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Asia's blue future: ocean conservation is the key to sustainable prosperity (II/II)

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By Alex Hong

· 10 min read

This is part two of a two-part series on ocean preservation in Asia. You can read part one here.

Asia's economic growth is closely associated with the health of the ocean. In addition to being vital for the environment, this opinion contends that a paradigm change away from resource extraction and towards ocean conservation and study is also essential for opening up enormous economic prospects. Global success stories highlight the effectiveness of sustainable ocean practices, and Asian countries may secure a prosperous blue future by cooperating. This two part commentary examines the critical role that family offices and oceanic research institutions can play in this shift.

V. The role of research organisations: Cultivating stewards of the sea

Strategy must be changed, and a new generation of ocean advocates must be raised to move the Asian and ASEAN oceans toward a sustainable future. In this context, research organisations are essential for increasing public awareness, developing the next generation of ocean leaders, and encouraging teamwork in research endeavours.

One outstanding example that spurs change is OceanX Education. OceanX provides educators and students in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) area with cutting-edge programmes that allow them to:

  • Engage with Cutting-Edge Research: Students can experience first-hand the wonders and difficulties of the deep ocean by having virtual access to OceanX's research trips through interactive online platforms. This exposure sparks interest and deepens understanding of the significance of ocean conservation.

  • Develop Critical Skills: Programmes like OceanX Education give participants the scientific literacy and analytical skills they need to comprehend challenging ocean issues. Furthermore, prospective ocean leaders are equipped with the skills necessary to successfully convey the significance of ocean health to a broader audience through storytelling and media creation courses. The message of conservation and economic relevance can be better showcased by understanding a multi-stakeholder, iterative approach to problem solving and communications.

  • Forge International Partnerships: OceanX Education promotes a culture of regional cooperation on ocean research and conservation by facilitating collaboration between researchers and students from various APAC nations. Breakthroughs can be found when we celebrate differences and harness comparative advantages across cultures and creeds. 

Building a sustainable future for the seas in the Asia-Pacific area is mostly accomplished by a network of committed research institutes, which goes beyond OceanX. Important research on aquaculture, marine resource management, and sustainable fishing methods is carried out, for instance, by the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Centre (SEAFDEC). SEAFDEC allows ASEAN countries to carry out successful conservation initiatives by exchanging information and experience with its member states.

In a similar vein, the Asia-Pacific Marine Science Association (APMSA) facilitates regional cooperation in ocean research. Through conferences, workshops, and collaborative research projects, APMSA links scientists from many regions, promoting knowledge sharing and expediting scientific advancement about issues concerning ocean conservation.

By enabling and supporting these research organisations, we are investing in the future of the APAC and ASEAN oceans. These organisations serve as innovation incubators, producing the next wave of ocean leaders and encouraging teamwork in research, which is essential for creating successful conservation plans. Through their efforts, future generations will be left with healthy, vibrant oceans that sustain economic growth and cultural cohesion throughout Asia.

VI. Family offices and long-term impact investing: A sea change in investment strategy

Asia's family offices, which have historically prioritised the preservation of long-term wealth, saw ocean health as an important factor in economic and environmental decisions. A robust blue economy is built on a healthy ocean, supporting many industries that yield significant returns for investors.

The ripple effect of ocean decline:

  • Tourism: Reduced fish populations and bleached coral reefs result in lower tourism-related income. UN Environment Programme (UNEP) highlights a study estimating that coral reef degradation in Southeast Asia could lead to a decline in tourism revenue of $11.6 billion annually by 2030.

  • Fisheries: Dwindling fish populations caused by overfishing impact fishing companies' revenue and put millions of coastal people's livelihoods at risk. According to a 2021 World Wildlife Fund (WWF) assessment, if business as usual conditions continue, fisheries in Southeast Asia could see an 80% reduction in yearly catches by 2040.

  • Coastal Property: Sturdy coral reefs shield coastal properties from storm damage and erosion by acting as natural barriers. The deterioration of these reefs makes them more susceptible to natural calamities, which could result in large-scale property losses. According to a 2020 analysis by The Nature Conservancy, funding coral reef restoration might prevent future disaster relief expenses for Asian countries from reaching the billion-dollar mark.

These scenarios illustrate a harsh truth: the short-term profits from unsustainable activities eventually jeopardise the long-term sustainability of investments in a wide range of industries.

Family offices: Investing in a healthy future:

Family offices are uniquely positioned to support a paradigm change because of their extended investment horizons. To protect the value of their assets throughout Asia, they may guarantee the long-term health of the ocean by funding research and sustainable ocean practices:

  • Investing in Sustainable Fishing Practices: The future of fisheries and millions of people's livelihoods are protected when we support businesses that use ethical fishing practices and invest in stock replenishment.

  • Funding Ocean Conservation Initiatives: Putting money into research projects to rebuild coral reefs and Marine Protected Areas helps keep the ocean healthy, draws tourists, and saves coastal real estate.

  • Supporting Research and Innovation: Investing in research institutions such as OceanX Education promotes the creation of creative solutions for ocean conservation and assists in preparing the next generation of ocean leaders. Funding marine-related start-ups in blue carbon or other scalable innovations can spur the next growth industry that marries conservation and economic activities. 

Family offices have the chance to emerge as front-runners in environmental conservation, going beyond just financial gains. By taking a sustainability-focused approach to investing, they can exhibit their dedication to the welfare of future generations and encourage others to do the same.

VII. Call to Action: Embracing a Blue Future

The vastness of the Asian and ASEAN oceans presents a choice: continue on a path of unsustainable exploitation or embrace a future where a healthy ocean fuels long-term economic prosperity. The time for action is now.

A call to asian nations:

Asian countries need to understand that protecting the oceans is not a luxury but a need. The full potential of the blue economy can be realised through research funding and the implementation of sustainable practices. Allow us to:

  • Prioritize Collaborative Research: Investing more in cooperative research projects, data sharing, and information sharing among ASEAN members will allow us to efficiently manage our common marine resources.

  • Implement Sustainable Fishing Practices: Tighter laws encouraging sustainable fishing gear and methods will guarantee our fisheries' long-term survival and safeguard millions of people's livelihoods.

  • Establish Marine Protected Areas (MPAs): By establishing a network of well-maintained MPAs, it will be possible to restore declining fish populations, assisting nearby fisheries and boosting ecotourism.

Singapore: A catalyst for change:

Singapore is uniquely positioned to spur ocean conservation and sustainable investment in the region due to its concentration of family offices and its advantageous location in Southeast Asia. With more than 1500 family offices—10% of all family offices worldwide—Singapore possesses the financial might and clout to effect meaningful change. Through the use of its convening power and financial competence, Singapore can:

  • Champion Sustainable Investment Practices: By drawing investments that promote ethical ocean practices and cutting-edge blue technology, Singapore may position itself as a major worldwide hub for sustainable finance.

  • Foster Collaboration: As a regional info-comms and financial leader, Singapore can help ASEAN countries collaborate on research, knowledge exchange, and applying best practices in ocean protection.

Beyond conservation: A sea of opportunities

Investing in a healthy ocean opens up a wealth of non-traditional economic options. A healthy ocean ecosystem opens the door to the growth of:

  • Sustainable Packaging: Making biodegradable substitutes for plastic packaging out of seashell calcium (seafood waste) can cut waste and open up new markets.

  • Seaweed Revolution: Seaweed has a great deal of potential as an alternative to plastics, animal feed (to reduce methane, etc) and fertilisers. It can also be used to clean waterways and assist medical applications.

  • Blue Carbon Market: Blue carbon environments, such as seagrass beds and mangroves, are highly concentrated throughout Southeast Asia. Investing in their preservation yields substantial financial returns by producing tradable carbon credits.

  • Sea-Based Renewable Energy: The potential for producing renewable energy from the tidal, wind, and current systems is enormous. We have the technology to make them scalable and, with further innovation, economical at scale. 

These are just a few examples. A healthy ocean unlocks a world of possibilities for innovation and sustainable economic growth across Asia.

Investing in the future:

We must work together and invest more in research if we are to take advantage of these potential. In order to enable groups like OceanX, SEAFDEC, and APMSA to educate the next generation of ocean leaders and create creative approaches to ocean conservation, let us assist them. By cooperating, we can build a future in which Asia's blue economy is built around a robust ocean, guaranteeing wealth for future generations.

The ocean is a treasure to be preserved, not a resource to be exploited. Let's put money into research, adopt sustainable methods, and choose cooperation over rivalry. Altogether, we possess the ability to reverse the trend and unleash the actual possibilities of Asia's "Blue Future."

VIII. Conclusion: A shared future for a healthy ocean

Asia's future is closely linked to the condition of its enormous oceans. These thriving ecosystems represent the basic basis of our economic prosperity, not just a source of wonder and beauty. A healthy ocean is essential to innumerable sectors, from the thriving fisheries that support millions to the coral reefs that draw visitors worldwide.

However, this essential resource is endangered due to the unsustainable extraction trend. The fact that we have an option is excellent news. Adopting a dedication to ocean research and conservation may open the door to a future in which a healthy ocean drives long-term economic prosperity throughout Asia.

The economic benefits of sustainable ocean management greatly outweigh the short-term profits from resource depletion. Funding conservation and research projects unlocks the potential for cutting-edge blue technologies, environmentally friendly packaging options, and renewable energy sources. Moreover, robust fisheries and healthy coral reefs draw tourists and protect coastal towns, greatly boosting the profitability of the local economy.

No one country can solve the problems we face alone. A fight for resources that is seen as a zero-sum game can only cause everyone to lose. Rather, we need to promote a collaborative spirit inside the region. By cooperating through ASEAN and other regional initiatives, Asian countries can exchange scientific findings, implement best conservation practices, and guarantee the long-term health of our common ocean resources.

With its combined strength, Asia can build a prosperous "blue future." We can guarantee a future in which a healthy ocean creates economic wealth for future generations by adopting a cooperative approach to ocean conservation, funding research, and switching to sustainable practices. Together, we can unlock the full potential of our common blue gem by investing in the future, putting cooperation above competition, and utilising Asia's combined strength.

illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the author

Alex Hong is the Executive Director of Digipulse Data and strategic advisor. He is the Chief Sustainability Coordinator of the Youth Networking Business Committee (YNBC). Alex is LinkedIn’s Top Voices (Green) in Singapore 2022 and represents the Global Blockchain Business Council (GBBC) as the Ambassador of Southeast Asia.

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