World Ocean Day: A Q&A with abrdn’s Bowie-MacDonald on the importance of oceans 

by | Jun 8, 2023

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In this Q&A, Daniel Bowie-MacDonald, senior investment specialist, abrdn, reflects on the progress made in recent years and why it’s so crucial that we maintain this momentum 

Daniel is one of UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission’s experts, whose purpose is to improve ocean literacy by engaging with governments, policymakers and investors to improve understanding of the ocean’s influence and challenges.

  1. What are the economic benefits brought by oceans? 

Many are uncomfortable viewing the environment through an economic lens, as nature has value far beyond what it contributes economically. However, taking an economic perspective and valuing the ‘natural capital’ of the oceans, means that their enormous contribution is not overlooked. The economic benefits of oceans are almost endless. Fishing and aquaculture provide an essential food source and employment to millions. The ocean shipping and transportation industries are essential for international trade. These industries are supported by ports and other marine infrastructure.

As well as attracting tourism, the value provided by oceans also lies in its potential as an energy source and in contribution that oceans and marine life can make to pharmaceuticals and biotechnology. The World Wildlife Fund has estimated ocean natural capital at US$24 trillion and, pre-Covid 19, estimated that the ‘blue economy’ was worth US$2.5 trillion annually, close to the GDP of a G7 economy.


It’s important to acknowledge the intrinsic value of oceans, along with the economic value they bring, to ensure that ocean wellbeing is preserved for present and future generations. 

  1. How can we rise to the challenges of the threats faced? 

Progress is often best made when the correct data and incentives are in place. These can both motivate individuals, businesses, even local communities to adopt more sustainable practices or to invest in innovation.

abrdn’s Charitable Foundation has partnered with UNESCO to fund environmental projects around the world, one of which is a project based in Crete, which is taking a scientific approach to gathering marine litter data. The Mediterranean Sea is one of the worst affected seas in the world with 730 tonnes of plastic waste dumped every day; 60% is single-use plastic, mainly from coastal residents and tourism.  By working with scientists to develop data and involve the local community, we can take an evidence-based approach and develop policies to better manage and even prevent marine litter. 


We must tap into the power of human motivation and economic interest to continue driving progress. Renewable energy technologies are now being adopted globally, due to the many government incentives – these drivers are needed to improve ocean health. 

  1. How can we engage more governments, policymakers and investors to protect oceans? 

It is crucial to expand knowledge or ‘ocean literacy’. According to the OECD, Sustainable Development Goal 14: Life Below Water accounted for only 0.01% of all development finance funding up to 2019. Given the critical importance of the ocean in our health and our economics, this is a truly disappointing statistic. But things are improving at pace. I’m one of UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission’s experts and our purpose is to improve ocean literacy by engaging with governments, policymakers and investors to improve understanding of the ocean’s influence and challenges.

  1. What positive action have you seen since you’ve become involved with UNESCO? 

UN has declared 2021-2030 as the Decade of Ocean Science and is supporting a range of research projects to better understand factors such as ocean deoxygenation, the effect of microplastics, and the carbon storage capabilities of mangroves and marshes. And there’s evidence that this focus on ocean science is yielding results. 


The UN’s High Seas Treaty for example was agreed in March, which supports marine biodiversity in waters beyond national jurisdictions. Currently, two-thirds of the world’s oceans are considered international waters, meaning all countries have the right to fish, ship and conduct research. However, only about 1% of these waters, which are known as ‘high seas’ have been protected. The treaty will put the world’s international waters into protected areas, helping achieve the global goal of protecting 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030 as agreed at the 2022 UN biodiversity conference.

The UN Water Conference earlier this year was the first water-related conference to be held by the UN in nearly 50 years, the central outcome being the international Water Action Agenda, to which governments, multilateral institutions, businesses and NGOs committed to addressing water security issues.

There’s still a huge amount to do, but the progress made of the last few years is encouraging and it’s crucial that we maintain this momentum.


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