As our world population is growing, providing enough food for all inhabitants is getting more challenging every day. More and more countries are now tapping into the potential of blue economy in hope of food and resources.
Countries like China, Japan, and the Philippines have been cashing in on ocean economy for around 300 years. In fact, marine fish, plants and animals provide 15 percent protein for 430 crore people globally. About 30 percent of the world's gas and fuel is supplied from different seaside gas and oilfields. With time global blue economy is growing more prominent.
Bangladesh needs to dive deep
If the recently acquired massive areas in the Bay of Bengal are used properly, it is possible for Bangladesh to earn significantly in foreign currencies. In comparison with the volume of land resources in the country, 81 percent of these resources are projected to be lying at the bottom of the sea.
There are 36 species of shrimps including 475 different types of fishes and also numerous kinds of economically and biologically important resources in the Bay of Bengal. However, due to the failure of proper use of the water body, out of 43 lakh 34 thousand tonnes of fish produced in 2017-18, only six and a half lakh metric tonnes have come from the sea.
In 1969, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) conducted a survey in the Bay of Bengal and identified 475 species of fish. According to Adheer Chandra Das, Deputy Project Manager of the Sustainable Coastal and Marine Fisheries Project, there are 364 species of fishes and sharks, 33 species of shrimps and lobsters, 21 species of crabs and 12 species of cephalopods in the Bay of Bengal.
Meanwhile, according to the data preserved by Save Our Sea, about 500 different species of animals live in the sea and among them at least 475 species of fishes exist.
Approximately eight million tonnes of fish are caught in the Bay of Bengal, of which only 0.70 million tonnes are collected by Bangladeshi fishermen. Along with valuable fishes of different species, a variety of coral and 300 species of snail are also found here. According to experts; there are also sand, clay, Uranium and Thoriumin.
Bangladesh's sea border is almost equal to that of the mainland of the country. However, sea fish contributes to only 15.42 percent of the country's total fish production and Bangladesh has the ability to fish only 80 lakh tonnes annually.
From the territory that Bangladesh currently owns, it is possible to earn as much as $250 million every year by exploring oil-gas extractions, fishing, and expansion of port facilities and of course, tourism.
Bangladesh delays to grab ocean opportunities
In September of this year, Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) held a two-day conference titled 'Promoting sustainable blue economy – making the best use of opportunities from the Indian Ocean' in Dhaka.
In the conference, Rear Admiral (Retd.) Md Khurshed Alam, Secretary, Marine Affairs Unit said, "Potentials of marine fishery, deep sea fishing of tuna, mining, shipping and energy exploration still remains untapped."
Bangladesh is yet to seize the opportunity sinceout of the 660 kilometres available, mechanised boats and industrial trawlers can fish up to 70 kilometres from the shoreline.
The rest of the area remains untouched. In the conference, experts opined that the country's private sectors should come forward and invest in exploring the blue economy.
In a 2015 research paper, the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock highlighted on the necessity for deep-sea mapping, surveying, and capitalizing on oceanic fisheries resources in a sustainable method. It also demanded an all-inclusive policy and an 'ocean act' to generate a legal framework to secure the sea resource prospective, which is yet to see the daylight.
In 2017, an administrative cell titled 'Blue Economy Cell (BEC)' was formed under the Energy and Mineral Resources Division of the Ministry of Power, Energy and Mineral Resources. As of yet, there is no progress in the activities of the cell except for holding occasional roundtables.
A World Bank Group study titled "Towards a blue economy: A pathway for sustainable growth in Bangladesh" said that Bangladesh has not yet adopted a comprehensive policy plan on the ocean economy."
A long way to blue economy
At present, Bangladesh possesses about 1,11,632 square kilometres of Exclusive Economic Zone. Experts say, it is possible to earn Tk12,000 crore annually if these sea resources are timely identified and utilised.
As Professor Lailufar Yasmin, Department of International Relations, University of Dhaka, putsin an interview with BBC– "We have to find new areas of the Bay of Bengal. Certainly Bangladesh has immense potentials".
"Besides, Bangladesh can provide port facilities to neighbouring land-locked countries such as Nepal and Bhutan whenever they require sea access which is regarded as one of the significant parts of blue economy. This opportunity has been gifted only because of its geographical position," she added.
Bangladesh has also actively started some field works with related resources, such as coastal shipping and oceanic mineral mining. Disaster management and creating grounds for tourism are also in progress. Conservation of fishes and prevention of fish larceny in the Bay of Bengal have also been taken. Although with the help of foreign donations, including BAPEX, some surveys have been carried out from time to time, Bangladesh still has a long way to explore the vast resources of the Bay of Bengal.