100 Companies Dominate Our Oceans

Offshore oil and gas, marine equipment and construction, seafood production and processing, container shipping, shipbuilding and repair, cruise tourism, port activities and offshore wind.

The 100 largest companies involved in these marine industries took an estimated 60% of the $1.9 trillion in revenues generated by them in 2018, the most recent year analyzed.

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The research by Duke University and the Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University studied 8 core industries in our seas across the world.

Offshore oil and gas dominated the Ocean 100 list with a combined revenue of $830 billion. The only corporation from outside that industry to make the top 10 is the Danish shipping company A.P. Møller-Mærsk at No. 9.

The researchers found a consistent pattern across all eight industries of a small number of companies accounting for the bulk of revenues.

On average, the 10 largest companies in each industry took 45% of that industry’s total revenue. The highest concentrations were found in cruise tourism (93%), container shipping (85%) and port activities (82%).

Henrik Österblom, science director at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, said:

“Senior executives of these few, but large companies, are in a unique position to exercise global leadership in sustainability.

“The fact that these companies are headquartered in a small number of countries also illustrates that concerted actions by some governments, could rapidly change how the private sector interacts with the ocean.”

The Ocean 100 builds on the concept of “keystone actors” developed by Österblom and his colleagues at the centre in a 2015 paper published in the journal PLOS ONE. Using keystone species in ecosystems as an analogy, the researchers identified a handful of corporations that dominate the global seafood industry. The study led to the formation of the Seafood Business for Ocean Stewardship (SeaBOS) initiative as a way to connect scientists with industry leaders to work toward more sustainable seafood production.

John Virdin, director of the Ocean and Coastal Policy Program at Duke’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, explained:

“Now that we know who some of the biggest beneficiaries from the ocean economy are, this can help improve transparency relating to sustainability and ocean stewardship.

“The small number of companies that dominate these industries likely reflects high barriers to entry in the ocean economy. A lot of expertise and capital are needed to operate in the sea, both for the established industries and emerging one such as deep-sea mining and marine biotechnology.”

Virdin became interested in whether the keystone actor concept could be applied more broadly while advising governments on integrated ocean development and management policies for the ocean economy, or sometimes called the blue economy. The Ocean 100 study expands interdisciplinary research conducted into the blue economy topic by Duke scholars across the university, including Virdin and co-author Daniel Vermeer.

Executive director of the Center for Energy, Development and the Global Environment (EDGE) at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, Daniel Vermeer said:

“Oceans will be increasingly central to the global economy in the 21st century.

“One of our biggest challenges is to sustain healthy ocean ecosystems as economic use increases and climate impacts accelerate. This study confirms that a relatively small number of companies will be central to this challenge, and have a real opportunity for leadership.”

Reference:  “The Ocean 100: Transnational Corporations in the Ocean Economy,” J. Virdin, T. Vegh, J.B. Jouffray, R. Blasiak, S. Mason, H. Österblom, D. Vermeer, H. Wachtmeister and N. Werner. Jan. 13, 2021, Science Advances. DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abc8041

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