O’Hara – Winter 2024

Going Green in the Deep Blue: How Bermuda Uses Economic and Community Engagement to Support Sustainability

Madilynn O’Hara

Nestled between the world’s northernmost coral reefs in the vast Sargasso Sea, Bermuda is home to just sixty-five thousand residents and thousands of unique marine species. Both Bermudians’ way of life and the ecological stability of the Atlantic are dependent upon the way in which the small island population can contend with environmental challenges such as climate change, overfishing, and rising sea levels.[1] In particular, Bermuda needs to balance its small island’s community interest in supporting the economy with the interest of preserving vital ocean life for the stability of the entire Atlantic.[2] 

To contend with these challenges, a partnership between the Bermudian Government, the Waitt Institute, and Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences established the Bermuda Ocean Prosperity Programme (BOPP) in 2019.[3]  The BOPP was designed to “foster the sustainable, profitable, and enjoyable use of ocean resources for present and future generations [of Bermudians].” [4] Over the course of two years, the BOPP developed the Draft Blue Economy Strategy, a plan to “benefit every person in Bermuda, because [they] all depend on the ocean” by increasing investment in ecotourism, sustainable fishing, and clean energy. [5] In doing so, Bermuda sought to employ the economy to boost sustainable development and vice versa. America’s coral reef preservation strategy could learn several things from the Bermudian plan.

Bermuda’s Economic Growth Plan:

Bermuda’s specific proposals for development range in the Draft Blue Economy Plan from long to short term and from larger to smaller investments. One example of a plan to increase blue investment is to raise additional “blue” levies on certain tourist sectors, such as the cruise industry.[6] These funds can be used to advance sustainability projects and management of marine protected areas.[7] Another example is to expand tourism by partnering with Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute (BUEI), a museum and educational site exploring marine ecology, to add a floating dock so BUEI can host outdoor marine attractions to generate both revenue and jobs.[8] A final example is the plan to partner with the Coral Garden Initiative, an initiative to restore coral growth in Bermuda’s reefs, to develop a permanent coral farm which would offer tours and workshops to tourists and students.[9] These three plans, among others, seek to stimulate economic growth by investing in sustainable projects which in turn should stimulate the economy.

Bermuda’s Community Involvement Plan:

Another strategy to generate legitimacy in the Blue Economy Strategy is the government’s desire to involve the Bermudian community. The government brought together BOPP Steering Committee Members, BOPP Science Committee Members, BOPP Ocean Village Members, Concerned Citizens, and Representatives of Member Organizations.[10] Additionally, the government held “public consultation periods” over the course of the drafting phase. It also opened an online feedback survey where anonymous community members could respond to questions such as “What do you value most about Bermuda’s ocean?” “What is one challenge Bermuda’s waters currently face?” and “what ocean industry do you think should be expanded in Bermuda?”. [11] After the Draft Blue Economy Strategy was released in 2022, the government began an in-person Focus Group Series in 2023 to see how community members, scientists, affected industry workers, and organization members viewed the prospect of success of the program and areas for improvement.[12] Recommendations were condensed into a document made accessible to the public.[13] As a spokesman for Bermudian fishermen noted, “in plans that impact multiple ocean users, it is vital that all ocean users have the opportunity for their voices to be heard in the process.”[14]

Comparison to the American Plan:

The United States has recently developed a coral reef sustainability strategy of its own. In accordance with the Coral Reef Restoration Act, in 2018 NOAA developed a Coral Reef Resilience Strategy.[15] The overall goal is similar to the Blue Strategy plan: reduce the threats facing coral reefs and restore coral reef ecosystems.[16] However, unlike the Bermudian plan, the American plan does not strive to create a “blue economy.” In the American plan, general coral reef action plans are funded by block grants “subject to the availability of appropriations.” [17] States submit proposals, which are reviewed by an administrator, and funds are allocated according to the availability of federal money.[18] This represents a major difference between the Bermudian and American plans: rather than seeking to invest in sustainable programs that will generate additional revenue, as the Bermudian plan does, the American plan relies on yearly federal cash infusions to fund its coral reef preservation programs.

Moreover, while the American plan also solicited community input, it was not to the extent of the Bermudian plan. Before the amendment of the Coral Reef Resilience Strategy, from April 2023 to May 2023, NOAA held a scoping period to “seek specific input, and provide a general opportunity for comment the agency can consider.”[19] NOAA solicited input from affected groups, agencies from all government levels, and interested individuals to comment either by going to an online portal or by emailing the deputy director of the program.[20] Unlike the Bermudian plan, the American plan did not make comments from the scoping period available to the public. In addition, the American plan did not involve in-person focus groups or public consultation meetings.[21] So while community involvement is present, it is likely more difficult for community members to participate in the decision making process of reef preservation to the extent members of the Bermudian public were able to.

While both the nascent Bermudian and American plans seek to preserve their coral reefs, only the Bermudian plan does so by involving the economy and encouraging extensive input from the community. While the BOPP’s plans have yet to reach their full effect, there is much hope for success, primarily because of these emphases on blue investment and community involvement. By bringing together the entire economy to support sustainability, Bermuda strives to implement green initiatives to benefit human and marine communities.

[1] Ministry of Home Aff. & Bermuda Ocean Prosperity Programme, The State of

Bermuda’s Waters: A Snapshot of Bermuda’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) From the Coastline to 200 Nautical Miles (nm) (2022), https://www.bermudaoceanprosperity.org/_files/ugd/47d1fd_b472e14339544e5d8942ea83e477925c.pdf.

[2] Id.

[3] Initiatives: Bermuda, Waitt Institute, https://www.waittinstitute.org/bermuda (last visited Mar. 15, 2024).  The Waitt Institute is a non-profit that partners with local governments and communities to support global marine sustainability. Waitt Institute, What We Do, https://www.waittinstitute.org/our-work (last visited Mar. 15, 2024).

[4] About BOPP, Bermuda Ocean Prosperity Programme, https://www.bermudaoceanprosperity.org/copy-of-about-bopp (last visited March 15, 2024).

[5] Home, Bermuda Ocean Prosperity Programme, https://www.bermudaoceanprosperity.org/ (last visited March 15, 2024).

[6] Ministry of Home Aff. & Bermuda Ocean Prosperity Programme, Draft Bermuda Blue Economy Strategy (2022-2032) 28 (2022).

[7] Id.

[8] Bermuda Ocean Prosperity Programme, supra note 4.

[9] Ministry of Home Affairs & Bermuda Ocean Prosperity Programme, supra note 7, at 22.

[10] Bermuda Ocean Prosperity Programme, 2023 Focus Group Series Report 4 (2023),


[11] Bermuda Ocean Prosperity Programme, Feedback Survey: Bermuda’s Draft Blue Prosperity Plan, https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSd0blZu–6mwOeHYwmI2-ztGLLHJlXESkaS9x6i5G1CADtk3A/viewform (last visited Mar. 14, 2024).

[12] Bermuda Ocean Prosperity Programme, 2023 Focus Group Series Report, supra note 10, at 13.

[13] Bermuda Ocean Prosperity Programme, Recommendations and Responses, https://www.dropbox.com/scl/fi/fvwbm7orovkdevt8kelll/Recommendations-and-Responses_LOCKED.xlsx?rlkey=lzce0wjlv98c0rl4gjuf50toa&dl=0 (last visited Mar. 15, 2024).

[14] Id.

[15] This plan will later be amended by the National Coral Reef Resilience Strategy, which is currently in the formation stage. Nat’l Ocean Serv. et al., Notice of Intent to Conduct Scoping in Preparation of the National Coral Reef Resilience Strategy for the Coral Reef Conservation Program (2023).

[16] Nat’l Ocean and Atmospheric Admin., Coral Reef Conservation Program: Strategic Plan 1 (2018).  

[17] Coral Reef Conservation Act, 16 U.S.C. § 83 (2022).

[18] Id. at § 6402. There are also grants for projects with more narrowly tailored functions. For example, there is the Coral Reef Disaster Fund, which is to be used “solely to support the long-term recovery of coral reefs from exigent circumstances,” and the Ruth D. Gates Coral Reef Conservation Grant Program, which is to be used for additional conservation and preservation projects. Id. at § 6410.

[19] Nat’l Ocean Serv. et al., supra at 15.

[20] Id.

[21] This could be due to the wide geographic span of the American plan. Unlike the Bermudian plan, the American plan spans the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean, from the Caribbean to Hawaii. Coral Reef Information System: Regional Data Portal, Nat’l Oceanic and Atmospheric Admin., https://www.coris.noaa.gov/portals/welcome.html (last visited Mar. 15, 2024). It also assists other countries’ reef preservation programs, such as Palau, Marshall Islands, and Micronesia. Id. This wide expanse of affected reefs could make in-person collaboration more difficult.

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