Embracing the Blue Economy

As large ocean States, SIDS have tremendous potential to tap sustainable blue economies. These offer economic growth, jobs, and social and financial inclusion, while restoring and preserving healthy ocean ecosystems. Many SIDS have expressed ambitions to ‘go blue’, including to jumpstart a rapid, sustainable recovery from the pandemic. UNDP helps them realize their goals by supporting blue economy policies and programmes, ocean innovation and blue financing.

Sustainable blue economy opportunities cover a spectrum of sectors, including fishing and coastal tourism, both hard hit by the pandemic. New avenues are opening in aquaculture, ocean-based renewable energy, sustainable maritime transport, desalination, research and education, and marine genetic resources. Non-market economic benefits can come from carbon storage, coastal protection, and the preservation of cultural values and biodiversity.

Unlocking the full potential of their blue economies can assist SIDS in achieving not only SDG 14 on oceans, but also SDGs on poverty, hunger, gender quality, growth and decent work, and climate.

UNDP's blue economy investments now touch $210 million, including current and upcoming projects. These encompass 17 ecosystem and biodiversity projects with a total value of $71 million, and 9 water and oceans projects at $58 million. Seven and five more projects, respectively, are underway.


In all three SIDS regions, UNDP support comprises advancing national policies and strategies that are foundational for developing blue economies. The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and UNDP have helped Comoros draw up a national strategic framework for a blue economy as one of the main bases of the Emerging Comoros Plan, for instance. Blue economy scoping studies in Barbados and Dominica and a blue economy roadmap and strategy for the British Virgin Islands built on UNDP technical assistance and capital investment.

UNDP is also undertaking a blue economy scoping study in Montserrat. UNDP, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the GEF are developing a new international waters project to advance blue economy assessments, planning and implementation in each of the six AIS SIDS. In the Pacific, a partnership with the Pacific Tourism Organization intends to develop a Pacific Sustainable Tourism Policy Framework integrating green and blue economic growth. In the Caribbean and North Brazil, a UNDP and GEF programme to define regional ocean governance – Catalysing Implementation of the Strategic Action Programme for the Sustainable Management of Shared Living Marine Resources in the Caribbean and North Brazil Shelf Large Marine Ecosystems or CLME+ – has advanced implementation of a 10-year plan endorsed by 26 countries and 8 territories. This includes creating interim mechanisms coordinating regional bodies on fisheries and ecosystem programmes, while putting in place the foundations for a long-term ocean governance coordination mechanism. Over 20 countries and 15 regional organizations have shaped a draft agreement on core elements of such a mechanism.

In tandem, a People Managing Oceans civil society regional action programme has seen 60 priority actions endorsed by over 50 civil society organizations. Pilot initiatives include sea moss farming in Saint Kitts and Nevis that empowers women and provides alternative livelihoods. Enhanced management practices cover spiny lobster, flying fish, and shrimp and groundfish fisheries.

Collaborative knowledge management for healthier oceans comprises a regional platform, clmeplus.org. The UNDP-GEF programme has also supported the first reports under the Cartagena Convention, and a prototype of an integrated report on the state of the marine environment and associated economies.

Regional action and investment plans have been developed on illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, the reduction of nutrient inputs into the marine environment, and the protection and restoration of key marine habitats.


Under the Pacific Islands Oceanic Fisheries Management Project, UNDP and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) support 14 SIDS in meeting obligations to uphold global, regional and subregional arrangements to conserve and manage transboundary oceanic fisheries. A series of measures have introduced ecosystem-based approaches, market mechanisms for fisheries access, and electronic vessel monitoring systems to improve surveillance and control of the tuna fishery. All four tuna species of economic importance in the region are now fished at sustainable levels, as one result. A new $10 million Pacific Tuna Fisheries Management project began in early 2021.


Coral reefs provide revenue and food security for up to 1 billion people globally and protect shoreline property, infrastructure and lives by reducing wave energy by 97 percent. Across the SIDS, UNDP is helping support the protection and restoration of marine ecosystems.

A $9 million Adaptation Fund-financed coral restoration project in Mauritius and Seychelles will assist in mapping coral reefs and areas using innovative technologies and strengthening climate adaptation. UNDP is helping to develop sustainable partnerships and community-based, business-driven approaches for reef restoration; establish coral farming and nursery facilities; and actively restore degraded reefs. The project is improving understanding on how to use coral reef restoration as a tool for climate change adaptation, providing models for sustainable management of reef ecosystems, and building capacity for long-term restoration and management of these precious habitats.

In Comoros, mangrove and coral reef restoration efforts have been supported as part of UNDP assistance in establishing a national network of terrestrial and marine protected areas, with an emphasis on generating sustainable economic activities for communities affected by new regulations. Efforts to restore coral reefs in both Belize and Jamaica also emphasize sustainable marine livelihoods.


Fuelled by small grants through the GEF, community-based blue economy projects generate both marine environmental and socioeconomic benefits. To date, over 1,147 community projects have used more than $30 million in grants to protect international waters at the local level. A similar sum for projects on biodiversity has improved sustainable ocean and coastal management, and supported sustainable fisheries and ecotourism. Grants for climate change, land degradation, and chemical and waste management have provided comparable benefits.

Projects in Grenada and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines unlock multiple global and local benefits by strengthening the management of land, forest and reef ecosystems and biodiversity, especially within and around marine and terrestrial protected areas. In Cuba, UNDP has helped 19 municipalities pioneer a method for integrated coastal management favouring environmental sustainability in the use of coastal resources.

The integrated management of marine, coastal and terrestrial ecosystems in Seychelles is starting to address ‘whole island’ priorities for improved management and conservation of upland forests and agricultural ecosystems as well as coastal and marine ecosystems. The process will help conserve globally significant biodiversity and manage large marine ecosystems while arresting and reversing ecosystem degradation.

In Belize, UNDP assisted in the creation of the National Coastal Zone Management Institute and Authority, the National Climate Change Office, the National Integrated Water Resources Management Authority and the National Biodiversity Office. Technical expertise supported the integration of landscape management principles in national legislation. An upcoming initiative will help formalize integrated watershed management through policy and legislation. It will aid in advancing national policy on conservation easements and voluntary conservation agreements, along with regulations for chemicals management.


The IWeco Ridge-to-Reef Project operates through a partnership between UNDP and UNEP, using GEF matching grants of $1 million. The project helps pursue sustainable solutions to land degradation and loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services, and strengthen the resilience of socioecological systems to climate change. Ten Caribbean SIDS are participating: Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Jamaica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago.

Projects enhance livelihoods and capture other socioeconomic co-benefits from improved ecosystem services. They help to strengthen national environmental monitoring systems, policies and laws, and increase capacities for water, land and ecosystems management that accounts for climate change. Knowledge-sharing networks foster engagement and link diverse practitioners within and across countries.

With 31 community projects completed or under implementation, highlights include:

In Antigua and Barbuda, a beekeeping cooperative has been set up, and steps taken to protect ecosystems and establish a circular economy.

Projects in Barbados focus on building capacities for coral reef restoration and protected areas conservation, and establishing participatory management for the Barbados Marine Management Area.

Projects in Cuba advance fish conservation, and soil and ecosystem restoration.

In the Dominican Republic, projects are developing sustainable apiculture and river rehabilitation.

Biodiversity and marine ecosystem restoration and conservation projects are underway in Jamaica, with a focus on smart agriculture.

Saint Kitts and Nevis has projects on reforestation, water harvesting and land restoration, and is enhancing capacities for the sustainable use of water, land and ecosystems.

Saint Lucia’s projects are fostering climate change resilience in the fisheries sector, establishing an agro-tourism landscape park, and creating sustainable employment for women and youth through the cultivation of indigenous fruits.

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is developing an ecotourism project.

Two projects in Trinidad and Tobago have built climate resilience through community-led land rehabilitation.


UNDP’s Accelerator Lab network assists SIDS in exploring innovation and scaling up blue economy solutions. In the Barbados and Eastern Caribbean, experiments are using robots for a bioplastic mapping of coral reefs, creating biofuel from fish offal and applying blockchain technology to the tuna fishery value chain.

To boost out-of-the-box solutions related to the ocean, UNDP launched its Ocean Innovation Challenge in January 2020, with a call for submissions receiving over 600 applications for proposals on preventing marine pollution. Three SIDS-based innovations were among the nine winners of the call. Ocean innovations from Cabo Verde, Comoros and the Maldives were selected for their transferable, replicable and scalable nature, and potential to achieve maximum catalytic impact.

In Cabo Verde, the innovators tackled a common challenge for SIDS: coastal eutrophication due to nutrient releases from poorly treated wastewater. Digital technologies will be used to help the country's wastewater treatment sector optimize the biological removal and recovery of nutrients, recover nutrients for use as organic fertilizer and reduce wastewater treatment operating costs.

In Comoros, innovative financial mechanisms for plastic waste recovery, reuse and recycling aim to reduce marine plastics waste while creating new economic opportunities for communities through the development of plastic waste recovery and buy-back centres.

In the Maldives, a national Extended Producer Responsibility framework will help the country close the loop on plastics waste to reduce ocean pollution and tackle nearly 25,000 tons of plastic waste. Due to current poor waste management practices, as much as a third of this waste ends up in coastal areas.

The Ocean Innovation Challenge launched a second call for proposals in early 2021 seeking innovative solutions focused on sustainable fisheries.

From 2020 to 2024, UNDP’s GEF Small Grants Programme has opened a dedicated funding window of $3 million for blue economy innovation in Barbados, Cape Verde, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic and Guinea Bissau. It focuses on fisheries, ecotourism, climate-resilient aquaculture and capacity development.


With the GEF, UNDP has supported Samoa Green Products Ltd., a small but innovative company established in 2018. It has become the first firm in Samoa to introduce green alternative products including plates, bowls and baskets made from palm leaves, using a low-tech machine imported from India.

This is one example of how UNDP is exploring new solutions to reduce plastic pollution on islands and in the ocean. Another is in the Dominican Republic, where multiple actors have come together to work on managing plastics and waste.


The GEF-financed IW:LEARN programme was approved for a new four-year phase with $6 million in total funding in December 2019. One component is delivering intra- and interregional coordination and knowledge management across GEF focal areas in SIDS to improve overall portfolio performance. Core activities include a strengthened web portal and resource catalogue to facilitate information-sharing in support of the Samoa Pathway and beyond, and training courses and other capacity-strengthening guidance on cross-cutting topics most relevant to SIDS.


Through a Joint SDG Fund project on blue economy financing for the Eastern Caribbean, which UNDP leads in collaboration with FAO and UNEP, a blue economy financing architecture is emerging, including integrated national financing frameworks in Barbados, Grenada, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Ongoing activities support the creation of an investment facility for blue economy financing in these countries. UNDP is assisting Belize in developing a national policy for blue financing as part of the national portfolio for sustainable financing for biodiversity management.

Fiji is among four countries selected to receive financing under a $41 million Joint SDG Fund portfolio to accelerate the SDGs. Through the programme Investing in Coral Reefs and the Blue Economy, three United Nations agencies, in collaboration with the Ministry of Economy, will create a blended finance facility and build capacity to mobilize private and public capital to invest in private sector initiatives focused on the conservation and protection of coastal reefs and marine life ecosystems.

UNDP support in mobilizing new blue economy finance helps SIDS access innovative solutions including blue bonds, blended financial instruments and coral reef insurance. In Mauritius, a $10 million grant fuels a regional coral restoration project, and a UNDP-GEF mainstreaming biodiversity project has leveraged $4.5 million. Under the $10 million UNDP-GEF SAPPHIRE project, $2 million is dedicated to a regional project on joint management of the area between Mauritius and Seychelles.

UNDP has mobilized $198,000 for basic blue economy activities in Guinea-Bissau, with expectations for $1.5 million for further development.


The Global Fund for Coral Reefs aims to raise and invest over $500 million over the next 10 years through private market-based investments, public funds and development banks. Several SIDS depend heavily on coral reefs, not only as a valuable tourist attraction but as an effective means of flood control, ensuring food security and nutrition. Without the reefs, they will be more vulnerable to climate events. As a blended finance instrument, the fund addresses the vast coral reef funding gap by catalysing private sector support (providing risk equity capital, debt and grant funding) to deliver smart solutions at scale to save coral reefs and related ecosystems. It will also strengthen the resilience of communities and businesses that depend on coral reefs for their livelihoods and other services in the face of accelerating climate change, and support economic recovery from the impacts of COVID-19.

Launched in September 2020, the Fund brings together diverse partners: the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, BNP Paribas, the Althelia Funds, UNDP, UNEP and the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF).

UNDP’s integrated SIDS offer Rising Up for SIDS articulates a clear strategy to respond to their most pressing needs as well as bring forth innovative solutions to the complex developmental challenges they face for a better future for people and planet. UNDP's increased investment. This offer acts as a vehicle for recovery committing to enhancing current support in areas of climate action, blue economy and digital transformation, with innovative development finance as an enabling cross-cutting area.

'Embracing the Blue Economy' is part of the Rising Up For SIDS Progress Report. To access this report, click the link below:

To learn more about UNDP's integrated service offer, click the link below:

For more updates on UNDP's development work on SIDS, and news about SIDS-led initiatives, please visit these pages:

Photos Credits: UNDP, UNDP Climate, UNDP Mauritius, UNCDF in the Pacific, Small Grants Programme UNDP GEF, Ecosystems and Biodiversity UNDP, Ocean Image Bank, Unsplash, Getty Images

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