Suddenly, oceans are everywhere.
The run-up to the big United Nations Ocean Conference in June began with last week’s preparatory conference and the first voluntary commitments to meeting Sustainable Development Goal No. 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources. The drumbeat continues this week with the World Ocean Summit in Bali, where investors are assessing the scale of the ocean opportunity.
Those investments are finally starting to roll. Venture capital for seafood startups and aquaculture technology reached $193 million in 2016, a 271 percent increase over 2015. The first close of Althelia Ecosphere’s $100 million Sustainable Ocean Fund is expected by mid-year. Pescador Holdings, a new vehicle launched by Encourage Capital, has made its first investment, in Chilean seafood producer Geomar. The third cycle of the Fish 2.0 business competition is underway, stocking the pipeline of seafood deals.
Any irrational exuberance, however, would be decidedly premature. If the ocean conservation movement follows the pattern of the fight against deforestation, it may take decades to reverse the degradation of the seas.
Deforestation hit the international community’s radar about 30 years ago. Global efforts to fight forest loss and degradation started rolling in the 1990s. Some dollars went to direct investments in preservation, some to market-based efforts like sustainable timber certification. Forest losses slowed, but by 2015, the world had still lost three percent of its forest lands and all of the biodiversity and carbon capture potential that forests support.