The marine environment is a crucial source of prosperity, livelihoods and food security for many regions, countries and communities. The ocean supports multiple sectors from fisheries and tourism to shipping, renewable energy and biotechnology. As such, the ISU’s Marine Programme has been working to promote and find consensus on the urgent need for resilience and sustainability within the marine environment to support the global transition to a sustainable ‘blue’ economy.


Fisheries are often the backbone of the ‘blue economy’ in many parts of the world, with millions of people depending on their continued viability for both income and nutritional and food security. However, many of the world’s fisheries are in jeopardy due to over-exploitation and damaging or illegal fishing practices. As a result, the ISU has sought to broker consensus on the economic, social and ecological benefits brought about by the transition to sustainably managed fisheries. By bringing different stakeholder groups together across the world, the ISU has worked to highlight the importance of the economic drivers behind the status quo and, in many cases, encouraged peer to peer exchange on best practice. The ISU has published a number of reports that aim to outline the emerging consensus on the need for a transition to global sustainable fisheries as well as highlight best practice case studies. In June 2016, the ISU hosted a meeting which brought together scientists, financiers, the private sector and NGOs to take stock of the progress made towards the transition to sustainable fisheries, recognising the global commitments made in the UN Agenda 2030 on sustainable development and the Paris Agreement on climate change. The report on the meeting’s findings and outcomes can be found here.

Given the emerging consensus on the economic benefits of sustainable fisheries, the ISU has brought together fisheries and finance experts and played a catalytic role in highlighting ways in which the private sector can provide transition finance towards sustainable fisheries. The ISU published a report in July 2014, in collaboration with the Environmental Defense Fund that aimed to outline the critical steps required to incentivise private capital to flow towards sustainable fisheries.

In addition, the ISU, alongside Seafish and the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, helped to create a new independent charity called Fishing into the Future; an industry-led initiative that seeks to address some of the challenges facing the UK’s fishing sector in achieving a sustainable and profitable future with a focus on the need for the better integration of policy, science and industry practices through training and drawing attention to good examples of leadership.

Lastly, the ISU has also undertaken work on issues associated with the international fishmeal and fishoil trade and worked to highlight the levels of seabird by-catch in global fisheries alongside the RSPB and the Birdlife International through the Albatross Taskforce.

Coral Reefs in the Blue Economy

Following on from its work on fisheries, the ISU has initiated work on bringing to light the economic drivers behind coral reef degradation and the investments required to ensure the long-term health of these vital marine habitats. Coral reefs are a poignant example of a critical asset base in the blue economy that is extremely sensitive to human-induced changes in ocean conditions. Coral reefs are one of the most dramatic examples of the decline of marine ecosystems resulting from direct human impact and from global changes induced by unprecedented greenhouse gas emissions, such as warming sea temperatures and more acidic conditions.

Scattered across more than 100 countries and territories worldwide, coral reefs are extremely valuable ecosystems that are critical to the hundreds of millions of people who depend on them. They create value through the many vital ecosystem services they provide, such as livelihoods through fisheries and tourism, food security, and coastal protection. In addition, the world’s coral reefs support multiple crucial indigenous, historic, aesthetic, scientific and social values.

2018 will be the International Year of the Reef, as designated by the International Coral Reef Initiative (I.C.R.I). The ISU intends to support this designation by garnering consensus on the urgency of scaling up resilience and recovery of the world’s coral reefs, with a particular focus on the role of the private sector. With a cross-sectoral focus, the ISU aims to contribute to enabling a more robust business case to be made for action towards healthier and more resilient reef systems. In turn, it is hoped that this will catalyse new impetus for finding long-term solutions in which the private sector plays a central role.

Plastics in the Marine Environment

A healthy blue economy must take into consideration the substantial amount of pollution that the ocean absorbs, perhaps the most visible of which is the approximately 8 million tonnes of plastic waste a year that ends up there. The ISU aims to address some of the more challenging upstream issues associated with the pathways through which plastic enters the ocean. Given the complexity of these issues, it is clear that concerted, coordinated and collaborative global action from industry, consumers, N.G.O.s, governments, philanthropists and investors is essential. Accordingly, the ISU recognises the need for cross-industry and cross-sector conversations and collaborations to galvanize action towards the transition to a more circular economy in the plastics value chain.

Towards that end, the ISU and the Global Ocean Commission joined forces in March 2015 to bring together key actors in the marine plastic debris space, circular economy experts, as well as those thinking about high level global commitments to reduce the flow of plastics into the ocean. HRH addressed the meeting alongside Global Ocean Commissioners Jose-Maria Figueres and David Miliband. The key messages from the meeting were encapsulated in a report.

In February 2017, the ISU held a workshop and high-level meeting in the presence of HRH The Prince of Wales on the role of design and innovation in the plastic value chain and explored the opportunities for businesses presented by adoption of circular economy principles for the design and production of plastic products. The Prince of Wales’s speech at the event can be found here.

On 18th May 2017, the ISU together with the Ellen McArthur Foundation launched the New Plastics Economy Innovation Prize with the aim of coming up with new ways to design packaging to help keep plastics out of the ocean.

In an effort to connect people around the issue of ocean plastic, the ISU is also focusing attention on the African continent and looking to support best practice in partnership with local organisations. Through a collaborative network – such as the African Marine Waste Network – an effective Marine Waste Strategy for Africa can be developed; one that adopts principles of best practice waste management and a more circular economy approach. If such a collaborative approach is successful, Africa can benefit from improved resource efficiency, job creation and economic development while helping safeguard its diverse and rich marine environment.

Out of the Blue: The Prince of Wales’s Commonwealth Environmental Photography Awards

From June to September 2015, the ISU’s Marine Programme ran a photography competition in partnership with The Royal Commonwealth Society and National Geographic. The competition, called Out of the Blue: The Prince of Wales’s Commonwealth Environmental Photography Awards, was open to all Commonwealth citizens for photographic images taken of the marine environment in Commonwealth countries.

The competition sought to build awareness of the beauty, importance and value of the Oceans around the Commonwealth in advance of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting that took place in Malta in November 2015. The winning images from the competition were showcased through a series of exhibitions in Malta in order to highlight how much Commonwealth citizens value their oceans, seas and coasts and appreciate the importance of taking action to protect them. The competition was a great success. A staggering number of photographs of great diversity, both thematically and geographically were submitted to the competition. The exhibition of these images was viewed by delegates to the Heads of Government Meeting and by HRH The Prince of Wales himself, who presented the overall competition winner with her prize at a special prize giving ceremony.

To find out more about the competition and to see the images that were entered please visit The winning images are displayed in the video below: