Blue Growth

P1450334 (1)
A changing Arctic, ecosystems, climate, environmental settings and global interests, are putting todays oceans into the major arena for economic growth (Photo: Ann Eileen Lennert).

-because world’s oceans are becoming a major arena for economic growth, addressing global challenges such as food security, poverty and provision of natural resources and energy.


The new blue economy is expected to have far-reaching impacts on coastal ecosystems and communities. The development of the marine industries will alter the anthropogenic pressures on the aquatic ecosystem with potentially positive or negative impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. At the same time, the emerging industries have consequences for local employment, economy and settlement, and as the livelihoods change, so will people’s dependence and valuation of the flow of benefits from the coastal ecosystem. In other words, the blue growth is likely to result in profound and lasting blue transitions of coastal societies and ecosystems. Therefore, a socio-ecological approach (SES) that acknowledges the close links between society and ecosystems, including the feedbacks and shifts in perceptions of what constitute a healthy and productive ocean, is accordingly crucial for addressing future sustainability challenges provoked by the Blue Growth.

The coastal communities in Northern Norway are already experiencing growth in several of these sectors. The most striking development is the growth in aquaculture, which since the birth in the 1970s has become an economic pillar along the coast. In parallel, the important traditional fisheries have developed into an efficient, highly managed and mostly sustainable industry with four large oceanic migrating stocks (i.e., cod, haddock, herring and saith) representing more than 90% of the catches.

Figure 2
Local attitudes towards wildlife management strategies, ecosystem services and ocean health is important, being local fishermen from Northern Norway. Photo: Nicolas Nèreau

A HEALTHY OCEAN -an ecosystem service

At present, sustainability sciences lag behind in understanding the dynamics of socio-ecological approaches (SESs), as well as, single-species and single-sector approaches, which focus on industry-specific goals. Assessments and solutions are still prevailing in both science and management of coastal ecosystems, including the Norwegian fisheries. To secure sustainability of the marine industries and to leverage scientific support to ecosystem-based management (EBM), a more integrative and interdisciplinary approach in the interface of social science, economy and ecology is warranted.

 A healthy ocean is an ocean which; “sustainably delivers a range of benefits to people now and in the future”

There are especially two problems that are challenging:
Firstly, different stakeholders necessarily have different perceptions of what is good health (for example, there is reason to believe that fishermen will define ecosystem health differently from nature conservationists).
Secondly, both nature and society are constantly changing, so it is impossible to define a common zero point or “baseline” for how an original ecosystem looks but also difficult to define realistic goals for how the ecosystem can look in the future.

Thus, similar to the ecosystem service (ES) concept, ocean health is anthropocentric and normative in character, i.e.; the benefits for people need to be specified to measure its content. In essence, ocean health comprises both tangible and non-tangible benefits, it has an emphasis on sustainability, and it recognizes explicitly the interplay between social and natural systems. To become operational for decision makers, ocean health has been defined by a set of specific indicators of benefits that are combined into a common measure. For example, on a global scale, defined ten widely-held societal goals for healthy oceans: Food provision; artisanal fishing opportunities; biodiversity; clean waters; sense of place; coastal livelihoods & economies; tourism & recreation; coastal protection; carbon storage, and natural products. The availability, detail and extent of societal and biological datasets that can be used to describe and quantify such goals have increased immensely the last decades. Together with better analytical capabilities, including increased processing speed and new statistical methods, this has greatly improved our ability to define, measure and scrutinize the different benefits that together constitute ocean health. However, since ocean health depends on a subjective judgement of the values and benefits that we ascribe to coastal ecosystems, scientific analyses need to be combined with more deliberative approaches that includes stakeholders and the public in defining baselines and sustainability goals. Consequently, expert measures of sustainability goals for ocean health must be flexible, repeatable and transparent to enable public deliberation and judgement.

To investigate various aspects of the ecosystem health concept, we will assemble and analyze data sets of 81 coastal municipalities in Northern Norway. However, we lack data in an important area, namely how the locals themselves experience and prioritize different aspects of coastal and coastal ecosystems and it is these we wish to additionally collect and emphasize.

The major research question addressed by Blue Growth is;

How will the growth in marine industries affect different components of ocean health as well as people’s perception and prioritization of benefits from coastal ecosystems. Given the anticipated growth in the importance of marine resources, the link between blue transitions and ocean health is of global relevance.


Given the anticipated growth in the importance of marine resources, the link between blue growth and ocean health is of global relevance. Northern Norway offers a unique possibility to study these relationships, as the communities in Northern Norway are highly dependent on marine resources and have strong cultural and social ties to the marine environment. Many of the changes in marine sectors postulated by the blue growth are currently taking place in the north, and the area is data rich, even in a global context.

In Northern Norway, the Blue Growth comprises an exponential growth in the aquaculture industry, the development of a highly efficient and sustainable fishing industry, growth in nature-based tourism, and growth in the mining and energy sector.

A Coastal Barometer is therefore a highly relevant case for ocean health research in other parts of the world where such industries are emerging, contributing to the generic debate on how to navigate sustainable blue transitions. In this way, the project will generate new knowledge on the trade-offs and synergies between different sustainability goals, and will provide a web-based tool where users can explore the trends and spatial pattern of the different indices and data.

Ocean Health in Transition (OHiT)
Specifically, the OHI measures current state, development, impact and resilience within 10 globally important target areas. Not all of these target areas are equally relevant everywhere, for example Natural Products and Coastal Protection may not be particularly important along the Norwegian coast. Depending on data access and local conditions, each of the target areas is divided into several sub-goals. For example, Food Provision is divided into two groups, Fish and Aquaculture.
Ocean Health in Transition (OHiT).jpg 1
In the regional projects, for each of the sub-goals, definitions, procedures and programming codes are developed, which then translates available data sets into the various ecosystem health goals. The results of this process are posted on the web so that it can be used, further developed and discussed by everyone. The process itself is very important because it clearly shows how to define ecosystem health. The process must therefore involve researchers, including local stakeholders and managers.
The result of such regional analyzes is usually this type of chart, where each of the petals in the flower charts sets a score for each target area, and where the number in the center constitutes an overall score. One can thus compare how different regions do it within different target areas
Bouys on land that otherwise marks a visualized route at sea  (Photo: Ann Eileen Lennert).

It is no secret that discourses, perceptions and outcomes are many (as the colors of buoys marking the visualized route at sea) when regarding “Dynamics, resilience and change of arctic marine social and environmental systems”. Changes seen in the future are not only caused by climate change, but through anthropogenic disturbances, politics, economy and global demand on given resources -all of these interlaced, interacting and impacting ocean health.

It is important to study and emphasize on how the growth in marine industries will affect different components of ocean health as well as people’s perception and prioritization of benefits from coastal ecosystems. Additionally, given the anticipated growth in the importance of marine resources, the link between blue transitions and ocean health is of global relevance.