What is the challenge at stake?
Already in 2012, the EU Blue Growth study1 referred to the need to overcome challenges to assure a sufficiently future-proof maritime economy. This is also the case for the western Mediterranean region. On the one hand, activities historically at the forefront of the EU Blue Economy in the region (e.g. tourism, transport) require greater innovation, new technologies and diversification to remain competitive through time, and ensure high levels of qualified employment. On the other hand, a number of emerging and “niche” sectors and activities (e.g. climate services, blue biotechnology, marine renewable energy technologies, sea infrastructures, agro-tourism, smart underwater robotics) require support to gain an adequate critical mass across the region and foster more tailored R&D as well as to allow for piloting/testing investments, so to deploy their full potential. All this, well aligned with the preservation of the health of the western Mediterranean in a global change environment that has out emphasis on observing systems delivering data to respond to science, technology and society needs.
What are the persisting problems and gaps identified?
A limited availability of comparable and aggregated socio-economic data-series is preventing further knowledge sharing and cooperation amongst businesses, researchers and policymakers across the region. Joint observatories and monitoring processes are certainly an essential element to boost a sustainable growth for the region, and yet, even if well-established international and open observing systems are in place, these are still ineffective in a global western Mediterranean perspective due to institutional and sectoral fragmentation (Report 2, Chapter 2.12). This limited amount of data prevents a proper understanding of the natural variability and the economic performance of the region, and limits the ability of policy makers to put in place effective support actions. A range of important initiatives are available to support greater blue innovation across the region, such as the BlueMED Initiative, but they do not cover yet the whole western Mediterranean region.
Although some trends in clustering initiatives have emerged, with greater potential for growth with respect to the overall performance across the Mediterranean (ibid.), clusters in the Western Mediterranean are still limited. Those weaknesses are also reflected by the limited synergies amongst traditional and emerging sectors of the Blue Economy in the region, for example through the development of clustering initiatives (Ecorys 2013b3).
The low uptake of aquaculture research in a number of Western Mediterranean countries, particularly in the southern shore, and the still limited (although increasing) cooperation amongst researchers and businesses across the two shores, is therefore hindering the potentials for greater sustainable aquaculture deployment across the region (ENETMAR 20144, Ecorys, 20155). Also, more innovation in process and technology is required to boost the whole marine biotech value chain, including for food production, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, ship maintenance (anti-fouling) and environmental applications, such as oil remediation and marine micro-plastics biodegradation6 (ENETMAR 2014). Development in Marine Renewable Energy Technologies (MRETs) could well support internal energy demand in the region (Med Maritime 20147, SAGE 20168, MEEA 20149).