Our planet is often referred to as the 'blue planet', as 70% of its surface is covered by water. So, it has become imperative to utilise this vast space of waterbody to hasten the process of economic development as land resources are diminishing at a rapid rate. These massive areas of water are an enormous hub of natural and mineral resources, and extracting these resources is not a new concept in human history.
However, overexploitation of ocean resources disrupts the natural harmony of the aquatic ecosystem. So, to maintain this delicate balance between economy and ocean environment, Gunter Pauli introduced the concept of blue economy in his book 'Blue Economy - 10 Years, 100 Innovations, 100 Million Jobs' which accounts for his own experience of 16 years researching this field.
According to the World Bank, "The blue economy is the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihood and jobs, and ocean ecosystem health." Blue economy creates an opportunity for the coastal countries to ensure their economic development and Bangladesh is not an exception.
Now the question arises, is Bangladesh prepared to take the challenge to ensure the socio-economic development through harnessing blue economy?
In 2012 and 2014, the issues of the maritime boundary between Bangladesh and Myanmar and Bangladesh and India were resolved. This settlement resulted in Bangladesh obtaining about 120,000 square kilometres of the Bay of Bengal, thus increasing the area by 15%.
To reach the state of a developed country, proper use of marine resources for a coastal country like Bangladesh is crucial. The area that Bangladesh obtained is enriched with immense natural and mineral resources.
Bangladesh can only extract fish resources of about 0.70 million tons each year but has the potential to increase its value to 8 million tons per year. Besides, there are vast reserves of natural gas in the bay, and experts are of the opinion that these are worth $1.2 billion annually.
Besides, it is said that the Bay of Bengal has uranium and thorium reserves. Also, experts believe that the Bay of Bengal consists of around 13 heavy mineral-rich slits, including garnet, zircon, magnetite, etc. adjacent to Bangladesh. Experts also opined there are 70 to 75 islands in this area, which has a prospect to be used for tourism.
The amount of resources that Bangladesh possesses in its seas has immense potential to make the country acquire autarky in food production, ecological balance, and protecting the country from the adverse effect of climate change.
As the rapid growth of population is taking its toll on land resources, it is of utmost importance that the resources which exist in the oceans are utilised.
But inadequate policies and lack of infrastructure stand in the way of Bangladesh acquiring this economic independence. Though a considerable amount of time has passed after obtaining this vast area in the Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh has not yet been able to properly use these reserve of resources. Noticeable steps are not being implemented due to the absence of policies and the dearth of skilled labour.
Bangladesh also lacks strong institutional governance over the sea to take measures to execute viable plans to make proper use of its ocean resources.
Does that mean Bangladesh cannot utilise the potential resources in the Bay of Bengal to its full capability?
That is certainly not the case. Although the current scenario is not as inspiring, this issue has caught the eyes of the policymakers of the country. It has been acknowledged that the sea provides a massive window of possibilities to ensure the country's socio-economic development.
The amount of research conducted in this field is gradually increasing. Though its number is not as high as one would expect, it still gives an array of hope that steps are being taken to properly understand the extent of the possibilities that our marine resources provide.
One cannot aspire today and start bringing out minerals from the sea tomorrow. The process is long and needs proper planning.
As recently as of June 3rd, 2020, the Premier of the People's Republic of Bangladesh in a session 'Virtual Ocean Dialogues' hosted online by the World Economic Forum and Friends of Ocean Action, placed three-point proposal to boost the cooperation for durable use of oceans and aquatic habitats. She urged the international communities to come forward and renew their commitments for ocean action. The proposals included:
- Assisting developing countries who require resources, capabilities, and technological assistance for bringing out the full potential of marine resources.
- Implementing joint research on fisheries development to significantly increase regional fish production and eradicating illegal, unsupervised, and unreported fishing.
- Emphasising in building proper maps to regulate and manage resource identification and critical coastal habitat and biodiversity protection.
For developing the blue economy of our country, relevant ministries, government, non-government organisations, research organisations, and academic institutions should come up with short, medium and long-term plans.
A coordinated approach in this regard can bring the desired outcome. For becoming a developed country in the future, Bangladesh needs to provide proper employability to its people. Blue economy can stand at the vanguard of employing the unemployed people of this country.
Extensive research to increase the capability of human resources is a precondition of this plan. To achieve development in the field of sustainable ocean economy and conservation of ocean resources, the country should pay proper attention to building up strong and resilient ecosystems of trained and capable heads to manage the overall situation.
With this view, the Bangladesh Institute of Maritime Research and Development (BIMRAD) was established in 2018. This was done solely to create awareness among the nation's maritime community by doing research, capacity building, development works, etc.
As the current pandemic has disrupted the harmony of the country's economic ecosystem, to resuscitate the economy and to bring about rapid changes ensuring the environmental sustainability, channelling the power of Blue Economy is indispensable.
Writer is a student of the Department of Geography and Environmental Science at the University of Dhaka.