Blue riches

17 March 2017

Our 'Blue Economy' is growing strongly, much faster than the general economy, according to a new report released by the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS).

Australia's marine territories comprise 10.2 million square kilometres, which is 32% larger than the size of its mainland. But how much wealth do we generate from it?

Value-add from marine industries increased between 2003-04 and 2013-1 (based on previous sector definition). Also shown is the value-add under the new sector definition for 2013-14. Data from the AIMS 2016 Index of Marine Industry

Since 2008, the biennial AIMS Index of Marine Industry sheds light on how much our marine evironment contributes to the general economy.

Its sixth edition, released in March, concludes that in 2013-14 Australia's marine-based industries generated $42.0 billion.

Measured as value-add, this amount refers to the total income from it products, net the inputs from other industries.

The AIMS also estimated the flow-on benefits that resulted from marine industry activities in other parts of the economy, estimating their value-add at $32.2 billion.

This amounts to a total economic contribution of $74.2 billion or 4.8% to the Australia's Gross Domestic Product in 2013-14.

However, the task of putting a dollar figure on the value of our marine industries is extremely difficult - there is no consolidated marine industry category, and the process of estimating their worth is still in a relatively fluid state.

The AIMS says that it is limiting its evaluation to activities for which data are accessible and repeatable, and thus can be used to track performance over time. Nevertheless, the 2016 Index has broadened the scope of considered activities, now also including recreational fishing, marinas and boating infrastructure, and this has significantly increased the total estimate for the value-add generated by marine industries (see figure).

The assessment is now based on five broad industry groups:

  1. Fishing;
  2. Offshore oil & gas exploration and extraction;
  3. Marine-related service activities and industries;
  4. Marine tourism and recreational activities; and
  5. Water transport.

Offshore mining of oil and gas ($29 billion), and Marine tourism and recreational services ($32 billion) are the main contributors to the combined value-add of marine industries.

They were also the main drivers of its economic output (see illustration), which based on the previously used definition of marine industries has doubled over the ten years to 2013-14.

According to Deloitte Access Ecomnomics estimates, the sector will grow at 4.4% per year over the coming years, and the Oceans Policy Science Advisory Group expects that it will add around $100 billion to the national economy by 2025.

The AIMS report uses the term "Blue Economy" to collectively refer to marine industries. However, the term is often more broadly understood as economic and social benefits provided by ocean ecosystems.

These ecosystem provide important services, such as climate regulation, nutrient cycling, and coastal protection and oxygen production, and their economic value has been estimated at around $25 billion. At present, they are not included in the AIMS evaluation, but the report notes that "it provides further grounds for raising the profile of our marine sector in policy and investment decisions".

The importance of this has been recognised in the National Marine Science Plan 2015. It details a series of critical challenges faced by the sector - ranging from border security to climate change adapation - but also highlights a number of areas that could be the source of considerable economic gains in the future, such as biotechnology, wind, wave and tidal energy.

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