The Blue Economy between education and research  

Blue Growth is a European Commission initiative to harness the potential of Europe’s seas, oceans and coasts to create new job opportunities and new enterprises in the productive sectors of the so-called “Blue Economy” in a sustainable manner by promoting research, technological transfer and partnerships between scientific research and the industrial sector. The Blue Economy covers all human activity that uses the seas, the coasts and the sea beds for productive activities and the development of services in terms of sustainability, such as, for example: aquaculture; fishing; marine biotechnology; maritime, coastal and cruise tourism; maritime transport; ports and shipyards; renewable marine energy. We spoke about these topics with Francesca Santoro, coordinator of the Ocean Literacy programme of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO.

What role will education have in the future in promoting sustainable Blue Growth?

It already plays a fundamental role today and we will have a growing need for professional figures capable of working in this field. At the same time, we need to train those who are already working in this sector so they are prepared to promote sustainable blue growth. As the UNESCO Oceanographic Commission, we are working to produce tools, resources and materials that can be used in schools with students at all levels and also by all stakeholders who are increasingly looking for help to transform their businesses in a sustainable way.

Speaking in particular about education and training initiatives for women, what do you feel is missing?

We often speak about the lack of women in scientific studies but this statement is too generic. The Global Ocean Science Report drawn up by the UNESCO Oceanographic Commission has shown that in maritime sciences actually about 38% of researches are women, around 10% more than in the other sciences in general. This could seem encouraging data but, on a closer look, we realise there are many female marine biologists and few physics or engineering oceanographers. Not to mention the differences between countries. We can’t expert to develop recipes that are good for all situations. I also believe it is extremely important to ensure young girls who are deciding on what to study at university have the possibility to learn of examples and testimonies of women working in the world of science.

Talking about scientific research, what direction should it take and what strategies should be implemented to foster Blue Growth?

Scientific research should consider that new knowledge needs to be created on several factors in this field. First of all, to bridge some “knowledge gaps”, i.e. to increase knowledge of the oceans. We still know very little about this immense body of water that covers more than 70% of our planet. We should, for example, map all the sea bed with a resolution suitable to sustaining development projects. We then need to improve our knowledge of the combined effects of different environmental impacts; I’m thinking, for example, of the action of climate change on pollution or on the loss of biodiversity. Furthermore, I believe scientific research has to develop structured partnerships with the world of enterprise. I believe we are starting to see interesting examples of this type of combined action, in particular with reference to innovation for the blue economy. I’m referring to new sensors to observe the ocean, which, thanks to the use of artificial intelligence and robotics, are becoming more and more accessible and in contexts in which economic and financial resources are scarce.

In your opinion, what role could an event like Esof have in this context?

Events like ESOF are extremely important as they aim to unite all the worlds that we have been speaking about: science, business, institutions and civil society. European scientific research is cutting-edge research and it is important for there to be opportunities for initiatives and projects to be presented so as to better understand how they can be useful in developing society. The themes of safeguarding the sea and the blue economy are priorities for Europe, seeing that the maritime area under the jurisdiction of the EU member states is larger than the overall land surface area of the EU

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