• Programme

2nd UfM Stakeholder Conference on Sustainable Blue Economy: individually we are one drop but together we are an ocean


The 2nd UfM stakeholder conference on Sustainable Blue Economy was hosted by Greece and took place in Athens in February 2024. The conference was organised around the 10 sectoral and cross-cutting priorities of the 2021 UfM Ministerial Declaration on Sustainable Blue Economy. After an inspiring plenary opening involving the 5-ple helix stakeholder perspectives, the event was divided into parallel workshops tackling the mentioned priorities. The conference closed with a spotlight on projects and funding opportunities. To this end, the governance projects of the Innovative Sustainable Economy Interreg Euro-MED Mission, being labelled by UfM, are key to ensure a wider inter-programme coordination, with the aim to cover the whole Mediterranean, with the common ground to amplify knowledge and scale up innovation through cross-border synergies. 

Conference agenda, documents & media, outcomes and main messages can be found here. Find insights from some parallel workshops more related to the Innovative Sustainable Economy Community, particularly with innovative solutions suggested by key thematic projects such as AZA4ICE, SPOWIND, 2B-BLUE, and BLUE ECOSYSTEM. Discover discussed topics and reflections below.

The conference kicked off stressing the progress made and initiatives since the adoption of the Declaration 3 years ago, in 2021. Key opening remarks and inspiring words were related to the need to think out of the box and arrive to concrete proposals, exchanging of best practices and capacity building as Blue Economy contributes in a relevant proportion to the GDP in most of the Mediterranean countries (e.g., 25% of GDP in Greece), being a vital resource of job creation opportunities. Highlighted progress so far was sharing knowledge through the MEDBESP1, coordination efforts through the roadmap2, and several initiatives such as Westmed3, Plastic Busters4, EU Maritime Forum5, EU4Algae Community6, success of the BlueInvest Community7, among others. 

This session was closed with the perspectives of the 5-ple helix stakeholders with the interventions of: 

  1. Mr. Mounir Ghribi, Director of International Cooperation and Research Promotion at OGS & Director of the Centre of Excellence on Sustainable Blue Economy at EMUNI, representing academia & research: Mounir highlighted the need for cross-cutting advanced Masters due to economic diversification through Science Diplomacy8 approach seeking to build scientific collaboration that enhances relationships between nations.  
  1. Ms. Patrizia Busolini, Programme Management Officer at UNEP/MAP, representing international organisations: Patrizia indicated that Blue Economy is one of the key priorities of UNEP/MAP and for this reason they have the regional activity centre specialised in this field in Marseille, Plan Bleu9. Linking it with what Mr. Ghribi mentioned, Busolini stressed the difficulties they encounter to bring in universities and the involvement of youth. Nevertheless, she highlighted that, luckily, there are already a lot of cooperation frameworks10 and an update of the Mediterranean Strategy for Sustainable Development (MSSP) is in the way, where all visions will matter and will be gathered through a collective process.   
  1. Mr. Emad Adly, Director at RAED, representing civil society: Emad explained that science to policy is still lacking in the Southern Mediterranean and therefore there is the need for a healthy and active dialogue with civil society as best ideas comes from local communities. However, he stressed that “without a peaceful Mediterranean we will never have a sustainable Mediterranean”. 
  1. Ms. Maria Garcies i Ramon, Acting Executive Secretary at CPMR Intermediterranean Commission, representing local authorities: Maria emphasized CPMR bring on the table the perspective of 40 Mediterranean regions with the aim to offer priority alignment with Macroregional strategies11. She also stressed the importance of being involved through cooperation projects under several sectoral priorities of the Declaration12. 
  1. Mr. Paul Holthus, Founding President & CEO at World Ocean Council, representing the private sector: Paul presented the huge diversified of sectors falling within the blue economy macro-thematic. “The sea is crowded with many uses”, he highlighted. From tourism, oil & gas, coastal defence, ports & navigation, military activities, culture, conservation, submarine cables, fishing, renewable energy, dredging, marine recreation, mineral extraction, desalination, mariculture… and the use of the ocean keeps growing. He emphasized SMART Ocean – SMART Industries, with the need to find alliances over priority areas for action and share data13. Holthus concluded saying that “we are all in the same canoe and we need to be paddling to the same direction if we want to get to anywhere”. 

In turn, take home messages and food for thought discussed in the attended workshops are as follows:  

Workshop 1: Marine research and innovation for a Sustainable Blue Economy in the Mediterranean 

Innovation means risks, failures, but it is very important to advance towards clean solutions. There is the need to have an instrument for scaling up innovation in a collective way. Great start up examples were shared. Learn more about BlueGreen Water Technologies to fight cyanobacteria blooms14. And the Cluster Alliance Med Blue (CallmeBLUE) project aiming to accelerate regional cooperation towards the emerging of strategic maritime clusters in North Africa15. However, industrial symbiosis and not enough follow up after the initial phase of the competition is missing. It was also stressed that in order to enhance the balance there is the need to work more on the Eastmed initiative. The intellectual property barriers are also slowing down the process.  

So, the big question is… 


Workshop 3: Sustainable food from the Sea – Sustainable fisheries and aquaculture 

The 7 panel speakers from Morocco, Mauritania, Greece, Albania, Spain, and organisations such as the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) of FAO and CIHEAM shared their specific regional cases and the challenges of the sector. Key messages stressed that: 

  • Pelagic stocks are decreasing and changing seasonal shifts due to increased water temperatures and sea level rise. For this reason, there is the need to better control fishing activities, redefine the maximum captures per species, and support sustainable aquaculture to support the regeneration of wild fish. 
  • Wild overfishing is still a real concern in some areas, also in the Black Sea. Therefore, the sustainable development of aquaculture practices is articulated in 5 targets16: 
  • Target 1: keep healthy seas and productive fisheries. 
  • Target 2: eradicate illegal fisheries. 
  • Target 3: grow the aquaculture sector to its full potential. 
  • Target 4: create decent employment. 
  • Target 5: sharing knowledge through efficient partnerships. 
  • It is not sufficient with traditional knowledge. Data collection is key. And monitoring needs to be done in cooperation at country, regional, and international levels. 
  • World Trade Organization subsides17 should be used to improve the livelihood of poor communities.  
  • Coastal zones are also very right in tourism and therefore fisheries and aquaculture activities should be part of a sector diversification. 
  • It is key to promote and replicate good practices. 
  • The Mediterranean is not an ocean, it is a big lake. If we fish a lot in the North the south will not have anything. There is the need of new technologies to track fish movements and stop illegal fishing. 

Some reflexions among the audience highlighted no women in the panel and this highlighted that in general women are not part of the decision-making process within the sector, even within the whole blue economy world. Also, less bureaucracy and more efficiency does not mean less regulation. Without regulation there is no transparency either equal opportunity. In addition, regulation is a tool to ensure sustainability, not to fish more, but to fish better. Property of the sea as the right to use it but also to protect it.  

So, the big question is… 


Workshop 5: Tackling marine litter for a sustainable blue economy 

During this interesting session a diverse panel showcased the detrimental effects of plastics in Mediterranean coastal and marine environments. Mr. Fuad alHourani, from Jordan University, stressed that the problem of marine litter is the quantity and long decay time. Marine biodiversity, community shifts, and effects on corals and microorganisms are happening due to plastics. Tourism and fisheries economic sectors are the most effected marine litter, but also big plastic sources. Mr. Cyril Dewaleyne, Team Leader at Connectivity Environment and Climate Action from DG NEAR, highlighted that EU has zero pollution actions, but we should reinforce the implementation of Circular Business Models. Ms. Cristina Fossi, Prof. of Ecotoxicology at University of Siena, explained the crucial monitoring action to identify gaps and indicate room for improvement. We are at different time scales in terms of data collection, but we need to fine tune tools and measures for local specificities. Ms. Fedra Francocci, BlueMissionMed project coordinator, presented the operational framework to apply local actions, through the National Hubs18. Ms. Olfat Hamdan, Head of MED POL at UNEP/MAP, presented the achievement of the Regional Plan on Marine Litter Management in the Mediterranean19. Ms. Nour El Houda Chaher, Research Associate and project manager at University of Rostock and Toumali project20, introduced the importance of the Environmental-Social-Governance (ESG) framework to assess organisation’s business practices and performance on various sustainability and ethical issues, the NEXUS approach21 of the “waste” perspective, and the importance of decentralised investments. Ms. Olga Stavropulou, Director General at HELMEPA, stressed that marine clean ups are not the systemic solution that we need. Plastic is useful and therefore there is the need to redefine the linear model. Citizens Science work22 is crucial as a catalyst for behavioural changes at the same time. There is also a misconception of recycling as most plastics can mainly be recycled only twice and therefore there is the need to work closely with waste management actions. Finally, Mr. Fouad Guenatri, Ministry of Fishing and Fishery Products in Algeria, intervened by adding on the table the huge and complex topic of microplastics.  

The take home message was… 


Workshop 8: Ecosystem-based Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) and Maritime Spatial Planning (MSP) as cross-sector enablers 

The cross-cutting priority of ICZM-MSP is a key framework to make good use of the available marine space. However, coordination efforts with actors with different interests is the main barrier. Inspiring interventions triggered the session with questions such as how much space we have? How do we learn from each other? Answers can be found in the MSP platform23, an initiative financed by the EU under the EMFAF and implemented by CINEA on behalf of DG MARE. It was also stressed that the Sea is big but limited for all the activities we want to do. Therefore, it is a must to make the different activities compatibles, with holistic and planned actions. Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) were also introduced stressing that they are not blocks, instead they should be seen as tools for MSP24. What is happening at the sea it has long-term effects. Another topic brought to the table was the focus on the geographical scale. It is key to involve local actors and multi-stakeholder co-management, so everyone feels part and involved in the decision-making process as ICZM-MSP matters to everyone. The Catalan Maritime Co-Management Council25 was put as an example of a good practice. Nevertheless, it was explained that it took 2 years to organise the functioning of this body. Challenges in this cross-cutting priority is the lack of policy coherence, more experience on research projects on MSP integrating all the legal instruments, the importance of focusing on the bottom-up approach, and more good practices examples26. 

The take home message was… 


Workshop 9: Marine Renewable Energies – Effective planning and future landscape 

Last workshop stressed the need to deploy marine renewable energy technologies as fast as possible to accomplish the sustainable development goals. As in the Mediterranean region, despite great potential27, the reality is at a very embryonic phase. Now that the technologies are ready there should be an acceleration of the implementation process. There is a great job opportunities potential in this field and specific framework on how to implement renewable energies also in fishing vessels, aquaculture farms, and ports. A good example is the case of Portugal with a plan of launching the first offshore wind energy aiming to generate more than 10 GW from the ocean by 2030. The first step was the MSP, then the creation of a consultative commission, and last step opening a tendering process. Another example was the Offshore Coalition for Energy and Nature (OCEaN)28 as an open forum for discussion to find solutions on how to improve and speed up the planning deployment of offshore wind development and grid infrastructure while preserving and restoring our European seas are jointly designed. Green Hydrogen should also be considered29 and biomass from algae as another potential energy source30. Interventions from the audience were in line to the need of more socioeconomic studies on top of the technical and environmental ones as well as the public acceptance as part of the MSP process. At the end of the day, it is about the benefits that will bring to the local communities bearing in mind the impacts. The Copenhagen wind farm also as a touristic attraction and ran by local members was highlighted31. Instead, it was also mentioned that local Greek communities does not have an institutional voice. 

The take home message was…