Creating value from a blue economy

Seaweed harvesting. © Waikaitu Ltd

We studied initiatives to create economic value from sustainable marine activities that are based on healthy ecosystems. We used the findings to map and model a blue economy.

Project leader: Nick Lewis, University of Auckland

Duration: April 2016 – September 2019 
Budget: $1,135,000 
Status: Ongoing 

In recent years, advocates for sustainable oceans have focused attention on building a sustainable ‘blue economy’, where innovative practices that promote and sustain diverse industries are based on healthy marine ecosystems. 

We studied Aotearoa New Zealand-based initiatives to create economic value from sustainable marine practices and activities. We considered five broad and overlapping marine sub-economies (iwi, techno-science, commodity, community, and small business), and investigated connections between them. Our research focused on:  

  • Defining what a blue economy means for Aotearoa New Zealand and working with economic enterprises and agencies to ensure that its opportunities are recognised and realised. 
  • Ensuring that blue economy considerations are incorporated into models of ecosystem-based management. 
  • Identifying sites and possibilities for transitions to a blue economy. 
  • Identifying and supporting regional development initiatives to foster regional blue economies and develop their potential. 
  • Highlighting specific enterprise-level production and investment practices that are helping to bring about a blue economy.  


We have found several activities that are helping Aotearoa New Zealand transition to a blue economy including: investor commitments to sustainable futures (Seafood New Zealand’s ‘Our Promise’ campaign), consumer-oriented and community education programmes; the emergence of Māori enterprises with long term and kaitiakitanga approaches to blue economy; blue economy champions (individuals and organisations) who support participatory resource management processes; and a host of practices from precision seafood harvesting to harvesting of seaweed.


This market economics investigation found that:

  • The contribution of marine economy to GDP may be as high as 3%, if comprehensive estimates of marine tourism are made – this figure is double the contribution identified by Stats NZ
  • Marine tourism contributes roughly 40% of the value of marine economic activities, and 62% of jobs
  • The contribution of marine economy activities may reach as high as 5% of the national economy, using broad estimates of the indirect and induced economic impacts from marine economy activities
  • These numbers do not include the value of recreational uses of marine resources, or any estimate of the cultural and amenity values

This report describes 3 system maps for marine economy activities in New Zealand – wild fisheries, farmed fisheries and ecotourism – which visualise important interconnections and feedback loops that produce patterns of behaviours observed within the systems over time.

There were many similarities, for example all were natural capital dependent, but also important differences. The regulatory mechanisms by which the two fisheries manage their stocks were quite different – one driven by the health of the fish stock itself (wild fisheries), the other primarily by the impact the operation may have as a byproduct (fish farms). Ecotourism also differed, in that it involves both consumptive and non-consumptive activities.

Journal articles

Hikuroa D (2016) Dan Hikuroa looks at Maori involvement in the formation of a new plan for the Gulf. Gulf Journal, June.

Hikuroa D (2017) Mātauranga Māori—the ūkaipō of knowledge in New ZealandJournal of the Royal Society of New Zealand. 47(1):5 DOI: 10.1080/03036758.2016.1252407

Lewis N (2017) From value as theoretical object to rent as political project. Dialogues in Human Geography 7(3):331 DOI: 10.1177/2043820617736619

Makey L & Awatere S (2018). He Mahere Pāhekoheko Mō Kaipara Moana–Integrated Ecosystem-Based Management for Kaipara Harbour, Aotearoa New ZealandSociety & Natural Resources, 1-19. DOI: 10.1080/08941920.2018.1484972

Winder GM and Le Heron R (2017) Assembling a Blue Economy moment? Geographic engagement with globalizing biological-economic relations in multi-use marine environments. Dialogues in Human Geography 7(1):3 DOI: 10.1177/2043820617691643

Book chapters

Lewis N (2018). Cultivating diverse values by rethinking blue economy in New Zealand. Heidkamp CP and Morrissey J (eds) Towards coastal resilience and sustainability, Routledge, Oxford.

Lewis N & Le Heron R (2018). Re-imagining economy: a fundamental first step for a regenerative Environmental Management. In Clarke B & Hay I. Challenging Environmental Management, Edward Elgar.

Makey L & Awatere S (2018). He Mahere Pāhekoheko Mō Kaipara Moana–Integrated Ecosystem-Based Management for Kaipara Harbour, Aotearoa New Zealand. Society & Natural Resources, 1-19.


What is a ‘blue economy’, and how can Aotearoa get one? Researcher Nick Lewis discusses how can we best develop our marine economy, while protecting the taonga of our marine environment.

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Ngā mihi maioha, Sir Rob

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Innovation Fund is open for blue economy initiatives

We invite NZ-based researchers, industry, stakeholders and Māori to submit expressions of Interest (EoIs) for research projects that will contribute directly to building a ‘blue economy’ in Aotearoa.

1,800+ schoolchildren (virtually) explored marine science for Seaweek

Last week (3–5 March), schoolchildren from across New Zealand travelled with LEARNZ and the Sustainable Seas Challenge to discover what's threatening mussels/kuku or kūtai, a taonga species, in Ōhiwa Harbour, and how science and mātauranga Māori are being combined by local kaitiaki to understand – and address – the problem.