Blue economy prospects – Opportunities and Challenges for Nigeria


Over the past ten years, the phrase ‘blue economy’ has gained popularity as more and more people, governments, and economists have come to understand the enormous possibility that the ocean and its resources present. The concept ‘blue economy’ can be traced to Gunter Pauli’s 2010 publication and its currency gaining status at the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) in Rio de Janeiro[1]. Various definitions of the ‘blue economy’ are in use.

“Sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem” is the World Bank definition of the blue economy. The UN defines blue economy as “a range of economic activities related to oceans, seas and coastal areas and whether these activities are sustainable and socially equitable.” According to UNECA (2016), a blue economy is a green economy in a blue world that adopts a novel strategy for economically utilising the resources of oceans, lakes, rivers, and other bodies of water.[2] Wairimu and Khainga (2017)  regard it as the decoupling of socioeconomic activity and development from environmental degradation, as well as optimisation of the benefits gained from marine resources[3].

The blue economy concept aims to market economic processes, social inclusion, and hence the preservation or enhancement of livelihoods while also protecting the seas and coastal areas environmental properties. The concept is therefore a cohesive and deliberate sustainable development plan that strives to integrate the ocean into all levels of an economy, from local frameworks to a national architecture.

Even as the oceans are exploited for economic gains, its sustainability is always emphasised. Fishing, coastal leisure and tourism, shipbuilding, seawater desalination, offshore oil and gas, and shipping (maritime transportation) are some of the economic activities in the traditional sector. But more recently, new industries have emerged in deep sea mining, biotechnology, aquaculture, seabed extraction, offshore renewable energy, and blue carbon sequestration.

The blue economy has tremendous economic promise and capability. The OECD has estimated that oceans contribute US$1.5trillion to the global economy annually and has an estimated asset value of US$24trillion. More so, the livelihood of nearly three billion people depends on ocean resources. According to estimates from the African Union (AU), the blue economy currently brings in US$300billion for the continent and supports 49 million jobs.

Blue Economy Reforms in Africa

Reforming the political, social and economic governance practices of Africa is a must for the continent’s leaders now. The success of such reforms will center on the stability of African societies. High population growth rate coupled, unemployment and extreme poverty is a threat to the status quo. The foresight and vision to make the difficult but necessary choices for change will usher in prosperity, social inclusion and cohesion.

Tapping into the potential of the blue economy for massive economic growth is a converging point of experts, professionals and national governments alike[4]. As noted by Braimah (2023), African countries such as Nigeria, Madagascar, Kenya, South Africa and Somalia have potential blue economies.[5] In McAlpine list of ten countries incorporating blue economy into their development strategies, thirty percent are on the continent of Africa. Kenya, Tunisia and Gambia have already taken decisive actions to take advantage of the potential of the blue economy[6].

The Kenyan government, for instance, has recognised the value of the blue economy and its potential to enhance Kenya’s overall economy. Thus, the Kenyan government has made it mandatory to expand mariculture, shipping and transportation, tourism and oil exploration, all of which have been identified by the government as essential to achieving the ambitious ‘Vision 2030’ economic development plan of the nation[7].

The government of Gambia in partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and European Union (EU) is developing a 10-year sustainable growth strategy to revive the dwindling fortunes of the domestic oyster industry with a focus on women empowerment. Similarly, the Tunisian government with support from the World Bank Group has been developing its blue economy in a post COVID-19 recovery effort. With a 1,300-kilometre coastal line well positioned at the southern shores of the Mediterranean, all opportunities for an integrated and sustainable ecosystem are being expertly considered[8].

Elements of the Blue Economy

The blue economy is made up of a variety of components, including new and emerging activities like offshore renewable energy, cultivation, ocean bottom extractive activities, marine biotechnology, and bio-prospecting, as well as established and long-standing ocean industries like fisheries, tourism, and maritime transport. The blue economy’s components vary from nation to nation depending on the availability of freshwater, oceanic, and coastal resources (Odhiambo and Metcho, 2018); Elisha, 2019). However, to qualify as a component of a blue economy, an activity must provide social and economic benefits for current and future generations. It also must restore, protect and maintain the diversity, productivity, resilience, core functions and intrinsic value of marine ecosystems, as well as be based on clean technologies, renewable energy and circular material flows that will reduce waste and promote recycling of material (World Bank, 2017).

Activity Services Sector Drivers of Growth
Harvesting of Living Resources 1. Sea Food

2. Marine Biotechnology

1. Fisheries

2. Aquaculture

3. Trade of sea-foods

1. Food security

2. Nutrition and dietary

3. Research and development

Extraction of Non-Renewable Resources 1. Minerals

2. Energy

3. Fresh water

4. Generation of renewables

1. Mining

2. Desalination

3. Oil and Gas

4. Renewables

1. Demand for consumables

2. Energy demand

3. Demand for water

Commerce and Trade 1. Transport and trade

2. Coastal development

3. Tourism and recreation

1. Shipping

2. Ports and related services

3. Tourism and coastal development

1. Growth of global tourism

2. Coastal urbanisation

3. Growth in seaborne trade

Contribution to Economic Activities 1. Carbon sequestration

2. Coastal protection

3. Waste disposal

4. Protection of biodiversity

1. Blue carbon

2. Habitat protection

3. Assimilation of nutrients

4. Protection of species and habitat

1. Climate mitigation

2. Resilient growth

3. Waste management

4. Conservation

Source: World Bank

Potentials and Opportunities of the Blue Economy for Nigeria

Of the estimated 47,000 kilometres of coastline in Africa, Nigeria makes up about 853 kilometres. This coastline and a 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) make up Nigeria’s coastline in the Gulf of Guinea. The coastline equals a maritime area of 290 square kilometres, or almost one-third of the nation’s land area of 924 square kilometres (Braimah, 2023). Beyond its strategic significance, 80 percent of Nigeria’s coastline is made up of the oil and biodiversity-rich Niger Delta.

Nigeria has one of the largest wetlands in the world with its coastal and marine ecosystems covering a total of 70,000 square kilometres. These ecosystems are abundant in fish, forests, aquatic plants, coral reefs and aquatic birds, among other types of flora and fauna. A number of significant rivers, including the Niger, Benue, Gongola and Sokoto, run through the country, which is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the south and Lake Chad to the north-east (Odhiambo and Metcho, 2018).

Nigeria’s economy is categorised as a mixed economy, of which the maritime industry of Nigeria is a major sector considering the country’s status as a major oil producing and exporting country in the world. Given, its blue economy potential, the Africa Blue Economy Alliance (ABEA) using data from the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) projects the value of Nigeria’s untapped blue economy potential at a stunning US$296billion[9]. Both traditional and emerging industries/sectors of the blue economy can lead to job creation, improved food security, tourism and infrastructure development, green energy, smart cities and ports among others when properly harnessed through enabling policy frameworks.

Employment: As noted in the introductory paragraphs, the blue economy generates employment possibilities in a variety of industries and contributes more than US$1.5trillion to the global economy, with the goal of reducing poverty by creating sustainable, environmentally friendly jobs within its sectors.

Elisha (2019) opines that with over half of the population under the age of 20, the Nigeria is rife with human capital that, when taught and included, may change the nation to sustainably reap the benefits of the blue economy through the production of jobs and riches. Moreover, in the world’s fisheries industry, women make up fifty percent of the workforce. If given access to modern technology, affordable funding, and market access, Nigerian women may be able to create a multibillion-dollar blue economy that would help to eradicate poverty.

Food Security: The Sustainable Development Goal 2 of the UN aims to end all types of hunger worldwide by 2030 as well as to achieve food and organic process security. Sustainable fishing practices as well as mariculture are ideally positioned to make a significant impact on the achievement of this goal. The country can contribute to and share in the attainment of these goals by exchanging modern ideas, inventions, and technology as well as establishing partnerships to attract funding and raise agricultural and fishing output. However, these potentials and opportunities can be realized through exchange of ideas, best practices for creating legislative frameworks, and application of measures to improve food security.

Tourism and Infrastructure: Cities and towns that are lake or coastal facing continue to draw a sizable population and have developed various forms of infrastructure. To keep up with such expansion and resource consumption, substantial investments in infrastructure and employment development will be required.

Sustainable Energy: The blue economy is being leveraged to create reasonable, sustainable, and reliable energy, as well as meet mineral resource demands through insights into renewable energy sources and sustainable harvesting of natural resources. The Blue Economy has enormous potential for renewable energy from wind, tides, waves, biomass sources and salinity gradients, all of which require technology to capture sustainably, providing an opportunity for investment in technology that will assist the discovery of those energy sources.

Smart Cities, Shipping and Ports: Maritime transport contributes immensely to the international economy. Maritime trade has been critical to Nigeria’s economic progress. It accounts for approximately 95% of the vehicular means of Nigeria’s international trade[10]. Globalisation is expected to increase the volume of global maritime trade. A well-executed plan can result in increased cargo quantities, attracting massive ships to Nigerian ports. Similarly, collaboration and communication among shipping, ports, and suppliers to facilitate commerce and promote economic growth and development cannot be overemphasized.

Challenges Facing the Blue Economy in Nigeria

The country’s coastline, which is home to several offshore oil mines and facilitates international trade, is in danger due primarily to human exploitive activities – including coastal development, pollution, acidification, overfishing and insecurity. The importance of sustainable management of oceans, seas and freshwater systems to keep them in a healthy and productive state cannot be overstated, given the potential contribution of the blue economy.

Climate Change:  The sustainability of the aquatic and marine resources that form the basis of the blue economy are at risk due to climate change. Already, wide swathes of Nigeria have experienced the effects of climate change, which include an increase in floods and droughts, unpredictable and extreme weather, sea level rise and coastal erosion. These effects may vary locally, but they are becoming widespread throughout Nigeria.

Environmental Mismanagement: A contributing factor is the use of destructive environmental practices brought on by ineffective environmental governance and the market economy’s failure to value the costs of degradation. Such practices have led to sedimentation of water bodies, habitat loss, dumping of toxic waste in water bodies, oil spillages and overfishing through unregulated, unregistered illegal fishing practices. Taking overfishing as an example, Odhiambo and Metcho (2018), note that the proportion of fish stocks that are not at biologically sustainable levels increased from 20 percent in 1974 to 32 percent in 2013, and that illicit fishing now accounts for 15 percent (26 metric tonnes) of all fish cashes annually. Data from the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency also showed that 57,500 barrels of oil were spilt between 2006 and 2014 in Nigeria while gas-flaring continues to be a significant cause of pollution to Nigeria’s coastal waters[11].

Maritime Security: International ocean trade, wealth and job creation, as well as the sustainable exploitation of resources for the blue economy depend on a safe and secure maritime environment. One of the greatest challenges to Nigeria’s and indeed West Africa’s blue economy has been insecurity in the Gulf of Guinea. Although the maritime environment in Nigeria has become safer and more secure over time, more urgent security improvements are still required. According to NIMASA, the Deep Blue Project (Integrated National Security and Waterways Protection Infrastructure) rolled out in 2021 has been pivotal in reducing maritime crimes.

Governance and Legal Frameworks: The potential annual revenue from Nigeria’s shipping industry is estimated to be N7 trillion. However, policy, regulatory, institutional redesign, stakeholder (national and transnational) engagements are needed to realise the gains from the sector. As has been argued by some, simply introducing policies for the growth of a sustainable blue economy is not the solution to all of Nigeria’s economic issues; but the manner in which they are implemented is a critical success factor. Since many blue economy activities cross borders, it is important for Nigeria’s coastal states and its regional neighbors to have common frameworks and coordinated strategies to realise its potential. A fragmented governance approach and framework will be inimical to the sector and stakeholders.


Kashim Shettima, vice president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria – an agricultural economist by training, in an interview noted: “Nigeria will be at 206 million people in 2020; by 2030, 262 million and by 2050, 398 million – making it the third most populous country in the world”. By then, he says, “70 percent of Nigerians will live in northern Nigeria” – with its cocktail of desertification, youth unemployment and low output.’[12]

As painted by Shettima, the leadership of Nigeria has not lost touch with the reality that business as usual would be disaster for the country. Nigeria’s rapidly expanding population, which is in desperate need of employment, could eventually overwhelm governmental institutions unless changes are implemented now to develop a sustainable economy that create jobs.

The massive underutilised blue economy in Nigeria presents enormous prospects for growth and development, as Bashir Jamoh, Director-General of NIMASA, hinted at. However, convincing the general populace of the sacrifices required and demonstrating the politico-economic will power to implement sound policies within this space that will result in a better economy and society for the present and future is the delineated task for the sovereign state.


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[1] Elisha, Otekenari. (2019). The Nigeria Blue Economy: Prospects for Economic Growth and Challenges.

[2] See

[3] Wairimu, E., and Khainga D., (2017). Kenya’s Agenda in Developing the Blue Economy, Available at

[4] See

[5] See

[6] See Countries with blue economy strategies – The Borgen Project

[7] See Frontiers | Policy gaps in the East African Blue economy: Perspectives of small-scale fishers on port development in Kenya and Tanzania (

[8] See


[9] See

[10] Igbozurike, John Kennedy, Achieving the Blue Economy Dream in the Nigerian Maritime Sector (May 16, 2020). Available at SSRN: 

[11] See

[12] Greg Mills, Olusegun Obasanjo, Jeffrey Herbst, and Dickie Davis, Making Africa Work- A Handbook (2017), Hurst Publication


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