GP Column: Blue Economy

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GP Column: Blue Economy
Blue Economy and India: An Introduction

  Shailesh Nayak
Director, National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS)

India has committed to advance the “Blue Economy.”  Several programs have been initiated to promote the blue economy in the country. The Economic Advisory Committee to the Prime Minister (EAC-PM) is in the process of developing a strategy to promote the blue economy in India. 

The term ‘Blue Economy’ emphasizes primarily an ocean-dependent economic development to improve the quality of life of people while ensuring inclusive social development as well as environmental and ecological security. Prof. Guntar Pauli was first to introduce the term ‘Blue Economy’ to reflect the needs of people for growth and prosperity in view of impacts of climate change. The Third World Summit Conference UN+20 in 2012 had also focused on expanding the “Green Economy” to “Blue Economy”.  The Sustainable Development Goals also advocates conservation and sustainable use of ocean resources. It may be worth mentioning that the next decade has been declared as “Decade of Oceans” by the UN. 
 
India and the Blue Economy
India has committed to advance the “Blue Economy.”  Several programs have been initiated to promote the blue economy in the country. The Economic Advisory Committee to the Prime Minister (EAC-PM) is in the process of developing a strategy to promote the blue economy in India. 
 
The first step is to ensure that we have adequate information about sea bed and mineral resources, fishery resources and sea state in our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which covers two million sq km of area. Under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), our rights on sea bed can extend up to 350 nautical miles, especially on our continental shelf. India has already submitted a claim of about 1.2 million sq km to the Commission of Legal Continental Shelf (CLCS). Thus, it is likely that our rights on the sea bed, will increase from 2 million to 3.2 million sq km in the near future. Our efforts to carry out the detailed bathymetric, geological and geophysical surveys need to be further enhanced to estimate the availability of mineral and energy resources. 
 
Currently, our annual marine fish production is around 4 million tons, while potential has been estimated to be about 5.3 million tons. Many new grounds of deep-sea fishery between 200 m to 2000 m have been identified. Initial estimates are about 3.3 million tons. Recently, new fishery resource, myctophids, having a potential of almost 100 million tons, have been located. There is good potential to use myctophids as food for livestock, poultry and aquatics. Experiments on Cage-culture and Ornamental fisheries have been demonstrated successfully. Technological challenges on harvesting, post-harvesting and product development need to be undertaken for a successful commercial venture for deep-sea fishery and maricultural activities.
 
Apart from placer minerals on the coast, we need to look for minerals in the deep sea. The exploration in the Central Indian Ocean for manganese nodules has reserves of 380 million metric tons of nodules having strategic minerals such as copper, nickel and cobalt and other noble minerals. The exploration of hydrothermal systems along mid-oceanic ridges and cobalt-crusts are continuing. The availability of gas hydrates on our continental shelf has vast potential to satisfy our ever-increasing energy requirements. We need to invest in developing technology and human resources to utilize these resources. A rough estimate of all these resources is about US $ 600 billion.
 
Challenges to developing Blue Economy
All developmental activities along the coast will require freshwater, which is scarce. Freshwater from the sea is a very attractive solution; however, plants based on reverse osmosis technology are ecologically unfriendly. A Low-Temperature Thermal Desalination, an environment- friendly technology that utilizes natural ocean thermal gradient, is found to be suitable for this purpose. Small plants have been successfully operated, since last 15 years or so, on the Lakshadweep Islands. The challenge to set up offshore plants having the capability of generating freshwater of 10 million l/day, by designing suitable seawater intake and ocean platforms. 
 
The coast is also vulnerable to many hazards such as cyclones, storm surges, tsunamis, coastal erosion, sea-level rise, etc. The available coastal vulnerability maps should be used to understand the risks involved, and accordingly, developmental activities should be planned. The information on sea state is required for economic activities such as shipping, fishing, oil and gas production. Numerical models have been customized to forecast waves, ocean currents, sea surface temperature etc. on a daily basis. We also need to preserve our coastal ecosystems while carrying out developmental activities. Regular satellite-based monitoring of such ecosystems is a vital requirement. 
 
There is now consensus that macro-economic decisions about the blue economy will need environmental data. The economic growth prospects in the ocean beyond 2030 will be limited without significant investments to support ocean environments. Recently, the Govt. of India has announced a ‘Deep-Sea Mission’ in order to gain knowledge about resources in the Indian Ocean. Oceans should be managed and accounted for in the same way as other valuable assets. 
 
However, to carry out this task, a major problem is that the outputs ocean science is not stored/represented in formats, systems and structures that finance, economy or other decision-makers understand or can use. We need to develop a framework to bring together disparate data sources by developing an accounting system for oceans. Fortunately, the large volume of scientific data of the Indian Ocean collected during the last fifty years or so, have been organized around GIS as the Ocean Data and Information System (ODIS). These data sets are to be integrated with environmental, social and economic data. India is also in the process of developing an accounting framework as a part of the strategy for the blue economy. Such exercise will help to strengthen the “societal relevance” of the ocean. The development of ‘Digital Ocean” is in the right direction.
 
Lastly, we need to set up an institutional framework for implementing activities related to the blue economy. We need to invest in building infrastructure, human resources, finances and governance system. Such investments in oceans will pay rich dividends for future generations. At the same time, we need to commit ourselves to the sustainability of oceans for the benefit of humanity. 

Prof Shailesh Nayak is the Director, NIAS. He can be contacted at shailesh@nias.res.in

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