Exploring community based approaches to the Blue Economy

Published: 19 August 2021
Last edited: 23 August 2021
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The University of Wollongong (UOW), through the Global Challenges program, has been exploring community based approaches to the Blue Economy since 2016. The program of works began with a small internal ’scoping’ study, which explored the capacity of UOW to contribute to a sustainable and socially equitable Blue Economy in our region (Southeast NSW). It then examined the historical contribution of maritime industries to our region followed by a ‘stocktake’ of existing businesses and activities in the region that rely on healthy ocean ecosystems.  The current Blue Futures ‘keystone’ project is a collaboration between university researchers and the Illawarra Local Aboriginal Land Council, that functions to explore and make advancements in the governance, relationships, and innovations around the future of a blue economy in our region. The project operates from and is informed by a local Aboriginal worldview and relationship to knowledges.


Scale of implementation
Coastal forest
Marine and coastal ecosystems
Rocky reef / Rocky shore
Salt marsh
Access and benefit sharing
Coastal and marine spatial management
Ecosystem services
Fisheries and aquaculture
Health and human wellbeing
Indigenous people
Legal & policy frameworks
Local actors
Traditional knowledge
Conflicting uses / cumulative impacts
Changes in socio-cultural context
Sustainable development goals
SDG 3 – Good health and well-being
SDG 10 – Reduced inequalities
SDG 11 – Sustainable cities and communities
SDG 13 – Climate action
SDG 14 – Life below water


Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia | Illawarra; Shoalhaven; Eurobodalla; Bega Valley


The Blue Economy is a contested concept that has been criticized for focusing too heavily on economic outcomes at the expense of environmental and social objectives. We actively sought to explore means through which social and cultural outcomes could be foregrounded and prioritised to build an alternative, and more sustainable vision for a Blue Future. This required thinking outside the box and engaging with diverse disciplinary and cultural knowledges. Our research has sought to embrace the complexity of Ocean Governance by an inclusive and highly networked approach. By pulling it all together we are able to truly look at holistic and innovative solutions.


  • Local communities on the NSW South coast, particularly Aboriginal communities particularly through increased representation of social and cultural values in decision making processes
  • Decision makers in the field of ocean governance

How do the building blocks interact?

All the building blocks have a strong focus on relationship building, network development and developing a shared vision, which are fundamental to our plans of building a Blue Future for our region.


The research conducted by UOW to date has had the following key impacts:

  • It has built strong and lasting relationships with Aboriginal partners on the coast which will form the basis of future collaborations and outcomes
  • It has identified and drawn attention to the range of large and small businesses that exist in our region which rely on healthy marine ecosystems. In particular it has created a network with and between innovative businesses in the region and highlighted their potential role in a sustainable and equitable Blue Future
  • It has highlighted the diverse range of cultural and social values that inform our relationships with the coast and identified means through which these values might be better articulated in Blue Economy narratives
  • It has brought together researchers, governance / agencies, industry and the broader community to share research and engage all in the visioning and movement towards achieving Blue Economy aspirations

Contributed by

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Michelle Voyer University of Wollongong