2. The Blue Economy Context in Antigua and Barbuda

Antigua and Barbuda is a sovereign state comprising three islands, Antigua, Barbuda and Redonda, with a total estimated population of 100,000 people. Antigua has an area of 108 square miles and accounts for 99 per cent of the population. Barbuda, a flat coral island of approximately 68 square miles, accounts for 1 per cent of the population. Redonda, an uninhabited nature reserve, is 0.5 square miles.

2.1 Country context

The country has an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of 111,568 km2[1] which supports several marine economic sectors that contribute significantly to the national GDP. Antigua and Barbuda’s economy is heavily reliant on tourism. Other key sectors in the coastal and marine space include fishing, maritime transport, water management (including desalination) and mineral extraction. (Further descriptions are provided in section 2.2.)

Despite its reliance on marine sectors, less than 1 per cent of the marine waters of Antigua and Barbuda marine waters are under environmental protection.[2]However, the Government of Antigua and Barbuda (GoAB) recognises its dependence on ocean spaces and is working to increase the protection of inshore areas. It is enacting and strengthening legislative frameworks covering coastal and marine resources (including the Environmental Protection and Management Act and revisions of the Fisheries Act). It was the first in the Caribbean to ban plastic bags in 2016. And it is recognised globally for its efforts towards achieving a more well-rounded blue economy.

As a Small Island Developing State (SIDS), Antigua and Barbuda faces significant environmental and infrastructural challenges including effective waste management infrastructure, water management (a major concern due to limited natural freshwater resources), deforestation (including mangroves), sargassum blooms, a decline in fish stocks, and plastic pollution. Linked to heavy reliance on tourism, Antigua and Barbuda is among the top 30 global plastic polluters per capita.[3]

GoAB has recognised the need to increase economic resilience including diversifying the national economy from tourism.[4] The Medium-Term Development Strategy 2016 to 2020[5] emphasised climate-change resilience, social uplift and environmental sustainability as key outcomes of economic reformation in line with the UN SDGs and other international commitments. This was positioned again in February 2022, with the Prime Minister, Gaston Browne’s presentation of the 2022 budget statement, ’Setting the Stage for Economic Rejuvenation’, which prioritises a path to economic diversification and names the blue economy. However, economic challenges such as sensitivity to external market shocks, a narrow resource base, and supply-chain disruptions associated with natural disasters are challenges to diversifying its ocean-reliant industries.[6] Furthermore, economic diversification will put additional pressures on a marine environment where space and resources are already subject to demand and competition. Robust and coherent ocean governance is therefore needed to support management across sectors, including planning, regulation, enforcement and monitoring, informed by the best available knowledge and data.

Antigua and Barbuda: A twin-island state

While the two islands are governed as one state, the characteristics, resources and needs of both are different in several ways. Barbuda’s population is around only 1,300 people and the island is dependent on Antigua through the import of products and resources, and fiscal allocation from the national budget to support development. Barbuda’s tourism has generally been small-scale in contrast to the intensive cruise and package holiday nature of tourism in Antigua.

Two separate islands presents the challenge of geographic separation in management and planning. Issues associated with collaboration, co-operation, co-ordination and perceived power imbalances exist between islands in small twin-island developing states. These cannot be ignored. There is only one Barbuda representative in a house of 18 members of parliament (MPs) for Antigua and Barbuda.

One of the most notable recent challenges between the two islands lies in the change of land ownership laws. The Barbuda Land Act of 2007 previously established that the citizens of Barbuda communally owned the land. The Act specified that residents must provide consent for major development projects on the island. However, this Act was repealed in 2018. In order to obtain full possession and transfer rights, Barbudans must now purchase property rights from GoAB for the land on which they have historically lived. GoAB may sell or lease the remaining land to interested parties. This has significantly changed the potential of Barbuda, and opens it up to larger-scale developments which were not previously a priority.

This RRA attempts to highlight where differences may lie in the challenges or opportunities between the two islands. Future work to support the SBE transition in the country must consider the unique challenges facing each island.

2.2 Key ocean-based sectors

After tourism, the civil service is the second largest employer in the country. Driven by the tourism sector, the construction industry has also become a large employer and a significant contributor to the national economy. Agriculture was previously the primary economic sector and was dominated by sugar plantations, but the sector is now predominantly characterised by small family plots which supply local areas.[7] The main blue economy sectors (tourism, fisheries and aquaculture, maritime transport and ports, and water management) are described below. Other sectors include marine mineral extraction (particularly sand mining in Barbuda, as well as the unassessed potential for deep-seabed mining); submarine cables and pipelines; and marine environment and biodiversity protection.


Tourism is Antigua and Barbuda’s largest economic sector, bringing in more than 50 per cent of GDP and making up more than 46 per cent of national employment (both directly and indirectly). The majority of tourism is through cruise ships, all-inclusive beach resorts, and yachting. Cruise tourism is the largest contributor to visitor numbers with implications for the management of passengers both at sea and on land. To further grow and develop this industry, Antigua plans to expand to become a home port for cruise liners.

The tourism sector was hugely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and remains challenged by a lack of differentiation within the Caribbean destination market. Climate change, and the associated increasing intensity and frequency of tropical storms and hurricanes, also poses a serious threat to the sector. As found across the region, sargassum is problematic. It leads to high beach clean-up costs and is off-putting to visitors. Ecotourism presents a significant opportunity for both islands, but it depends on a healthy and thriving marine environment. The coral reefs, such as Cades Reef popular for snorkelling and scuba diving, birdlife (including the Frigate Bird Sanctuary and Ramsar site in Barbuda) and pristine beaches, such as 11 Mile Beach (Barbuda) and Dickenson Bay (Antigua) are a significant draw.

Accelerating economic growth in Antigua and Barbuda relies on the development and competitiveness of the tourism industry which itself depends upon a healthy and resilient marine environment. Given the degradation or removal of coastal ecosystems for development, plastic waste, and insufficient waste management infrastructure to cope with national solid waste, expansion in this sector will require major efforts to ensure ‘greening’ through long-term sustainability and changing existing practices to ensure the islands can cope with increasing visitors and activities. Economic reliance on tourism is also a significant barrier to a transition to more sustainable marine sectors, as the environmental sustainability of this sector has been relatively poor to date.

Fisheries and aquaculture

Fisheries in Antigua and Barbuda are small-scale and target predominantly reef-dwelling or demersal species which account for around 85 per cent of landings. Fishing contributes approximately 2 per cent of GDP. Artisanal fishing for domestic consumption is important for both local food security and partially meeting demand from the tourism sector, which also requires fish to be imported. Fishing has considerable cultural significance as a deeply ingrained activity which enhances livelihoods and wellbeing in coastal communities. In Barbuda, about one quarter of the population is involved in fisheries or is part of families involved in fisheries.[8] The main fisheries are snappers and groupers, Caribbean spiny lobster and queen conch. Key challenges facing the fisheries include illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing, the use of inappropriate equipment causing environmental damage, high bycatch rates and waste, post-harvest losses associated with a lack of freezing facilities, declining fish stocks, toxic catches (i.e. ciguatera, particularly off the Redonda Bank) and climate change.

Aquaculture is in the nascent stages of development in the country, with some farming of gracilaria and eucheuma species of sea moss, but there is limited data on activities in this area.

Maritime transport and ports

Approximately 90 per cent of all goods imported arrive by sea so shipping is essential to the national economy. The maritime transport and ports sector includes diverse activities, including port operations, ship repair and dry docking, and marine services (including offshore bulk transhipment, bunkering, cold stacking, maritime logistics and open ship registry). There is a significant relationship between this sector and tourism given the high volume of cruise ships and yachts which dock in Antigua. Nelson’s Dockyard Marina, a primary yachting marina, sits within the Nelson’s Dockyard National Park, which also hosts Clarence House and Shirley Heights, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Within this sector, cruise tourism continues to expand, placing pressure on sensitive areas. The yachting sector has also seen exponential growth over the last ten years with Antigua and Barbuda being considered one of the premier destinations for yachts within the Eastern Caribbean, especially given the popular Antigua Yacht Club Marina and Resort in English Harbour Town. However, onshore yacht facilities are insufficient to manage the quantity of yachting vessels arriving in both Antigua and Barbuda, let alone any expected increases in yachting visitors. Suitable waste treatment and reception facilities for leisure craft and cruise ships would enable growth in the sector. Local shipyards are relatively small and are of inadequate capacity for repairing or constructing new and larger vessels. This presents an opportunity for development especially given the drive to become a cruise home port, with Emerald Cruises and P&O Cruises confirming they will be using the Port of St John as home port for one their vessels each from 2023.[9] Similarly, the Antigua and Barbuda Port Authority is looking to redevelop the Antigua deep-water port to become a revenue centre for the island as a regional transhipment hub for roughly ten smaller islands such as St Kitts and Nevis, Monserrat and Saba.[10]

Key challenges facing the transport and ports sector include the need to grow and shift existing  infrastructure to be climate resilient and carbon neutral, to protect against extreme weather events, and to ensure that coastal development does not lead to environmental damage. GoAB proposes to address some of these challenges, as highlighted in its nationally determined contributions (NDCs) submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) (2021).

Water management

Water is supplied primarily through five reverse osmosis (RO) desalination plants including the Antigua Public Utilities Authority (APUA’s) Crabbs plant, Ivan Rodrigues RO plant, Ffryes Beach RO plant and a collection of reservoirs. Water treatment plants at Delapps and Bendals support the capacity of the RO plants. The water management sector is essential to all other sectors that operate in the blue economy, and increasing the security of this sector should be a national priority. The provision of water is threatened by agriculture (including the quantity of water used and agricultural run-off), silting of reservoirs, pollution, the influx of sargassum (which blocks desalination filters), and reduction in investments due to the increasing frequency of extreme weather events. The integration of land-use plans with coastal or MSP requires providing space to support the future expansion of wastewater infrastructure. To reduce drought risks and vulnerability of other sectors, storage solutions are a priority area for development.

2.3 Emerging sectors and opportunities

Several emerging sectors and opportunities could support sustainability and economic diversification for Antigua and Barbuda in the context of an SBE transition including:

  • expanding aquaculture activities and exploring mariculture to support the demand for fish, particularly in response to the increasing demand from tourists;
  • building on recent interest on aquaponics linked to the growing tourism sector and the need for sustainable food production;
  • fisheries diversification, including campaigns to change consumer tastes; and diversifying use of fish products such as fish oil or silage for agricultural purposes;
  • increasing awareness of the potential of marine biopharmaceutical enterprises. There are no known biopharmaceutical enterprises based on marine resources operating in Antigua and Barbuda. However, the diversity of the marine environment offers opportunities for pharmaceutical and cosmetic discovery;[11]
  • investment in marine renewable energy. At present, fuel import costs are among the highest in the Caribbean and worldwide, accounting for nearly 13.7 per cent of Antigua and Barbuda’s GDP,[12] highlighting the urgent need to reduce its dependency on imported oil;
  • ecotourism, which could include coral reef restoration initiatives, birdwatching in Barbuda, turtle-watching and conservation projects (particularly at Darkwood Beach in Antigua), expanding the GreenFins programme to promote sustainable dive and snorkel practices, and natural landscapes tours;
  • expanding the tourism sector to move beyond holiday tourism, to include sports, health and entertainment subsectors;
  • expanding the maritime cluster associated with the yachting and transport sector, using vessels as a locus for generating socioeconomic benefits such as through drydocking, insurance and entertainment (see above); and
  • investing in waste management infrastructure, particularly in relation to the proposed plans to make Antigua a cruise home port. Managing cruise-related waste can generate income to support wider waste management infrastructure and technology for both islands.

Accelerating economic growth in Antigua and Barbuda through diversification into emerging sectors of the SBE will rely upon healthy and resilient coastal and marine environments. Increasing competition for space and conflicting priorities will increase the pressure on these environments. Therefore, sufficient legislation and regulatory frameworks, as well as consistent and robust monitoring and evaluation, are needed to ensure the sustainability of economic expansion in the emerging and traditional sectors.

2.4 Existing support for the SBE transition

The Eastern Caribbean Regional Ocean Policy (ECROP 2013) aims to promote a common approach to ocean governance in all member states of the Eastern Caribbean region, led by the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS). The ECROP required the development of a draft National Ocean Policy (NOP) by each member state, including Antigua and Barbuda. The NOP was drafted in 2021 with the support of the Commonwealth Secretariat, It is designed to help co-ordinate and monitor existing and new operations and activities that occur in Antigua and Barbuda’s ocean-based economy to ensure alignment with existing plans, strategies and policies. It is pending revision and cabinet endorsement.

A National Ocean Governance Committee (NOGC) was established in 2014 in response to the ECROP (2013). It is responsible for overseeing the implementation of national strategies and the NOP, to facilitate the transition towards an SBE, and encourage the concept of marine citizenship. This includes increasing people’s connection to the marine environment, raising awareness and understanding of the importance of the coastal and marine ecosystems in supporting livelihoods, and encouraging people to value the marine area and to be more involved in decisions about it.[13]

The Commonwealth Marine Economies (CME) Programme, supported by the UK, worked with 17 Caribbean and Pacific SIDS in conserving their marine environments and managing their maritime resources. This was to catalyse sustainable economic development while addressing climate change, in alignment with the UN SDGs and the Paris Climate Change Accord. As part of the CME Programme, a Maritime Economy Plan (MEP) was created in consultation with GoAB during 2019–2020. The cabinet-endorsed MEP was a partnership initiative between the governments of the UK and Antigua and Barbuda. It aims to provide an overview of the current maritime economy, and establish priorities and actions for a plan that takes account of national issues, international commitments and the challenges of a SIDS.

Following development of the MEP, in 2020 the portfolio of the Ministry of Social Transformation was expanded to include the blue economy. This led to establishing the DoBE within the Ministry of Social Transformation and the Blue Economy (MoSTBE).[14] This was also when the first ministerial commitments were made for an SBE. The DoBE was established to focus on marine citizenship, and should facilitate the development of an SBE to provide more diverse, sustainable and resilient economic activities. It should also serve as a primary point of contact for all regional and international engagements. The establishment of the DoBE was intended to act as a driver and focal point to integrate the concept of the SBE across GoAB and facilitate an integrated approach across ministries and departments to effectively manage, protect and enhance the marine environment and the economic opportunities it provides.

As part of its commitment to transitioning to an SBE, including reducing over-reliance on tourism and supporting sustainable economic development, GoAB signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the University of the West Indies (UWI) and the Association of Commonwealth Universities in 2021 to establish a Centre for Excellence for Oceanography and the Blue Economy based at the UWI Five Islands Campus.[15] The aim of this centre is to advance intellectual progress and strengthen institutional capacity in marine science and the SBE.[16]

The Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea (DOALAS) Ocean Governance Study (2022, draft) sets out a detailed institutional review of Antigua and Barbuda which identifies gaps and indicates where strengthening is needed for in relation to The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) which overlaps significantly with the blue economy. The report is due in 2023.


[1]  As stated in the Antigua and Barbuda National Ocean Policy (2021) (draft). There are inconsistencies with the EEZ area in Antigua and Barbuda (including as stated in the Maritime Economy Plan Antigua and Barbuda). This may be due to recent negotiations (2021) over the definition of the maritime boundaries with neighbouring territories.

[2]  Antigua and Barbuda National Ocean Policy (2021) (draft).

[3]  Ritchie, H and Roser, M (2018), ‘Plastic pollution’, Our World in Data, available at: https://ourworldindata.org/plastic-pollution

[4]  The economy is heavily reliant on tourism, which contributes more than half of the national GDP and comprises the largest portion of employment.

[5]  Ministry of Finance and Corporate Governance (2015) Medium-Term Development Strategy 2016 to 2020, Government of Antigua and Barbuda (GoAB).

[6]  Programme Antigua & Barbuda 2014–2020, European Development Fund (EDF).

[7] Commonwealth Marine Economies Programme (2021), Maritime economy plan: Antigua and Barbuda, Department of the Blue Economy Gap Analysis.

[8] Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) (2022), Fishery and aquaculture country profiles: Antigua and Barbuda, Country Profile Fact Sheets, Fisheries and Aquaculture Division: Rome, available at https://www.fao.org/fishery/en/facp/atg

9 Antigua Observer (2022), ‘Antigua poised to become homeport for P&O cruises’, available at: https://antiguaobserver.com/antigua-poised-to-becomehomeport-for-po-cru…

10 World Investment News (2022), ‘Antigua’s deep-water port redevelopment: A new port for the 21st century Caribbean’, available at: https://www.winne.com/ag/ company-profiles/Transforming-Antigua-from-the-Port

11 Commonwealth Marine Economies Programme (2021), Maritime economy plan: Antigua and Barbuda, Department of the Blue Economy Gap Analysis.

12 Observatory of Economic Complexity (OEC) (no date), Antigua and Barbuda country profile, available at: https://oec.world/en/profile/country/atg

13 Commonwealth Marine Economies Programme (2021), Maritime economy plan: Antigua and Barbuda, Department of the Blue Economy Gap Analysis.

14 Ibid.

15 The Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) (2022), ‘Progressing plans for a Centre of Excellence for oceanography and the Blue Economy in Antigua’, available at: https://www.acu.ac.uk/news/progressing-plans-fora-centre-of-excellence-…

16 CARICOM (2021), ‘MoU signed establishing centre for excellence for oceanography and the blue economy at the University of the West Indies Five Islands campus’, available at: https://caricom.org/mou-signedestablishing-centre-for-excellence-for-oc…