Oceans, a great potential yet to be discovered

With the Blue Growth Strategy, the European Commission has clearly identified the seas’ and oceans’ great potential to contribute to Europe’s long-term plan for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. According to the Commission’s Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (DG Mare), the Blue Economy represents roughly 5.4 million jobs and generates a gross added value of almost €500 billion a year. On these topics we interviewed Ilaria Nardello, Ph.D., Founder and Director of “ERAMARIS - From research To Business”. Capitalising from her experience as the first Executive Director of EMBRC-ERIC (European Marine Biology Resource Centre), established in Paris in 2018, she builds sustainable bridges among key innovation actors in the blue and life sciences domains.

Speaking about Blue Growth, which sectors will have the greatest benefits from its development?

The tip of the blue-economy iceberg is represented by the most traditional activities such as fisheries, aquaculture and maritime transportation. However, marine biotechnology-driven economy is an important component of this domain. Albeit the volume of the business derived from the application of marine biotechnology is virtually invisible, its potential to the innovation of various sectors is enormous. This is relevant both in terms of societal benefits, with novel bioactives and biomaterials for therapeutics and superfood ingredients, as well as economy-driving elements, with the increased ability to feed the growing global population, and obtain new sources of energy, just to make some examples.

What factors are needed to best develop Blue Growth?

Any economic strategy and real opportunity, in these days, must be tied to the principles of sustainability and circularity of the use of our resources. While the oceans have been able to absorb and smooth an enormous part of our anthropogenic impact, for centuries, they are now showing their vulnerability and the return effect on the planetary equilibrium. Blue Growth can only happen when the practices to mine the oceans, to travel them and to feed from them will have become sustainable. For this to happen, research remains a fundamental ingredient, to expand our knowledge of the marine systems, as well as advancing our investigation techniques.

Investments are required to align all actors towards a sustainable and innovative economy, which uses our technological advances to explore and utilise the marine resources, while preserving the good ecological status of the marine ecosystem and the productivity of their services.

A cultural transformation, possibly the hardest part, to be managed at the education level, shall also offer a bridge between the research and business mindsets.

What role can public-private collaboration play in this context?

It is essential that public investments are sustained by the EU Commission to allow the basic steps to be taken, with public research and education programmes. However, unlocking the potential of the oceans to deliver a blue growth will require that research ideas are further developed to produce innovation. The EU Investment Bank, the national public sector as well as the private investors will need to work jointly, although from different angles, to support the development of a blue ecosystem of innovation production. In this context, a role can also be taken by the European Research Infrastructures (ERICs), which are novel tools, in the form of public-private partnerships, modern equipped to tackle the challenges of this century.

Could an event like ESOF help in this process?

With the Science to Business Forum, ESOF has demonstrated the willingness to play a role in the required cultural transformation that can bring research and business closer together. Culture is a most valiant element of resistance to be conquered, in any transformation. Given the clear role that

ESOF plays in the European Scientific community, the contribution of this part of the programme could be substantial in the necessary cross-pollination process, among actors of change.

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