Exploring the Depths: Africa’s Blue Economy Future

Earlier this month was World Oceans Day 2024, on the back of such an important environmental day it is important to reflect on this year’s theme of ’Awakening New Depths’ which focuses on how as humans we have to reimagine and change the way we interact with the oceans.

This is a salient point in the context of Africa and the its Blue Economy particularly in relation to role it can play in the future of ocean conservation. Africa has extensive coastlines, that give it access to Two major oceans (Atlantic and Indian Oceans) and two seas (The Red Sea and Mediterranean Sea) which play an important role as major economic trade routes for the continent’s US$ 300 billion blue economy. In addition, Africa has 38 coastal and island states, blessed with an abundance of marine resources. These natural endowments play an important role for the economy, livelihoods and the ecosystem (Africa Renewal, 2019; Brookings Institute, 2023).

Given that Africa’s blue economy is poised to grow, it is going to have a more central role in accelerating the continent’s transition to a low carbon economy. With the impact of climate change on coastal nations and other ongoing issues such as overexploitation of marine resources by multinationals, it is important to ensure that more sustainable, innovative and collaborative measures are taken to promote a resilient blue economy.  The African Union has established the Africa Blue Economy Strategy which highlights the need to create a sustainable blue economy for the continent and outlines key drivers in areas such as fisheries and aquaculture, tourism, transport, renewable energy and education & research.

Sustainable Fisheries and Aquaculture:

The demand for fisheries is going to increase rapidly as the continent’s population grows to 1.7 billion by 2030 and then reaching 2.5 billion by 2050, which will require 13 million tonnes for 2030 and 19 million for 2050 (African Development Bank, 2022). This will put a lot of pressure on marine fisheries as there will be a need to balance economic and livelihood needs with preserving marine resources. What is required is the promotion sustainable fisheries and aquacultural practices that can meet the demands of the continent whilst preserving ecosystems. This means establishing sustainable policy and regulatory frameworks, creating better maritime management systems that encompass national, regional and continental bodies (African Development Bank, 2022). This also means ensuring that a multi-sectoral approach is taken into consideration and aligning goals and needs of connected stakeholders with that of sustainable fisheries and aquaculture. According to the World Economic Forum 35% of fish removed from the sea is wasted and 33% of seafood is wasted in post-harvest industrial practices.

Countries like Namibia have established an effective fisheries management system through the Namibia Ocean Cluster Working Group by collaborating with the World Economic Forum’s Ocean Action Agenda and the UK’s Planet Blue fund to create a tool that can maximise the utility of post-harvest fisheries (World Economic Forum, 2023). This helps keep stock of fisheries, limit the overuse of marine resources, increase production of food, improve food security and contribute positively to connected industries such as pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and fashion.  In West Africa, the government of Benin through partnership with the African Development Bank has launched the Project to Promote Sustainable Aquaculture and Competitive Fisheries Value Chains  that aims to promote climate resilient fish-farming through establishing breeding centers, floating cages and aquaculture villages over large areas of the country. This will help in driving job and small-scale enterprise creation, strengthening livelihoods and promoting the conservation of fish species.

Marine Tourism:

Marine tourism is another crucial component of Africa’s Blue Economy. The continent has pristine beaches, coral reefs, and diverse marine life that can attract tourists from within the continent and around the world. There is a need to ensure that the economic needs of tourism complement environmental conservation. Countries have established marine protected areas and heritage sites that have played a role in improving tourism and supporting conservation. In South Africa’s Kwa-Zulu Natal province, 3 major Marine Protected Areas have been established with one of them, Trafalgar, being known for a fossil remains on its beaches and having also having easy access to observing the Southern Africa Sardine Run which draws thousands of visitors a year (Rising Sun, 2023). The rise of conscious travelers and ecotourists is an opportunity for costal African countries to take advantage of the growth of this sector as more people seek to travel for sustainable purposes. This will be a huge opportunity for marine tourism. Regional bodies on the continent also have a role to play. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) has established the SADC Transfrontier Conservation Area (TFCA), an initiative which aims to promote cross-national collaboration in promote conservation and sustainability in protected areas amongst member nations.  Through the TFCA marine tourism in Southern Africa can benefit through a harmonised framework that promotes greater collective benefits. The Great Blue Wall Initiative is another multi-nation initiative that coastal and island African states in the West Indian Ocean have joined, that aims to protect their marine resources from the impact of climate change and natural disasters whilst uplifting and empowering local communities through promoting industries like marine tourism.

Renewable Ocean Energy:

Renewable ocean energy has huge potential to drive Africa’s blue economy, given the size of the continent’s coast lines, renewable ocean energy sources like wind and wave power can have an important role in reducing the reliance on fossil fuels (Sitoe et al, 2022). Increased energy consumption has a high correlation with economic development and prosperity, Africa’s electrification rate is currently 46.7 % in sub-Sahara Africa and only 28% in rural communities. Demand for energy is electricity is expected to increase and the population grows at 4% annually until 2040. Meeting this demand for energy whilst pursuing a sustainable path and reducing reliance on fossil fuels is an opportunity to make use of renewable ocean energy.

Renewable energy initiatives are already being explored and utilised across the continent, Hydro, geothermal, wind, solar and organic biomass have all had increased investments and focus. In comparison to the forementioned, renewable ocean energy remains relatively unexplored due to projects and infrastructure that is offshore being more costly and challenging to construct and maintain (Sitoe et al, 2022). However, there are various renewable ocean energy projects and initiatives being explored across the continent. In Southern Africa, Namibia, South Africa and Mozambique have the best potential for wave power with estimated potential to generate about 15-45 KW/m. This has led to initiative to create a 500MW plant in South Africa. Tidal energy plants are being considered in countries like Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana and Guinea Bissau where there is 20m to 40m water depth and a wide range of 5m. Kenya’s tidal power potential alone is expected to be 1.9 GW (Sitoe et al, 2022). Ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) plants can generate electricity through using temperature difference between warm sea water and cold deep-sea water to produce clean and renewable power. Studies indicate that Africa nations in the West Indian Ocean like Seychelles, Mauritius, Madagascar, Tanzania, Mozambique and Kenya have high potential for OTEC. Off-shore wind energy has the potential to generate over 1GW in countries like Morrocco and South Africa whilst floating solar projects are being explored in Seychelles and Nigeria (Africa Renewal, 2023; The Conversation, 2023). Mangrove rehabilitation is yielding positive results for small scale projects like Mikoko Pamojo in Kenya, which has contributed to carbon sequestration, gas that can used for electricity or fuel and wood that has a diverse use which has had benefits for local coastal communities especially through the use of carbon credits. This illustrates the relative lower cost of pursuing nature-based solutions for renewable ocean energy.

Maritime Transport:

Africa is highly dependent on the ocean for trade, with 90% of all imports and exports for the continent occurring through ports along the coats. It is for this reason that efficient and sustainable maritime transport is vital for Africa’s sustainable development. This requires adequate and innovative marine management, policies and systems that can deal with the challenges that face the industry. (GGE) to pollution. African countries have signed regional and international agreements with organisations like the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to commit to promoting a more sustainable maritime industry. There has been an increase focus on green shipping which aims to address the human impacts on the ocean ranging from greenhouse gas emissions. 20% of plastic pollution is maritime-based through dumping that is both legal and illegal. This along with issues of oil spills and ever exploitation of marine resources can have negative effects on coastal communities and environments as has been the experience in Several West African countries. Ivory Coast, Tanzania and South Africa have made commitments in ensuring that their ports and coasts meet and enforce international environmental standards when it comes to marine waste management and pollution reduction (White & Case, 2019). Seychelles has expanded its marine protected areas to cover 30% of the country to ensure that more ships that pass through its seas comply with environment standards. South Africa has the potential to be a leading green hydrogen producer and is exploring using green hydrogen as a source of fuel to power ships (World Bank Blogs, 2023). This would substantially aid in reducing the GGE that marine transportation emits. South Africa also has plans to establish a ship recycling facility known as the 34South Facility that is expected to become the first green compliant sip recycling center on the Continent. This aims to address the waste and environmental impact brought on by ships that have reached the end of their life cycle. In addition, this can increase the demand and usage of more green and eco-friendly ships that meet international standards with a more sustainable supply chain being established. By modernising port facilities, enhancing regulatory frameworks, and investing in green solutions and technologies, African nations can boost their maritime industries while minimising environmental impacts.

Education and Research

Research and education about Africa’s blue economy are integral to capacity building, the development of skills and overall knowledge about the needs, challenges and opportunities that exist in the sector. Part of the African Union’s blue economy strategy is to sure that education about the blue economy goes beyond industry players and gets local communities involved so that the benefits are more encompassing. This can further be advanced through collaborative efforts and partnerships with international organisations, NGOs, and private sector entities can provide the necessary expertise, funding, and technology. Investing in this can help foster innovation, collaboration and commitments to sustainable ocean initiatives that help promote livelihoods, economic growth, climate adaptation and conservation efforts tied to the blue economy.


By prioritising sectors such sustainable fisheries and aquaculture, marine tourism, renewable ocean energy, efficient maritime transport, and robust education and research initiatives, Africa can harness its marine resources responsibly. These efforts will ensure economic growth, environmental conservation, and improved livelihoods, securing a prosperous and sustainable future for the continent’s blue economy.

Author: Kennedy Simango

Research Analyst