The Malta Independent 22 July 2024, Monday
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Rethinking the Blue Economy

Michael Briguglio Thursday, 28 September 2023, 07:27 Last update: about 11 months ago

The term ‘Blue Economy’ has become one of the policy buzzwords of our times. It was introduced during the Rio+20 United Nations conference in 2012 and was later adopted by various institutions and entities across the world. According to the United Nations, the blue economy "comprises a range of economic sectors and related policies that together determine whether the use of ocean resources is sustainable.”. The European Commission defines it as “all economic activities related to oceans, seas, and coasts. It covers a wide range of interlinked established and emerging sectors."

Malta has a direct interest in the blue economy: Its territorial waters are 14 times bigger than the country’s land area; the 25-nautical-mile Fisheries Management Zone is almost 40 times of the land area; and Malta’s coastal zone is almost one fifth of the country’s surface area. Indeed, the coastline extends 273 kilometres.

Around 30 per cent of Malta’s workers are employed within the blue economy, and it accounts for around 15 per cent of Malta’s Gross Domestic Product. Here one can refer to activities such as coastal tourism, fisheries, and shipping. It is important to note that Malta has one of the largest merchant ship registers in the world. Within the EU, Malta is a major player in terms of unloaded goods and international intra-EU marine transport.

Both the EU as well as the Government of Malta are currently articulating policies which aim to strengthen the blue economy. This takes place at various levels of governance. A recent example of this is Malta’s Blue Med Focal Point’ initiative which was launched to assist enterprises, businesses, and companies in developing projects and ideas which contribute to the potential of the sustainable blue economy in Malta and Gozo. In a recent press conference, it was declared that this initiative will be focusing its efforts on those blue economy sectors compatible with our nation's socio-economic and environmental needs”.  Malta is also exploring energy production possibilities within its Exclusive Economic Zone in Malta’s maritime territory.

So far, so good, and we all wish to see successful ‘blue’ (and green) transitions in our economy.

At the same time, however, it is important to invest in research to understand the impacts –positive, negative, intended, and unintended- of such policies, as well as related changes such as climate and technological change. 

One programme, amongst others, which can produce such research is COST – which is funded by the EU. A COST Action is an interdisciplinary research network that brings researchers and innovators together to investigate a topic of their choice for 4 years. COST Actions are typically made up of researchers from academia, SMEs, public institutions, and other relevant organisations or interested parties.

In this regard, a new COST Action, “Rethinking the Blue Economy: Socio-ecological impacts and opportunities” (RethinkBlue) has been set up, and I am representing Malta int its management committee in my capacity as Sociologist from the University of Malta.

In in its own words, the purpose of RethinkBlue “is to rethink the Blue Economy, in two ways. First, by assessing its impact on coastal societies, and second, by exploring opportunities deriving from innovations and potential synergies between established and emergent marine activities. The guiding research questions are: What are the impacts, positive or negative, of Blue Economy developments on human well-being, social equity, and the economic and environmental sustainability of coastal societies? And, what are potential opportunities for innovations and synergies between sectors?”

ReThinkBlue is focusing on five themes namely maritime occupations; food security & sustainable blue consumption; port cities & coastal communities; fisheries governance & emergent activities; and climate change & natural hazards. Interested researchers and stakeholders in the respective fields may apply to join its working groups based on these themes, by visiting

In turn, this COST Action will involve meetings, research workshops, an online seminar series, training schools, and conferences.

Disciplines such as Maritime Sociology can provide the necessary tools and skills to understand aspects of the blue economy. Let us keep in mind that this sphere is characterised by economic, technological, and social opportunities, but also with hazards, risks, and challenges ranging from social contention over land and sea use; climate change; as well as irregular activities. The Mediterranean Sea, for one, is a major economic and touristic hub, but also site of  war, irregular migration, precarious work, and environmental risks.

Dr Michael Briguglio is a Sociologist and Senior Lecturer at the University of Malta

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