Bangladesh has conquered 118,813 sq. km coastal areas in the Bay of Bengal after settling disputes with Myanmar and India. This is approximately 83 per cent of the total land area of Bangladesh. Oceans cover 72 per cent of the surface of our blue planet and constitute more than 95 per cent of the biosphere. Life originated in the oceans and they continue to support all life today by generating oxygen, absorbing carbon dioxide, recycling nutrients and regulating global climate and temperature. Oceans provide a substantial portion of the global food supply and 80 per cent of global trade transportation.
The term blue economy is related to the preservation and exploration of the marine environment and also the economic activities connected to the ocean. It has emerged as a crucial development issue for optimum use of the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development. Among the sustainable development goals (SDGs), SDG-14 focuses on sustainable use of the oceans, seas and marine resources. Ocean assets provide food and energy, which are essential ingredients of human life. By overlooking the three-fourth of the surface of the earth, we cannot achieve sustainable economic development by 2030. Given this, Bangladesh has adopted steps to ensure sustainable use of the oceans, seas and marine resources to attain inclusive development and goals related to SDG-14.The World Bank states the blue economy as the sustainable use of oceanic resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, job creations and preservation of the ocean’s ecosystem. The blue economy encompasses all economic activities related to the oceans, seas, and coasts and covers a broad range of interconnected sectors. The concept of a blue economy is an emerging one. The utilisation of blue resources should be combined with the preservation of blue resources.
Biodiversity: These resources are precious and should not be exploited for quick gains; rather we must preserve their biodiversity for environmental protection and permanent sustenance. It may be noted that the sea provides 15 per cent of the protein consumed by people across the world, 30 per cent of the natural gas and oil, over 50 per cent of globally extracted magnesium. Even life-saving medication can be obtained from valuable resources from the sea. Therefore, we must maximise the potential of our blue economy to accelerate and propel our overall growth capabilities taking into consideration our limited land-based resources and highly dense population. Bangladesh’s 710 km long coastline extends from the tip of St Martin’s Island in the southeast to the west coast of Satkhira. The 121,110 sq. km sea area has varying eco-systems of major ecological and fiscal significance with advantageous possibilities.
Our fishing area ranges up to 660 km from the shoreline, but mechanised boats and industrial trawlers are capable of fishing only up to 70 km from the shore. Thus, there is still a significant amount of sea fishing frontier for Bangladesh to explore.
As highlighted at a conference by the secretary, Marine Affairs Unit, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Rear Admiral (Retd) Md. Khurshed Alam, the promotion and sustainability of the blue economy such as marine fishery, deep sea tuna fishing, mining, shipping and energy exploration remains untapped. At the same conference, experts opined that the nation’s private sector should invest in the exploration and eventual capitalisation of the blue economy. Furthermore, the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock highlighted the necessity for deep-sea mapping, surveying and sustainably capitalising on ocean fishery resources.
The need for an all-inclusive policy is being felt, including a specific “ocean-act”, which would enable the generation of a legal and regulatory framework in order to secure the sea-based resources. However, to this day, such beneficial advancements are yet to happen. Meanwhile, the Energy and Mineral Resources Division of the Ministry of Power, Energy and Mineral Resources formed an administrative cell called the “Blue Economy Cell” in 2017, which may disseminate decisions at the highest level.
Bangladesh has made some advancement in starting some field works with available resources in coastal shipping, oceanic mineral mining and disaster management. Also underway are plans for sustainable tourism. Surveys have been carried out with the assistance of foreign donations for the conservation and theft prevention of fisheries in the Bay of Bengal.The seventh Five-Year Plan has called for undertaking numerous actions for maintaining a sustainable blue economy: renewable energy, fisheries, tourism, climate change, human resource development and transhipment. These initiatives and advancements in Bangladesh manifest that sustainable development of the blue economy is in focus. However, additional concrete and actionable steps must be taken to utilise this lucrative sector fully.
Bangladesh has little explored the blue economy advancing beyond the sub-sectors like fisheries and aquaculture, shipbuilding, ship-breaking, salt generation and port facilities is needed to utilise its full potential. The Philippines, China, Thailand and Japan have been enjoying the vast benefits of their blue economies for a long time and a large percentage of their protein is derived from their oceans. It is reported that Indonesia’s national economy depends largely on its sea resources and Australia is reported to earn $44 billion from the sea.
Due to the increase in population, adequate food and nutrition supply is always a matter of concern, especially for a rapidly growing nation like Bangladesh. So, inevitably, more and more nations are diving into the blue economy in order to increase their food supplies and provide quality-based nourishment to their citizens. Bangladesh must also explore the possible scopes of the blue economy for the expansion of marine resources of economic significance.
Fisheries: The Sustainable Coastal and Marine Fisheries Project states that there are over 350 species of fish and sharks, over 30 species of shrimps and lobsters, as well as multiple species of crabs, snails and other categories of seafood-based species. However, Bangladesh has yet to take full advantage of its blue resources. Only a small percentage of our fish production comes from the ocean. Bangladesh’s sea area is almost the same as its mainland, but sea fish constitutes only about 15 per cent of its total fish production. In terms of the total fish caught in the Bay of Bengal, the amount caught by Bangladeshi fishermen is still very small. Experts opine that fish alone has 500 varieties besides snails, shell-fish, crabs, sharks, octopuses and other animals. It is estimated that Bangladesh catches only 0.7 million tons of fish every year out of the total 8 million tons of fish available in the Bay of Bengal.
Many people depend on the oceans for their livelihood and food, so increased efforts are needed to save ocean resources. Bangladesh too must look for other important uses of fish parts like other countries. Fish liver, fish oil and fish residues can be used for the treatment of Vitamin A & B deficiency, pharmaceutical product applications, animal feed and fishmeal formulations, fat liquoring of leather, tempering of metals, batching of jute, insecticidal soaps, paints and varnishes.
Shipping: Bangladesh's external seaborne freight trade is 90 per cent of the total freight trade of the country. Therefore, to retain a huge amount of freight charges within the country, incentives might be provided to local shipping companies to add more ships to the existing fleet. Besides coastal shipping, seaports, passenger ferry services, inland waterway transport, shipbuilding and ship recycling industries are also important to carry on the sustainable economic growth of our country. Considering the average import growth rate of 15.79 per cent (last ten years) and export growth rate of 15.43 per cent (last ten years), the projected freight value for the next ten years would be around USD 435 billion. To retain most of it in the country, Bangladesh must provide incentives to local shipping companies to increase their existing fleet.
Oil and gas: Bangladesh is yet to assess the true potential of its offshore gas prospects. Bangladesh possesses gas fields on the borderline with Myanmar. There is potential to get more gas fields in the sea, which may add to the total reserve of gas of the country. Besides, oil and gas, sea salt, renewable ocean energy, blue energy and biomass, mining and marine genetic resources should get more attention. Therefore, there are plenty of potentials to contribute to our sustainable economic development in the future.
Tourism: Bangladesh has huge potential in coastal tourism. Globally, coastal tourism has a huge market segment and represents 5 per cent of world GDP and contributes 6-7 per cent of total employment. In 150 countries, it is among the top export earners. It is the main source of foreign exchange for half of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs). Coastal tourism includes beach-based recreation and tourism; (b) tourist activities in proximity to the sea; boating including yachting and marinas. Sustainable tourism can create new employment opportunities and reduce poverty. Bangladesh can earn foreign currencies from coastal tourism which may contribute to GDP growth and help achieve SDGs by 2030, as the country has 75 outer islands which could be utilised for local and foreign tourists.
Bangladesh can ensure rapid economic growth through fresh investments in marine trade and commerce. There are ample opportunities as well as challenges for exploring new blue economy sectors, safeguarding mangrove and ocean greeneries, addressing environmental challenges and managing carbon discharge, and introducing innovative technology for further development to contribute to achieving sustainable development goals.
Issues can be addressed as per priority to develop marine culture, marine biotechnology and aquatic products for a positive coastal environment, ecosystem and an effective blue economy. Renewable Ocean Energy has a significant potential for low-carbon emission. Under the dynamic leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the government should give due importance to our Blue Economy.
The writer is an officer in the Bangladesh Army