of our most precious natural resources was ignored.
First, we were assessed on the basis of our limited land space, ignoring the fact that the land on our shores was only a small part of our natural resources for we were surrounded by the much greater Caribbean basin.
The waters around us were considered mere waterways for the export of the pillage from our shores extracted at great cost to the labouring population. Those waters were the scene of great battles between the European powers to secure dominance in the region. Even after we recovered our independence, our vision was still limited to the old colonial concepts and virtues seen only in our pristine white sand beaches and warming sun.
But as we are now beginning to realize, there is far more to our natural resources than those of the earth, exploited for agricultural purposes and mineral extraction. All around us is a vast sea of untapped resources which may be of far greater economic potential than that of our depleted soils and land ravaged and laid bare from merciless mineral extraction.
A new realisation is coming home to the planet as a whole and to small island states like those in the Caribbean – we are not as resource-limited as previously thought. Today there is a huge awakening over what is now called the “Blue Economy”, the rich potential of the waters around us and how it can be tapped to provide for our economic and social development.
A global movement has emerged around this concept with international institutions such as the United Nations and its relevant agencies, as well as the World Bank all involved. Just last week, the UN organised a big international conference, hosted by the government of the African state of Kenya, and attended by thousands of delegates from all over the globe, including representatives of St Vincent and the Grenadines.
It is tempting for one to be sceptical of this “Blue Economy” term and to consider it as just another of the vast array of initiatives in recent times. After all, some years ago, it was the “Green Economy”, the emphasis on sustainable utilisation of our resources, which was the ‘big thing’. But, especially for countries like ours, it has deep and real significance and can in fact, make a lasting and significant contribution to our human development in the region and the future of our children and their descendants.
What is the BLUE ECONOMY and how relevant is it to us? We continue next week.
Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.