Blue Economy

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What is the Blue Economy?

The Blue Economy, or the ocean economy, is a term used to describe the economic activities associated with the oceans and seas. The World Bank defines the blue economy as the “sustainable use of ocean resources to benefit economies, livelihoods and ocean ecosystem health”. The Blue Economy has existed for millennia and posed the base for developing a large part of our civilization.

However, current economic trends have been rapidly degrading ocean resources.
In response to this, a new generation of startups is now emerging to tackle the huge potential of the Blue Economy in terms of sustainable resource production and climate change mitigation, for tremendous and regenerative blue growth.
This includes marine transportation, marine energy, biodiversity, seaweed, off-shore renewables, carbon capture, sustainable aquaculture, and other sustainable uses of marine resources.

Why do oceans matter?

Covering two-thirds of the planet, the oceans play a vast role in the climate system. They have absorbed about 90% of the extra energy we have put into the atmosphere from fossil fuel burning. As a result, the top 700 meters (2,300 feet) of the global ocean have warmed about 1.5°C since 1900.

This, coupled with overfishing and pollution, is causing a rapid biodiversity decline in the ocean. In the latest assessment of global marine species, nearly 10% were found to be at risk of extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Populations of marine vertebrates, specifically, (mammals, birds, fish and reptiles) declined by 49% since 1970, and 90% of stocks of large predatory fish, such as sharks, tuna, marlin, and swordfish, have already disappeared.

The ocean also absorbs nearly one-quarter of all carbon emissions. However, due to all this carbon dioxide, they are becoming more acidic, meaning that their pH is decreasing.
In the 1940s, ocean pH was 8.2, but in 2020, pH had dropped to 8.04. Continuing on the same trend, pH in 2045 will drop to 7.95, a level at which it is estimated that 80% to 90% of all remaining marine life will be lost, triggering an irreversible tipping point for oceans.

Economically, oceans represent a fundamental asset globally. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) report conservatively valued the then-known “asset base” of the ocean at USD 24 trillion yearly, with USD 2.5 trillion in goods and services from coastal and oceanic environments – equivalent to the 7th largest economy by GDP in 2015. Furthermore, more than 3.5 billion people depend on the ocean for their food security, and approximately 350 million jobs are created in ocean-based sectors.

When it comes to our climate transition, the ocean should be considered a key player both in adaptation and mitigation strategies against climate change. Oceans can help generate renewable energy through offshore wind and marine energy, helping to transition away from fossil fuels. Oceans are also important vehicles to remove and store carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere in natural systems. Finally, protecting and restoring ocean ecosystems, making fisheries and aquaculture climate-ready, and enhancing the resilience of coastal areas will all contribute directly to adapting to the impacts of climate change on the ocean and communities.

Blue Economy VC Trends

In the last years, a major awareness has been registered around oceans. The Blue Economy ecosystem has seen significant growth, reaching $1B in investment globally in 2022, up from nearly nothing a decade ago.

Yet, looking at the wider Climate Tech space, we notice that investment unfairly overlooks ocean tech and blue economy innovations. In the last six years, blue economy startups consistently attracted less than 2% of the money flowing into climate tech. 2023 is, for now, showing a slightly greater share.

Climate tech is used as an umbrella term for all startups which put environmental sustainability at the core of their business model. It includes startups focusing on GHGs emissions, biodiversity and environment protection, pollution, water usage and health, and so on. 

The Blue economy ecosystem is still in an earlier stage of development with respect to more mature VC markets like fintech or even the broader climate tech space.
A higher % of blue economy startups have been founded in the last five years and the number of early-stage rounds far out numbers exits still in contrast with mature segments like fintech.

Top countries

The Nordics, Netherlands and Indonesia are among the countries with the most share of funding going into the blue economy.


The US is the leading country for blue economy investments, with a nearly 10x lead to the next largest ecosystems, UK and Netherlands.


Blue Sectors

Ocean Carbon Removal

Ocean carbon removal aims to leverage the ocean’s natural chemical and biological processes to absorb and store more carbon from the atmosphere. So far, efforts to remove excess CO2 from the air have largely focused on land, through nature-based solutions like reforestation or building direct air capture plants. Yet, the ocean absorbs nearly one-quarter of all carbon emissions, so researchers have also started looking at oceans as points of capture.
The segment is definitely still an untapped market with low levels of investment. Startups in the industry have grown to a combined value of
$507M globally and attracted $56M in 2022.  Key companies in this field are Brilliant Planet, Ebb Carbon, and Rewind

Marine CDR spans a wide range of approaches, each with different levels of scientific reliability and efficacy. Overall, seven main approaches are thought to be the most effective and scalable.






Ocean carbon removal still made only 2% of the total investments in carbon management (carbon removal CDR + point source carbon capture and storage CCS), and less than 5% of the total investments in carbon removal.

Explore carbon capture and storage funding trends by segment.

Ocean renewable energy

Ocean renewable energy sources can support grid and economy-wide decarbonization. Among ocean renewable energy sources, offshore wind is the most mature. In the US, it is estimated that offshore wind potential exists for over 4,000 GW of capacity —more than three times the country’s installed electricity generation capacity.
 Companies in the field include: Venterra (offshore wind services), Gazelle Wind Power (hybrid floating offshore wind platforms), and Principle Power (wind turbine agnostic floating platform).

Floating solar panels are also starting to gain adoption with startups such as Solar Duck and Oceans of Energy. Some of the main advantages of floating solar are space utilization (no land use) and better efficiency thanks to the cooling effect from water, however, they also suffer from typical offshore installation challenges such as high maintenance and infrastructure costs (foundation, grid connection, etc). Floating solar accounted for lass than 1% of total solar installations in 2022.

Marine energy (tidal and wave energy, ocean thermal energy, etc) is still in the early stages of development despite having the potential to exceed the global power demand of 22,848 TWh/y.
Tidal and wave energy harness the motion of the waves to create power. There are several methods of producing energy, and they commonly involve placing electricity generators on the ocean’s surface. Ever since its uptake in 1973, several conversion technologies were introduced in the market, with different characteristics and deployment suitability. Companies in this field include AW Energy and CorPower Ocean.
Even more nascent is the segment of ocean thermal energy which exploits thermal energy harvesting systems to create electricity underwater from temperature differences in the ocean. Early innovators include Seatrec and Global OTEC Resources.
The segment is truly in its early days, marine energy startups have attracted
$112M in investment since 2018, less than 0.4% of the total renewable energy funding, and reached a combined value of $820M as of 2023.

Marine energy can be a challenging resource to harness: salt water and sediment could damage ocean-bound machines; devices must be able to withstand strong wave and tidal conditions; and deploying or servicing devices offshore can be costly in terms of time and money. Hence, higher cost, natural barriers and lower technology readiness play an important role in the development of this market.


Ocean biodiversity


The ocean is one of the main repositories of the world’s biodiversity, counting over 90% of the habitable space on the planet and contains some 250,000 known species. Such biodiversity is crucial for innumerable life aspects, from social to economic and environmental. Roughly 61% of the world’s total gross domestic product comes from the ocean and the coastal areas within 100 km of the coastline. Mangrove ecosystems are an important aspect of food and employment security providing food to more than 210 million people, and contributing to sustained economic growth. 

Yet, just 3.4% of the ocean is protected, and only part of this is effectively managed. As a consequence, nearly 10% of marine species are found to be at risk of extinction, with climate change impacting at least 41% of threatened marine species. Populations of marine vertebrates, specifically, (mammals, birds, fish and reptiles) declined by 49% since 1970.

The centrality of marine biodiversity to sustainable development was recognized in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In particular, SDG 14 was framed to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development. The fact that this SDG is the least funded among the environmental-focused SDGs gives an indication of the investment attributed to marine biodiversity as a whole. On average, only 9% of the biodiversity investment went to ocean biodiversity between 2018 and 2023.

Example of startups focusing on marine biodiversity are Ava Ocean, Urchinomics, and Coral Vita. See more marine biodiversity startups here

Marine transportation


With the maritime industry responsible for transporting no less than 90% of world commerce, there is increasing pressure on the sector to reduce its carbon footprint swiftly. Global shipping accounts for 3% of worldwide greenhouse gases (GHG), and these emissions are projected to increase by up to 50% by 2050 from 2018 levels under a business-as-usual scenario.  

Green maritime shipping startups are valued at $14B and have attracted $3.8B in the last five years.  Among the main technologies, there are wind-powered solutions (Smart Green Shipping), electric propulsion cargo (Fleet Zero), hydrogen-fueled vessels (Boundary Layer Technologies), green ammonia (Amogy), and biofuels (Liquid Wind). 

Similarly, maritime and onshore optimization, with more energy-efficient operations can greatly contribute to reducing GHG emissions. In this field, we find solutions spanning cargo and fuel efficiency (CoVadem), emissions monitoring systems (Green Sea Guard), operation control software (Nautilus Labs), and supply chain optimization (ClearMetal). 

Food production

Nearly 3 billion people rely on fish as a major source of protein. In 2019, global aquatic food consumption was estimated at 158 million tonnes, up from 28 million tonnes in 1961, reaching a record high of 20.5 kg of global average fish consumption per person.

With rising demand, oceans have been subject to overexploitation and an important strain on biodiversity and marine resources. Overshing, specifically, has led both freshwater and ocean fish populations to plummet to unsustainable levels.
Worldwide, 90% of stocks of large predatory fish, such as sharks, tuna, marlin, and swordfish, have already disappeared.
To cope with this, aquaculture has been increasingly the answer in the last three decades. Fish farming, in particular,  has enabled seafood consumption to continue to increase even as marine fisheries production has flat-lined. It now supplies 58% of the fish we eat, has kept the overall price of fish down, and made protein and improved nutrition more accessible to communities around the world.

Yet, not all aquaculture practices are sustainable. In many countries, aquaculture production continues to deplete ecosystems and threaten the ocean’s health. Among the main sustainable aquaculture solutions we have: deep ocean aquaculture (Oceano Fresco), AI precision aquaculture ( Aquabyte), renewable energy-based aquaculture (The Kingfish Company, and zero antibiotics aquaculture (LISAqua).
Today, this market is valued at $7.7B and has attracted $1.9B in the last five years. Beyond aquaculture, practices of precision fishing (SafetyNet Technologies), and sustainable seabed harvesting practices (Ava Ocean) are also important to complement the efforts of sustainable aquaculture. 

Finally, lab-grown and plant-based marine products have also demonstrated how crucial their contribution can be to food security without compromising the ocean’s health. (Wildtype, Hooked Foods). Today, this market is valued at $1.7B and has attracted $500M in the last five years. 


Seaweed farming is one of the fastest-growing segments of the blue economy. The market is valued at $40B and attracted $960M in the last five years.  With concerns about the environment, food security and climate change mounting, this edible plant of the sea plays a major role in the sustainable future of our planet. Here are some of the main applications of seaweed: 

  • Carbon capture: Seaweed farms release carbon that may be buried in sediments or exported to the deep sea, therefore acting as a CO2 sink. (Carbonwave)
  • Ecosystem Regeneration: Seaweed aquaculture contributes to climate change adaptation by damping wave energy and protecting shorelines, and by elevating pH and supplying oxygen to the waters, thereby locally reducing the effects of ocean acidification and de-oxygenation.  (Kelp Blue HoldFast)
  • Foodtech: Seaweed is commonly used to produce alternative protein, providing a positive impact to our food system. (Viva Maris)
  • Agritech: Seaweed aquaculture can help reduce the emissions from agriculture by improving soil quality by substituting synthetic fertilizer (Peptech Biosciences) and, when included in cattle feed, lowering methane emissions from cattle. (CH4 Global)
  • Waste reduction: Seaweed has been investigated as a raw material for a new generation of biologically derived plastic and resin products. Biomaterials made from seaweed are biodegradable and can replace plastic packaging. (Eranova)
  • Transportation: Seaweed can be used, in total or in part, for biofuel production, with a potential CO2 mitigation capacity, in terms of avoided emissions from fossil fuels. (Sea6 Energy)

Plastic pollution

At least 14 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean every year, and plastic makes up 80% of all marine debris found from surface waters to deep-sea sediments. In the last few years, an ecosystem of startups tackling marine plastic pollution emerged. This ecosystem is valued at $458M globally and raised 13M in 2022. Startups in this ecosystem are dedicated to either picking up, recycling, reusing, and recovering plastic from the ocean or manufacturing ocean-based plastic alternatives. 
Examples of startups include Ocean Cleanup, Matter and Sway.


Top investors, accelerators and ecosystem actors


Top Investors

Blue economy specialists and climate tech VCs make up the most active investors in the sector.
Notable is also the strong activity of SOSV, a generalist fund with a strong climate activity focus.

Top accelerators

Blue economy specialists and climate tech accelerators are the most active early supporters of blue economy startups.


Ports play a crucial role in the blue economy as they are essential gateways connecting land and sea, facilitating international trade and commerce. However, their significance extends beyond conventional maritime activities.
Ports can potentially become dynamic hubs for startups that are driving innovation in the ocean sector. Ports possess critical infrastructure, logistical capabilities, and established networks, making them ideal locations for startups to establish their operations. By leveraging the resources and expertise available at ports, startups can capitalize on the blue economy's vast opportunities and develop innovative solutions to address various challenges.
In summary, ports are fundamental actors in the blue economy due to their strategic location and existing infrastructure. They have the potential to become innovation hubs, attracting startups that aim to revolutionize various sectors within the ocean economy. Collaborations between ports and startups can lead to novel solutions in sustainable aquaculture, renewable energy, marine robotics, and beyond, driving economic growth, fostering job creation, and contributing to the sustainable development of the oceans.

Structural Challenges

The blue economy startup ecosystem is overall still in its early days. This is not only due to a lack of awareness of the topic but also to some structural challenges tied to the scaling of the blue economy.
A significant challenge lies in obtaining consistent and quantifiable data. Without reliable scientific data, fostering a market with investable ocean projects and innovations is problematic. Due to the shifting nature of the open ocean and deep seas, gathering data at great depths and pressures is both a logistical and scientific challenge. Overall, ocean-related scientific study is estimated to account for only between 0.04% and 4% of total R&D expenditure worldwide. As of today, the deep ocean is considered to be the least-known environment on Earth, with approximately 90% of the species that researchers collect in the abyssal zones being new to science.
Besides data gaps, the absence of clear governance arrangements in areas beyond national Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) also makes it difficult to implement projects and attribute responsibility for impact to specific agencies and countries. Indeed, on land, offset projects are normally implemented within areas with defined ecological and political boundaries, and clear agents. Oceans, instead, are characterized by undefined geopolitical boundaries, a lack of precise agencies to oversee projects and mandate responsibilities.

Blue Public Initiatives

Despite such challenges, the last years have seen important improvements and initiatives rising both in the public and private realms. We summarized below a list of the main institutional and public initiatives created in recent years that are inevitably connected with the unfolding of private ocean-tech innovations.

The ‘BlueInvest’ investment platform was launched by the European Commission in April 2019, with the goal of fostering investment, innovation and sustainable growth in the Blue Economy. It supports innovative SMEs and start-ups active in the Blue Economy sectors, through its online community, investment readiness assistance, matchmaking, investor outreach and engagement, its academy, projects pipeline and a BlueInvest Fund.

The 1000 Ocean Startups coalition was launched in 2021 and unites the global ecosystem of incubators, accelerators, competitions and investors supporting startups for ocean impact.

The Convention on Biological Diversity’s (CBD) Fifteenth Conference of the Parties (COP 15), which took place in Montreal from December 7 to 19, 2022. Here, countries pledged to protect 30% of the ocean, land and coastal areas by 2030 (known as ‘30×30’). This was a first important step to bridging the blue economy and climate regimes, enabling the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

In 2023, member states of the United Nations agreed to a High Seas Treaty that ensures the protection and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction. For the first time in history, rules will be in place to effectively manage and govern oceans. The High Seas Treaty includes an agreement to impose strict ocean protection outside national borders and rules for the sustainable use of its resources.

Ocean Climate Action Plan in the USA. The OCAP is a policy framework introduced in 2023 under the Biden-Harris Administration to safeguard oceans and coastal communities. The plan entails deploying offshore energy infrastructure (wind & marine energy); investing in marine conservation through nature-based solutions and carbon removal; and decarbonising marine shipping and transportation.







Leading accelerator and investor in impact startups and blue economy.

Katapult VC is a global investment company focusing on early-stage impact-driven technology startups. Katapult has, over the last 5 years, made 178 investments in impact tech startups from 47 different countries. Katapult invests within three investment verticals: Ocean, Climate and Food-tech.
Katapult has run nine flagship accelerator programs and three corporate accelerator programs.
In 2021, Katapult also launched the Katapult Foundation with the aim of building a larger network around impact investing. Katapult also hosts the annual Katapult Future Fest in Oslo, bringing together founders, investors and some of the most prominent figures within the impact investment sector.






Portugal Blue Economy Cluster

Fórum Oceano is the entity that manages the Portuguese Sea Cluster.
Fórum Oceano's mission is to reinforce strategic cooperation dynamics between actors – companies, RTD centres, higher education institutions, Public Administration bodies – to promote innovation, qualified employment and the competitiveness of companies that use the Sea and marine resources as central elements of their activity.
As part of its mission, Fórum Oceano intends to contribute to the digitization, decarbonisation and circularity of the Sea Economy’s production processes.

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