How to utilise the full potential of Kenya's vast marine resources

By the time you will be reading this article, the Blue Economy Conference, a first of its kind in the globe, will have just ended.

The blue economy has immense potential for country, especially coming at a time when we are trying to answer the overwhelming question of employment and underemployment among the youth.

It offers a viable alternative to land-based economy as a source of income for the youth. It supports many industries, which in turn offer many opportunities for young people within and without our borders.

Let us look at the statistics.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), fishers, fish farmers and other people supplying goods and services to industries related to marine activities assure the livelihood of almost 820 million people worldwide. In Kenya, the Indian Ocean accounts for incomes of about 70 per cent of coastal communities and employment of about 20,000 people.

We can only imagine the untapped potential that we can unlock by sustainably and optimally exploiting our marine resources. In a world so diverse, we need to be as open-minded as possible, which induces making opportunities within the blue economy as enticing as opportunities in the corporate world.

Maritime security

If we ensure that maritime security is beefed up thanks to the newly launched Kenya Coast Guard Service; our ports and shipping facilities are revamped; aquaculture and fish processing and storage capacity is boosted, then perhaps a young person on his way to university will happily choose a course in maritime engineering with the same zeal as he or she would have opted for a course in digital marketing. Because both are equally appealing.

What’s more, a young person from a coastal community on the shores of the Indian ocean will wake up every morning, pick up his fishing equipment and happily find his way to the ocean for another fishing expedition with the blissful knowledge that he has an equal shot like his counterpart working in a multi-national corporation in Nairobi, as diverse as their worlds may be.  That a young woman will be confident enough to pursue her dream in the Kenya Maritime School, as she would have in the Kenya School of Flying.

Perhaps this is what the blue economy means to the youth; the availability of opportunities and a chance to pursue dreams and passions.

Is all this possible, in the middle of a myriad challenges that the blue economy is currently grappling with? First, there is unprecedented climate change which is making oceans warmer, more acidic and subsequently a threat to coral reefs- homes and nursery grounds to many fish species.

Then there is the challenge of waste management. Every time we dump waste into the ocean, most of it decomposes into micro-plastics, which are ingested by the fish and end up the dinner table.

Moreover, if that is not enough, imagine the damage that waste from our industries that contain heavy metals such as lead and mercury inflicts on our ocean's rich biodiversity? A huge part of this biodiversity is a delicacy for many of us. Imagine the adverse health effects if the tilapia that ends up on your dinner table tonight contains these heavy metals in its tissues.

Fish stock

There is also the danger of depleting our fish stock because we are taking out more from our marine resources than nature can replenish. Activities such as over-fishing, use of destructive and harmful fishing gear have consequences. With the growing number of people relying on fishing as a means of livelihood, the decline in fish stock is a disaster waiting to happen.

These, among other challenges, stand in the way of realising the immense possibilities that the blue economy promises. Perhaps this is why the blue economy conference could not have come at a better time. That more than 18,000 delegates from across the world made their way to Nairobi to attend the conference was a good start.

Going forward, it is imperative that we remember and deliver on the pledges made during the Conference. We need to curb illegal fishing, we need schools, research and innovative centres for the improvement of blue economy technology, and we need safety and security so that trade can proceed unhampered to realise the full potential of the blue economy.

Mr Mokamba comments on social issues