SEATTLE, Washington — Amid a pandemic wreaking havoc around the world, many “Big Ocean States,” such as Seychelles, have managed to overcome COVID-19 and declare themselves virus-free. Despite their successes against the virus, these nations, which hold more marine territory than land, must now battle another foe: economic lethargy. Although the global economy has slowed for the moment, these resilient nations are finding ways to combat the effects of COVID-19 by preparing for the future.
Revitalizing the “Blue Economy”
Every year, ocean-based “Blue Economies” bring anywhere from $3 to $6 trillion to more than three billion people worldwide. Unfortunately, this number will likely drop due to the outbreak of COVID-19 as the industries for tourism and fish exportation have been predicted to shrink by a third. This crisis has the potential to devastate the economies of “Big Ocean States” like Fiji and Seychelles, whose residents depend heavily on tourism, fishing and other ocean-related economic activities to sustain their livelihoods. Yet, in the face of economic uncertainty, these resilient countries have made efforts to “build back bluer” now that many have rid themselves of COVID-19.
Safeguarding Ocean Resources
In the case of Fiji’s “Blue Economy” strategy, “building back bluer” means developing mapping technology to scan more than 1,120 square kilometers of coral reefs so that the government can designate it as “legally protected.” With this legal designation, Fiji can protect the reefs from human contact, which would decrease fishing and allow the reefs to grow naturally. Without fishing, many of the reef’s fish stocks would naturally replenish themselves. With any luck, the protected areas would return to a healthy state.
These protections allow Fiji to revitalize its natural resources so that once tourists finally return, the protected areas will have blossomed into ecologically diverse areas rife with opportunities to make money off of ecotourism. The development of coral reef mapping technology also seeks to invest in local island communities by employing residents and keeping them insulated from economic hardship while tourism has decreased.
Similarly, Seychelles has begun the process of protecting around a third of its ocean territory so that it can “allow marine life to thrive and fish stocks to replenish.” This blue strategy aims to revitalize the Seychellan fishing industry and preserve the fish stocks of more than 400,000 square kilometers of ocean territory.
Truly, the economic slowdown caused by COVID-19 presents “Big Ocean States” with unique problems. In the face of these issues, the resilient inhabitants of states like Maldives, Fiji and Seychelles have come up with innovative solutions to help spur their economies and keep their populations out of poverty.
For example, the government of Seychelles partnered with a group called The Nature Conservancy to work out a deal to reduce its national debt “in exchange for” investment in its ocean resources. This innovative deal allowed Seychelles to reduce its national debt by $22 million. In doing so, it freed up revenue to invest in its citizens. Also, this deal allowed Seychelles to protect the marine resources essential to its survival in a post-COVID-19 economy.
Virtual Reality Tours
In the Maldives, tourism authorities have developed Virtual Reality tours of the archipelago in order to showcase what the islands have to offer even during a time of decreased travel. These promotional virtual reality tours offer more than 2,000 individual views of the more than 150 islands in the Maldives. They showcase the immense natural beauty of this Indian Ocean island.
These VR tours aim to make the Maldives look enticing so as to captivate potential travelers and “advertise this country as a top tourist destination.” In theory, virtual tours will attract future tourists and stimulate an immense boost to the economy once the COVID-19 crisis clears up. By creating virtual tours that can be viewed anywhere in the world on any screen, the Maldives tourism authorities are not only creating future demand for tourism in the islands but also helping to keep Maldivian citizens out of poverty by creating job opportunities related to virtual tourism.
Blue Initiatives and Grants
In the South Pacific “Big Ocean State” of Fiji, government officials have looked to the Commonwealth Blue Charter initiative in order to find solutions to this crisis in “academia, philanthropy and science networks” all for the purpose of “building back bluer” from the economic downturn caused by COVID-19.
In the Caribbean state of Trinidad and Tobago, the government has pioneered direct salary relief and innovative rental assistance grants in order to assure that citizens can make it through this economic crisis with dignity. Additionally, these relief methods serve to strengthen the Trinidadian economy in sectors unrelated to tourism by investing in the people who live there year-round.
As “Big Ocean States” persevere through the economic downturn of the COVID-19 pandemic, they are not sitting idly by and waiting for tourists to return. Rather, many have placed renewed emphasis on replenishing their marine resources and reinforcing the infrastructure of their tourism industries. By investing in themselves, these states work to guarantee a living wage for citizens while also assuring that, once they finally do return, tourists return to a paradise even more vibrant and ecologically sustainable than that of the pre-COVID-19 era.
– Nolan McMahon