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Wed, 14 November 2018

6th World Ocean Council Sustainable Development Summit, Hong Kong,

14 – 16 November 2018

 “Ocean Sustainable Development – Connecting Asia and the World.”

 Address by James A. Michel,

Former President of the Republic of Seychelles




Founding President and Chief Executive Officer of the World Ocean Council,

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

It is my great pleasure to address you at this significant event.  Where better to hold a conference on maritime business development than in this iconic city of Hong Kong? Hong Kong has retained and enhanced its reputation as a place of innovation and enterprise, a hub for international business.  We can learn much from this dynamic setting.

 Nor is it simply a question of place which is a source of inspiration.  In organising this event, and others before it, the World Ocean Council is to be warmly congratulated.  With the strap line of ‘Ocean Sustainable Development: Connecting Asia and the World’, could there be a more appropriate host body?  I firmly agree with the organizers that the timing is right for this present focus on business development.  Moreover, my belief is also that the Blue Economy offers an ideal framework to take this further.  Thus, in my presentation:

 -       I will, first of all, contend that the idea of the Blue Economy is now widely understood and has international support and, as a result, we are in a position to move beyond words into the realm of action, the very theme of this conference;

-       following from that, there are good reasons why small island states like my own Seychelles, are in a strong position to put the idea of the Blue Economy into practice;

-       to date, however, examples of practical projects are too few – they are either localised and not widely known, or not yet off the drawing board – and we need to do more to see real progress;

-       but this can be done: we can, indeed, do more and we should be optimistic.  If we look towards the ocean we will find that there is no shortage of business opportunities for open-minded investors and companies.  The future is, indeed, blue.


Ladies and gentlemen,

This conference’s agenda provides for discussions on a wealth of topics relating to the ocean; from business opportunities, climate change, food security, governance, Research and Development, to the health of the oceans. They are all heavily underlined by sustainability.

Sustainability is indeed the key approach to whatever we undertake in the oceans.

 The Future is Blue

The concept of the Blue Economy (which sometimes goes under different names but invariably means the same) could not be more straightforward.  I see it simply as developing strategies for the sustainable use of the sea that will benefit humankind.  Although we live on a Blue Planet, until recently the interconnected ocean basin has never attracted the same attention as the land – even though the sea occupies 72% of the earth’s surface and the land only 28%.  With the world’s population continuing to grow, it surely makes sense to make better use of every part of the world around us, not just that part which is above sea level.

 People might say that we are already doing that.  We have, for instance, always used the sea for fishing, and shipping lanes are busier than they ever were.  That is true in itself but the point is that in future we will have to do things differently.  In the past, there has not been due emphasis on sustainability so that, to take the example of fishing, there is a real danger that future generations will not have access to the same volume and variety of fresh fish as we do.  It is also the case that maritime activities remain highly concentrated in their scope, ignoring the potential of many more; much of the ocean – a three-dimensional resource – is still unexplored and who knows what it might yet offer?

 So – as I have always argued – the Blue Economy is an all-embracing concept, anticipating a wider range of activities than exist now but also insisting that these must all be sustainable.  If we fully recognize sustainability, the ocean can serve not only our own needs but also those of our children and theirs too.

For twelve years I was President of the Republic of Seychelles, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean.  In all directions the sea stretches to distant horizons and perhaps it was inevitable that I always wondered about the power of the ocean and what it might offer.  Surely, I concluded, we have barely tapped the endless possibilities that it holds.  I could see that good progress was being made in advancing the idea of the Green Economy, based on the sustainable use of the land.  But it seemed that our thinking had not yet extended far beyond the world’s shorelines.

So one thing led to another and I shared my own thoughts with others who were thinking along similar lines.  There was an immediate synergy and within a very short time the idea of the Blue Economy was attracting the attention of countries across the world.  A critical step in advancing the idea was that of the United Nations Rio+20 Conference in June 2012.  A further milestone came only last year in New York, with the support of 4000 delegates for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 14: Conserve and sustainable use the oceans, seas and marine resources

In other words, the Blue Economy is still a newcomer to the world stage but in just a few short years it has won the hearts and minds of nations across the world. More and more, people, NGOS, the scientific community and academics are calling on governments to do more to preserve the different species and ecosystems to heal the ocean.

“Blue Economy” is therefore no longer just a concept. Oceanic and coastal populations are living it. The message must be repeated at every opportunity.  But there is surely a strong enough consensus already to justify the claim that the Blue Economy is widely seen as the right way forward.  If we accept this, it is time now to make real advances: to spend less time talking and more on putting the various ideas into practice; the time for action is now.


Big and Small States Alike

The business potential of the ocean can bring benefits to big and small states alike.  Nor is it just islands and coastal states that will benefit; nations that are distant from the sea stand to gain too.  Our ocean is a shared resource for which we have a shared responsibility.   I have argued elsewhere that, in this sense, we are all islanders now.  While this is true as a generalisation, there is no doubt that some places are closer to the front line than others – not least of all, small island states like my own.

Small island states are often remote and poorly developed, traditionally relying on primary products.  But they also possess one overwhelming strength – they are, by their very nature, surrounded by the sea and islanders develop an understanding of the marine environment that is almost second nature.  They are aware on a daily basis of how the tides are encroaching on their precious land; they know of the healing properties of particular sea plants; they understand better than outsiders how to ensure that their fisheries remain vibrant. Islanders are the sentinels who stand guard over our ocean; they can offer invaluable advice as well as action to maintain the purity of the sea and to protect our shorelines. We call ourselves the children of the oceans.

 The place of Small Island Developing States (popularly known as SIDS) and, indeed, large ocean states, was well recognized in 2014, which the United Nations declared as the International Year for these island communities. Under the auspices of the UN, a conference was held on the Pacific island of Samoa and I was one of 3000 delegates who attended it.  This was a landmark event and I took every opportunity to promote the cause.  With Climate Change already bearing down, and the very future of many of our small island states in fear of being submerged, there was no time to delay; it had become an existential issue and the world, I argued, must take immediate action.  A sustainable future was in all of our interests.  But what, in practical terms, was actually being done to make a difference?

 Immediately before the Samoa conference (and in the same location) a forum was convened to provide a platform for business leaders.  The forum addressed six themes: agriculture, fisheries, connectivity, tourism, renewable energy and risk reduction.  At the end of the session, the formation was announced of a SIDS Global Business Leaders Network.   Responsibility for this was given to a branch of the United Nations (UN-OHRLLS), and a follow-up conference was held in Aruba in 2016 and another, earlier this year, in Mauritius.  The focus of the second one was on sustainable tourism and some interesting ideas emerged in relation to new solar power technology for hotels and renewable powered desalination plants.

In one sense, this recognition of business opportunities marked useful progress.  Such gatherings bring people together and, often on the sidelines of the main sessions, there is a synergy between delegates that can lead to valuable developments.  But are such events enough?  Four years after Samoa, we are still talking rather than acting – and all the time the sea level is rising and fish stocks are diminishing.  Another conference in a further two years and one after that hardly matches the nature of the challenge.  This ‘top down’ approach has its value – if only as a reporting mechanism – but it will not on its own deliver change on the scale and at the speed that is needed.  That, I believe, will only come from enterprising individuals and companies willing to invest, and these will not only be found at conferences. 

 Look, instead, in sheds and workshops around our myriad harbours; speak to students who are brimming with ideas about the future; sit with fishermen who know every change in the sea around them; ask women who are so often left out of this traditionally male world but whose ideas are no less vital; enlist the support of some the world’s leading entrepreneurs and learn from their experience.  It is out there, in the real world, that the seeds of change will flourish.

 I am as keen as anyone to be at this conference but I firmly believe that the most valuable outcome will be to make things happen on the ground.  Like a caterpillar we must be prepared to cast off our chrysalis and fly!  Remaining within our comfort zone is to deny what is possible.  And, indeed, to deny what is necessary.


The Time for Innovation

Through examples from my own country, I can see how difficult it is to cast off the chrysalis.  As in other small island states, we are surrounded by the ocean yet we are barely skimming the surface of business opportunities that this offers.  I believe there are two main reasons why this is so.  One reason is that, in some cases, we might find it possible to develop the prototype of a product with commercial potential but we lack the means of capital investment and also marketing experience to sell it to others.  To explore this point, I know that in Seychelles we are certainly not short of ideas.  We have responded to the challenge of the Blue Economy with a series of innovative projects, largely of our own making:

  •   during my presidency, I created a separate department for the Blue Economy to bring this inter-ministerial issue to the very heart of government;
  •   I signed a unique agreement with our southern neighbour, Mauritius, to jointly care for and develop a submerged feature known as the Mascaregne Plateau, which connects our two nations;
  •   I led a diplomatic and military campaign to counter the incidence of piracy off the coast of Somalia, which was threatening not only our fishing but also tourism, the twin pillars of our economy.  Keeping the seas safe is critical to all other initiatives too;
  •   I was able to broker a unique deal, known as the Debt-to-Adaptation Swap – whereby repayment of an international debt of some $30 million was cancelled in exchange for our investment in the Blue Economy;
  •   With the help of investment from the previous scheme, I was able to commission a marine development plan to distinguish between areas where fishing and other activities can be maintained and extensive reserves that will be left as they are;
  •   A further example of a local initiative is through our plan to issue Blue Bonds, a device that is based on the well-tried international example of Green Bonds.  Guaranteed by Government and supported by international financial institutions, this offers a means of attracting private sector funding through public-private partnerships;
  •   Finally, after my term as President, I launched my own Foundation, focusing on the related issues of the Blue Economy, Climate Change, and Sustainability. The Foundation is already proving to be a hub in a burgeoning network of ideas to realize the potential of the world’s ocean. 

 So we have products in our shop window – but it is as if the shutters are still down.  All of our efforts have been directed to getting these ideas to work in our own country, with little to spare to market them around the world.  We freely share this information with those who ask but we have not really recognised the various projects as having marketable value.  This is partly a result of too little time and staff capacity but also because governments are not necessarily entrepreneurial.  Perhaps in partnership with an international consultancy, we could create a small team of experts to transfer our knowledge and experience to other countries.  We would charge for the service but, for buyers, it would mean that they did not have to go through the same R & D processes as we did.  There is no need for others to reinvent the wheel. 

But as well as things we have done ourselves we are only too aware that there are other things that we would like to do. 

 I have already mentioned a shortage of finance to invest but sometimes the reason for inaction is even more basic: we do not necessarily know who best to approach.  This is an information age but making the right connections is not always as easy as it sounds.  For instance, only a small proportion of the natural power of tides, sun and wind are put to use but we know that this could be radically increased.  It would require significant investment and technological advances to do so but first we need to identify where to find the best examples of renewable energy.  There are undoubtedly numerous schemes and experiments underway across the world but, in spite of the sophistication of global communication, our knowledge of successful projects remains piecemeal.  The challenge is to overcome obstacles to this knowledge and to find new ways to make things happen.  Thus, in the final section of my presentation I will take heed of my own claim that it is time for action rather than more words. 


Making Things Happen

 Ladies and gentlemen,

Marine Industry operators have the corporate social responsibility to ensure that they conduct their activities in a sustainable manner not only for the protection of the natural environment they operate in but also to ensure the availability of the resources for continued economic prosperity of future generations in line with United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 14.

The world needs a new breed of innovative entrepreneurs to tap into the potentials that the oceans present, be profitable but at the same time ensure that their own activities, that of their partners and suppliers are sustainable.


  •          Leadership businesses in maritime transportation technology sector should push the limits of engineering for the development of carbon efficient vessels and, at the same time, explore the possibility of making use of renewable energy sources to power as many facilities as possible on-board vessels. Why not entire vessels in the future.
  • Some current practices in industrial fishing like the use of Fish Attracting Devices (FAD) continue to have negative impact on fish stocks as they are indiscriminate of the species and sizes of seafood they attract, and which are eventually caught in the nets. Operators in the fishing business need to adopt sustainable fishing methods which are more selective.  The use of FADS should be discouraged or even banned. The fishing industry can tap into technological advances in satellite and other communications platforms instead which are enabling the development of systematic observations in the deep oceans and even under the ice.
  • In the meantime, let us borrow from the Iceland model. The country has a very modern and progressive fishing industry with a new and growing generation of forward thinking and innovative operators. The ultimate goal is to maximize the value of every catch. There is hardly a part of a fish landing in Iceland that is not turned into products in one way or another, contributing not only to food security but also into high value designer goods and skin care products to name just two; which contributes to the country’s prosperity. Fisheries in Iceland have become streamlined and integrated as catching, processing, export and marketing have learned to work closely together. The approach not only reduces wastage but also helps in producing more food.

 Plastic and micro plastics are enemies of our oceans. Some 8 million tons of plastics enter our oceans every year.  The gigantic plastic currents that we see on the surface represent only 5% of plastics that are in the ocean. The rest or 95% are in the form of micro beads and broken down particles of plastic that are easily ingested by sea creatures and are impossible to move. There are fears that should the current trend continues there will be three times more plastics in the sea than fish by the year 2050.

Along with the encouraging wave of bans on single use plastic bags and straws, the business community through corporate social responsibility should consider supporting the establishment of waste treatment facilities as well as clean-up operations especially on islands and coastal areas. This will help prevent large amount of plastics and waste from making it to the ocean. This in itself presents great business opportunities.

The shipping, fishing and oil industries should also be more considerate of the ocean which is the basis of their existence as large amounts of waste in the ocean are dumped by vessels themselves and offshore platforms.

There is no shortage of business opportunities for serious and committed entrepreneurs. Whilst they have to be profitable, they will at the same time contribute to healing the oceans. They should be supported through innovative financing schemes and benefit from special schemes like Corporate Social Responsibility tax breaks and public private partnerships incentives.

For instance, the Seychelles Sovereign Blue Bond launched recently at the 5th Our Ocean Conference in Bali is another example of innovative approaches towards improving conservation of the country’s marine resources. It is a first in the world and is being supported by the World Bank, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD). It mobilises public and private investments to finance the transition to sustainable fisheries in Seychelles and contribute to achieving the country’s Blue Economy strategy which aims at sustainably managing and protecting our marine resources, ensuring food security, diversifying the economy and creating high value jobs.

We must also do what we can as individuals to make connections.  As a newly appointed Ocean Ambassador, a new group instituted by the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy, and an advocate of ocean conservation, I would like to call on maritime businesses to join us and take the lead in promoting the development of large-scale marine protected areas (MPAs). Businesses should not see that as against their interests but rather as a guarantee for their long term profitability and survival, as the ultimate aim of MPAs is to protect biodiversity for the sustainability of ocean resources as illustrated by the Seychelles’ model.

The Seychelles Marine spatial planning initiative is a process focused on planning for and management of the sustainable and long-term use and health of the Seychelles exclusive economic zone which encompasses over 1.3 million square kilometres and 115 islands. The initiative is a government-led process, with planning and facilitation managed by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and TNC Canada and UNDP GEF programme.  The MSP is an integrated and multi-sectoral approach to address climate change adaptation, marine protection and support the Blue Economy and other national strategies. The process includes inputs from all major sectors including commercial fishing, tourism, biodiversity conservation, renewable energy, port authority, maritime safety, and non-renewable resources in order to develop a comprehensive marine plan.

The plan will guide the strategies and decisions of the Seychelles Conservation and Climate Adaptation Trust established as part of the Dept-for-Climate-Adaptation swap.


Ladies and gentlemen,

The scarcity of MPAs is very often not due to limited human and financial resources. The diverse legal systems and development status of different countries, ignorance and a lack of political will to make them happen are also major contributing factors. I am sure that as ocean business leaders you appreciate the need to get our political leaders to take decisive steps towards healing and conserving our oceans before it is too late.

It is a fact that 64% of the oceans lie beyond national jurisdictions. Managing the high seas has and remains very problematic, especially due to size, lack of ownership and the complexity and inconsistencies of ocean governance frameworks. It is also a fact that several detrimental activities like large-scale, unregulated fishing, deep sea mining etc. take place on the high seas or their sea beds. I have said before that despite our ocean being given several names based on geographical locations, there is only really one interconnected sea. Whatever happens in one part of the globe impacts on the other parts.

How then do we ensure that the ecosystem and resources of the high seas remain in good shape for the benefit of generations to come?

 As you ponder over this issue and come up with proposals I would like to float an idea in this respect.

 I would like to propose that in addition to the work being done by UNCLOS, we embark on a global campaign to have certain parts of the high seas declared as fully protected areas to be respected by all countries and ocean users.  This is do-able and I would like to call on all leadership companies from the ocean business community, stakeholders, governments, inter and non-governmental organisations as well as academics to help make this happen.

 Another proposal from me is for the UN to consider the WOC as an official partner of its agencies involved with regulating the oceans so as to create synergies between the UN and all maritime stakeholders.


The Time for Innovation

I would like to conclude with six ideas for practical steps that would mark progress, concentrating at this stage on the role of small island states: 

1        Create a ‘one-stop’ global shop window for good ideas and practical projects that will further the cause of the Blue Economy.  Just as we now see a proliferation of online websites for consumers, individual states need good and accessible advice on what is effective and what is reliable.  This is a simple and achievable target, where the basic software already exists.  If it works when an individual wants to buy a car why not for states wanting to invest in renewable energy?  An organization like WOC could help by providing the know-how to develop this facility for buyers.

 2        Encourage small island states to develop centres of excellence for one specific activity.  To offer some examples, Seychelles could be the home of progressive Blue Economy management schemes; Samoa, say, could offer to the world working examples of ocean waste management; Cape Verde could be the centre for tidal energy – and so on.  The idea is that the enormous challenge of making better use of the ocean can be broken down into manageable, ‘bite-sized’ chunks, each of which is within the capability of individual states.  And with the added attraction that the rest of us will know where to go for advice and demonstration activities.

 3        Following the example of some initiatives in Africa, ideas can be generated to bring more women into the maritime workforce and to encourage new ideas for sustainable development.  It has been estimated by the International Transport Workers’ Federation that only 2% of the world’s maritime workforce is presently made up of women.  Can we really afford to exclude nearly half of the population from an exercise that should involve us all?  Changing the balance would not simply add to the number of ideas but it would undoubtedly encourage new perceptions too.

 4        Invite the United Nations to design and fund a programme of annual awards for the greatest contributions to the sustainable use of our shared ocean.  This would encourage competition and highlight some of the excellent work that is already underway.  The whole emphasis would be on practical achievements.

 5        There is of course my proposal for a global movement lobbying for parts of the high seas declared “no go” zones - Marine Protected Areas.

 6        Finally, let us see if we can come away from this event with something practical in our conference bags.  The Word Ocean Council has brought us together but what more might now be done?  Borrowing an idea from the President and CEO of this organization, Paul Holthus, is this not the time to create a small but focused business leadership group, concentrating on developing the Blue Economy in Small Island States?  This cannot be just another committee but a high-profile group with specific targets. When it next reports to the organization as a whole there should be evidence of practical achievements.  It is a demanding challenge but can we any longer call for anything less?

Ladies and gentlemen, there is no time to waste.  There has been enough talking already. The time for action is overdue. Ideas must now become reality.  The caterpillar must break out of its comfort zone and fly!

Thank you.

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