Health and Sustainability of our Oceans are Critical to the Survival of the Tourism Industry and, by Extension, our Planet – Hon. Edmund Bartlett, Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism

As the concern over the threat to the existence of the planet, especially the small island states of the world increases, due to the climate change, no thanks to human insensitivity. The United Nations at a forum tagged ‘High Level Panel For A Sustainable Ocean Economy‘,(Ocean Panel) a unique initiative by 16 world leaders who are building momentum for a sustainable ocean economy in which effective protection, sustainable production and equitable prosperity go hand in hand, took place yesterday, where experts from all over converged to brainstorm on finding a lasting solution to that particular threat to the world.

Chief among the discussions focused on the roles of tourism as it concerns the island countries, where Hon. Edmund Bartlett, Minister of Tourism, Jamaica, gave an engaging presentation that x-rayed the pivotal impact that the tourism sector plays in sustaining the islands, not leaving out the consequences of inaction on the aquatic.

Hon. Bartlett’s paper painted a positive and otherwise pictures of the current reality and the future expectations which the global community should take an urgent look into in order to safe our islands states and the world, leveraging on sustainable tourism by harnessing the potential within.

The Full Speech:


As the tourism minister of a small-island state, that is geographically situated among a cluster of other small islands, I am well-positioned to acknowledge the unquantifiable benefits of healthy marine and coastal ecosystems to the economic vitality of entire populations.

A 2016 study by the World Bank estimated the economic value of the Caribbean Sea coastal and marine ecosystems at US$54.55 billion. Indeed, the Caribbean Sea, which encircles the Caribbean region and is the second largest region of the Atlantic Ocean, is a valuable source of food, income, trade and shipping, minerals, energy, water supply, recreation and tourism for Caribbean economies.

The coral reef-mangrove-seagrass complex also brings increased safety to coastal communities as the systems act as a natural barrier, decreasing the impact of floods and storms. The Caribbean Sea is considered the “high-diversity heart” of the Tropical West Atlantic and without coral reefs, it has been estimated that 25% of all marine life would die.

The role of healthy marine and coastal systems in promoting sustainable tourism is especially worthy of recognition.
This is against the background that 80% of tourism occurs along coastal towns and areas, while the ocean-related tourism industry grows an estimated US$134 billion per year (UN Global Compact).
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has also predicted that marine and coastal tourism will be the largest sector of the global ocean-based economy by 2030 generating US$777 billion in global revenue and employing 8.6 million people. Small island states are particularly reliant on coastal and marine tourism.

It constitutes the largest economic sector for most Small Island Developing States and many coastal states. In the Caribbean, for example, the industry accounts for a quarter of the total economy, and a fifth of all jobs.

Admittedly, marine and coastal ecosystems are also threatened by tourism development. The areas that attract tourists have been coming under increasing pressure from the damage and pollution caused by tourist facilities and the supporting infrastructure. At the same time, the impacts of climate change, overfishing and other unsustainable practices, and even some marine tourism activities damage marine ecosystems, such as coral reefs that are vital to maintaining ecological diversity and regulating climate. The United Nations, for example, has estimated the cost of reduced tourism due to coral bleaching at $12 billion annually.

To promote a sustainable ocean economy and pushback against the various threats to healthy coastal and marine ecosystems, Ocean Action is urgently required as ocean health continues to rapidly decline.

As its main strategy for building sustainable ocean economies, which are economic models that promote effective protection, sustainable resource use and production and equitable prosperity simultaneously, the Ocean Panel, comprising of 16 world leaders, has already set the ambitious target of achieving 100% sustainable management of the ocean areas under national jurisdictions.

To demonstrate their commitment to this goal, all members of the Ocean Panel have released a joint statement to the United Nations Ocean Conference urging all countries to harness the power of the ocean as a catalyst to deliver on all 17 Sustainable Development goals and to mobilize financing for developing states to enhance their capacity to transition to sustainable ocean economies.

This missive recognizes that global cooperation and coordination among a wide-ranging number of stakeholders will be one of the most crucial success factors in reconstructing the actions and ethos of industries including tourism to achieve improved management of the activities that most significantly harm the ocean, its resources, and ecosystems.

Hon. Najib Balala, Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife, Kenya with Hon. Edmund Bartlett, Minister of Tourism, Jamaica at the event

The transition to sustainable ocean economies will also require a set of concrete ideas, strategies, best practices and policies that can be standardized and operationalized by all stakeholders. In this regard, I acknowledge the tremendous instructional value of the new Ocean Panel-commissioned report entitled

“Opportunities for Transforming Coastal and Marine Tourism: Towards Sustainability, Regeneration and Resilience.”

The report provides the framework for the realization of the sustainable goal set by the Ocean Panel that by 2030: ‘Coastal and ocean-based tourism is sustainable, resilient, addresses climate change, reduces pollution, supports ecosystem regeneration and biodiversity conservation and invests in local jobs and communities.’
Harnessing the perspectives of over 40 experts, this toolkit constitutes an unprecedented body of information on sustainable coastal and marine tourism. It engenders a comprehensive understanding of marine and coastal tourism across the world, showcasing the global scale and impact of the opportunities and benefits that can be realized by transforming the coastal and marine tourism industry.

My contribution to the report focused on cruise tourism as a segment of the coastal and marine tourism industry. I underscored that this form of tourism is a major driver of economic growth and job creation in the Caribbean especially through cruise tourism as the Caribbean is among the world’s leading ocean cruise destinations, holding over 40% of the global market share since 2017.

In Jamaica, for example, the Jamaican economy earned an average of US$174.5 million through cruise tourism, pre COVID-19. At the same time, I also acknowledged that the cruise tourism industry produces a significant environmental impact.

Environmentally, the impact associated with large cruises includes the emission of greenhouse gases, which contribute to climate change and waste from ships, which causes pollution and reduces the resilience of marine ecosystems as well as damage to fragile coastal and marine environment including corals.

A 2021 report published in the Marine Pollution Bulletin found that a large cruise liner can produce a bigger carbon footprint than 12,000 cars, while an overnight stay onboard uses 12 times more energy than a stay in a hotel. Against this backdrop, it is important to balance the economic gains to be derived from the blue economy with the biodiversity conservation and the sustainable use of marine and coastal resources as well as the social impact on coastal communities.

To reduce its environmental impact, the cruise industry needs to continue to accelerate gains in four key areas: controlling emissions, sewage treatment, fuel efficiency and recycling.

While admittedly, the cruise tourism industry has recently demonstrated a much stronger commitment to maritime environmental protection and responsible tourism, with policies often exceeding those required by law, it is important that the industry continues to undertake greater investment in research and development to develop the technologies and energy sources that will enable the cruise industry to pursue sustainable solutions and that it continues to place high priority on environmental compliance and systems for enforcement.

I will close by reiterating that the health and sustainability of our oceans are critical to the survival of the tourism industry and, by extension, our planet. In this regard, as a small island developing state, Jamaica fully endorses the goal of the Ocean Panel to achieve a sustainable tourism economy by 2030.
Thank you.

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