By Elesha George
The outskirts of Antigua and Barbuda’s 365 beaches are rapidly becoming the focal point of the blue economy, with the expectation that it will be providing more than just an attraction for tourists in the future.
In the coming months, the University of the West Indies (UWI) Five Islands campus and a Commonwealth Support Group will concretise plans for a centre of excellence that will materialise into a department for oceanography and the blue economy in the Eastern Caribbean.
The two groups will work together to create joint research, training and capacity-building programmes that will give students strategic guidance on how to derive wealth from oceans and the marine environment that surrounds the twin islands.
“Our role to support the project is to work with our member – the University of the West Indies – to support them by bringing partners who can help to establish new research and educational initiatives to bring Master students and PhD students, early career researchers to come and do their research at the Five Islands campus, but also to bring university partnerships so that we establish, over the next few years, a real centre of excellence where new collaborations bring new knowledge,” explained Dr Joanna Newman, the Chief Executive and Secretary General of the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU).
According to Cabinet, the Principal of the UWI Five Islands indicated that the campus has already “raised tens of thousands of US dollars to ensure that the subject matter can become a fixed part of the UWI curriculum”.
On March 7, the university will sign a grant document with the Commonwealth group, leading to a progress report on April 29.
Dr Newman said they have so far completed a mapping study of the existing strengths of the university with the intention to find a focal point of study for the centre.
They have also held discussions with local experts to identify new sustainable uses for the blue economy around Antigua and Barbuda and the waters of the Eastern Caribbean.
“If you look at the Eastern Caribbean islands, they are probably the least well served by the university. Most students often have to go to Jamaica, Trinidad or Barbados to study courses of relevance to them,” said Dr Newman.
“We want to build up a centre of the blue economy in the Five Islands campus that will be a beacon for the region, but we will also have training opportunities and flexibility built in so that there will be training opportunities for TVET.
“There will be training opportunities linked to industry and business. There’ll be encouragement for innovation in those small enterprises that might be looking at renewable energy through seaweed cultivation for example,” said Dr Newman.
Meanwhile, Dr Nicholas Harden Mumford, an ocean and national resources specialist at the Commonwealth Secretariat, agreed that the goal of the department is to identify opportunities that weren’t there before.
“It’s about looking at the resources you have in a new way,” he remarked.
Dr Mumford used the example of exploring the effectiveness of mangrove ecosystems which he said could create opportunities to sequester carbon — removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it — and to sell carbon credits to achieve carbon neutrality which is important to limit global warming.
“Mangroves are critical for coastal defence and for the sustainability of ecosystems. They’re also incredibly powerful for capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and so there’s a lot of opportunities now that people are talking about storing blue carbon by protecting mangrove forests and the livelihoods that come from those,” he added.
Chief of Staff in the Office of the Prime Minister, Lionel “Max” Hurst, said he expects that the spinoffs from the centre will contribute to more than 10 percent of the country’s GDP in the future.
During his debate contribution earlier this month, Dean Jonas, the minister responsible for the blue economy, said he expected billions of dollars to be made if the government were to invest in the sector now.
He also said that fishermen needed to start thinking about “farming in the ocean” and spoke about plans for deep sea mining and offshore sand mining in designated areas.