Sensemaking: Identifying Blue Economy Trends in the Eastern Caribbean

    It has been just over six months since the UNDP Accelerator Lab for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean has been in operation. Since its foundation, the Lab has been building a broad, multi-country portfolio of solutions to challenges in the blue economy. Through conversations with fisherfolk, visits to marine educational institutions, community outreach workshops and more, numerous remarkable innovations have been uncovered. Additionally, exchanges with our global Accelerator Lab network partners have provided useful guidance, such as by further understanding the connection between behavioral insights and plastic usage via the Fiji team, and by grasping the significance of incorporating unusual suspects into the design fold from the Philippines Lab. As a result, we have successfully pinpointed impactful ideas, including reef mapping using underwater drone technology, enhanced marine protection through education and the rekindling of turtle conservation data, to name just a few.    

Zooming out

    In an effort to view the big picture and analyze this growing portfolio, it’s important to take a step back in order to get the 30,000-foot view. To do so, one of the best starting points is zooming out from the lens of the Accelerator Lab for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean’s Call for Solutions (CFS). In response to issues impacting the blue economy, the CFS asked regional innovators this past November to submit their proposed solutions in areas such as fisheries, renewable energy, waste management and sustainable tourism.

    The CFS response rate was impressive, with just under 50 submissions received in less than two weeks. This reminded us once again of the importance of the Accelerator Lab approach. So often the answers we seek already exist among locals facing the exact challenges in question. What’s required is purposeful digging below the surface in order to unearth fascinating ideas in need of growth and support.

Establishing patterns and trends: Why does this matter?

    By establishing patterns among the CFS applications, interesting trends begin to emerge among regional trailblazers. When done at a high level, this exercise reveals important lines of connection among those who may have been operating in isolation. This can enable greater collaboration, consultation and cross-fertilization of concepts.


    To assess these trends further, each one has been assigned relevant categories within the blue economy. In this context, a trend is defined as two or more original, new (to the Eastern Caribbean) and creative proposals featuring overlapping themes.

Trend 1: Hyper-Targeted Tourism, Blue Economy Categories: Tourism and Leisure

    While the Eastern Caribbean region is already a major hub for tourism, innovators are finding hyper specific ways to target slivers of the leisure market. This includes Pink Coconuts, a Barbados-based start-up, app and web-based platform geared towards LGBTQ travelers. Through the offering, users can book LGBTQ-friendly tours, activities and accommodations, including access to local experts in deep sea diving, fishing and boating. Information and inspiration for this project was drawn from Community Marketing Insight’s 2018 LGBTQ travel report, which suggests that this travel segment prefers sun, sea and sand destinations. Moreover, this demographic travels 2.8 more times than non-LGBTQ travelers, and are looking for experiences along the way. In Grenada, the I’m Local one-stop-shop Caribbean travel app aims to connect visitors with domestic providers of activities and tours. It also includes an AR component examining climate change, the blue economy and national attractions. According to I’m Local CEO Cory Zufelt, the undertaking hopes to change the way travelers connect with the Caribbean, all while bringing about change at the community level. Together, Pink Coconuts and I’m Local are harnessing the power of hyper-targeting through the narrow focus on LGBTQ visitors and localized travel.

The taxi operation of I’m Local, a Grenadian travel service focused on domestic tourism

The website landing page of Pink Coconuts, an LGBTQ-friendly Caribbean travel service

Trend 2: Repurposing Excess Localized Waste, Blue Economy Categories: Waste Management and Biotechnology

    Making use of local excess and waste to experiment with novel problem-solving propositions was another strong theme that came across through the CFS. For University of the West Indies student Kerri-Ann Bovell, this was seen in her formation of a bioplastic. According to Bovell, large amounts of of seaweed wash up on Barbados shores with negative impacts on tourism and marine life. Additionally, the daily use of the island’s starch crops (sweet potato, cassava, eddo and breadfruit) results in substantial food waste. In response, Bovell is working to create a high-quality bioplastic extracted from on-the-ground starches and seaweed to be used for non-food packaging. Marine waste is also being assessed for innovation purposes. Partners Dr. Nikolai Holder and Brian-Lee Chandler are helping lead the charge on this with research and prototyping to produce biomethane from fish offal, specifically from the Barbados Oistins Fish Market where by-products from aquatic catches exist in large volumes. In both cases, a will to repurpose what’s often discarded, underused or overlooked was made clear.

Kerri-Ann Bovell demonstrating her starch-based bioplastic at the Accelerator Lab for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean Blue Lab Live launch event

Trend 3: Closing Knowledge Gaps, Blue Economy Categories: Mariculture, Fisheries, Tourism and Marine Renewable Sectors

    Since the blue economy is a relatively new term, there are numerous gaps in knowledge that require further exploration. In St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Jael Browne and Nazim Gittens are looking to conduct a production capacity frontier baseline study regarding Caribbean spiny lobster. By doing so, the findings will hopefully reveal critical knowledge on the species and hinder the depletion of the natural resource, as well as protect the income of vulnerable fishing communities. On the legalistic front in Barbados, Alana Lancaster is carving out a fresh path. Lancaster is seeking to assess the legal and policy framework surrounding the blue economy in fisheries, tourism and marine renewable sectors. This will help to unveil key actions, data and areas of research that could be of importance to stakeholders (i.e.: academia, policy makers, private sector) in Barbados and Caribbean states. These and other initiatives will continue to shed light on pressing matters in the blue economy.

Zooming in

     With these trends now established along the Accelerator Lab for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean’s journey, emerging currents of innovation can be zoomed in on. This will assist with the identification of future frontier challenge areas and themes that need greater attention in the blue economy, ultimately solving for real development issues.

How can you be a part of the Accelerator Lab for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean’s journey?

Have you noticed any trends shaping the blue economy in the world or Eastern Caribbean? If so, please contact:


By: Jordanna Tennebaum, Head of Solutions Mapping, UN Development Programme (UNDP) Accelerator Lab for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, Twitter: @j_tenneb, LinkedIn: