The Blue Economy: The mangrove case

By Olivier Fourcadet, Associate Professor at ESSEC, Management Department Holder of the Chair for Excellence in European Food Chains

Corporate leaders are now familiar with the concept of the Green Economy, but they are most often little aware of the Blue Economy. The former aims, among others, at developing an economy founded on terrestrial ecosystems and in harmony with them, while the latter pursues the same objectives, but from the perspective of marine and lake ecosystems. My intention in this article is not to draw up a list of opportunities for the blue economy for companies and states, but to illustrate through an example – that of the mangrove forests – the importance of marine ecosystems.

The mangrove and the planet

Whereas our regard is often oriented towards the luxuriant Amazon, Indonesian or Congo basin forests, we know little of the mangroves, a marine tidal ecosystem inherent to tropical regions and essentially made up of Rhizophara genus mangrove trees. These shrub-like trees are not of particularly great beauty, especially when compared to the great trees of the tropical land forests. But they are, however, of particular effectiveness when viewed in terms of capturing atmospheric carbon gases. Biological carbon sequestration specialists estimate that mangroves stock up to six times more carbon per km2 and per year than tropical land forests (seagrass may stock up to 25 times more carbon per km2 than tropical forests and maintain this storage for several thousands of years).

When a forest deteriorates, it gives off a part of carbon it had previously sequestered. Mangrove forests are particularly

vulnerable. Their annual rate of disappearance is estimated at between 2% and 8%. As such the deterioration of the mangroves accounts for nearly 20% of CO2 emissions associated with deforestation. Until now, the primary cause of the disappearance of the mangrove forests had been shrimp farming. Other than their great capacity for sequestering CO2, something that should tomorrow make them a choice product for industries wishing to rid themselves of their carbon footprint, they also participate, among other things, to coastal protection and provide wood and food to populations. Certain NGOs working for the mangroves meet the Verified Carbon Standards and other certifications.

When the mangrove meets the shrimp

Let us return for several instants to the competition for space between shrimp farms and the mangroves. In the past, the mangroves were eliminated to make way for suitable space for modern and intensive shrimp farms. The mangroves were replaced by systems of artificial ponds. With this form of farming, food was imported from outside producing a negative effect on the trade balance in the area. The risk and gravity of epidemics were great due to the strong density of animals in the water basins.  From the outset of Y2K, experiments in the harmonious integration of shrimp farming in the mangrove ecosystem were carried out. Their results were particularly promising.  And towards the end of the decade, Indonesia deployed an ambitious programme of replanting the mangrove forests which included shrimp farms. The economic interest of this association is consequential given that the mangroves provide not only almost the entire requirement in food needed by the shrimps to develop, but also a farming environment of outstanding quality. As such, the associated sanitary risks are substantially reduced. Several other types of farm may be introduced, such as crab farms which complete part of the food chain – something that wasn’t the case for the intensive farming of shrimps. The mangroves can also  be used as a habitat and place of reproduction for many species of fish, micro and macroalgae, sea cucumbers, shellfish, and so on, each of them playing a particular role at the service of the whole.

A mutual gain scenario for business, society, and the planet

As I see it, the mangrove case perfectly illustrates how important it is today to invest in our knowledge of marine ecosystems. Estimations on the sequestration of CO2 by mangrove forests are very recent (mainly 2011). The case also illustrates the possibilities, often little explored, to get the most out of biodiversity with integrated ecosystems; that is, those integrating a natural component, in this case the mangrove, with an artificial component, in this case that of shrimps. The integrated ecosystem concept appears to me as one of the major potential advances in successfully combining business, society and the environment. Such a system combines the production of ecosystemic services with a quality food production that is sustainable in quantity. The analysis of complex systems moreover invites us to believe that the resilience of a biological system is proportionate to the wealth of its biodiversity.

The blue economy is still relatively unknown, but it harbours numerous and unthought-of of economic opportunities compatible with sustainable growth.

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