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5 October, 2018 00:00 00 AM

Blue Economy

By Bipul K Debnath
Blue Economy

There has been an intimate link between humans and the oceans from the very beginning of development of human civilization. Goal number 14 of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) also says: ‘Conserve and sustainably use the oceans and seas and the marine recourses for sustainable development.”

The ocean, a major mode of transportation, from commercial shipping to passenger travel, is the biggest source of natural resources. Besides various species of fish and shellfish, the deep sea is also abundant in natural salt, sand, gravel, coral, minerals like copper and cobalt, crude oil, gas and rare earth metals. So, the Bay of Bengal and coastal areas of our country can contribute greatly to our national economy.

Many marine activities, including sea fishing, shipping, maritime trade, energy, aquaculture, maritime transport, renewable marine energy, biotechnology, medical technology and seabed tourism, which are termed together as ‘blue economy’, can play a vital role in creating new opportunities. This week, The Weekend Independent talked to officials, academics and blue economy experts about the prospects of proper utilisation of these marine resources.

Jobaer Alam, chairman of the Department of Oceanography at Dhaka University, told this correspondent: “First of all, we have to understand the term ‘blue economy’. It means sustainable extraction of ocean recourses for economic growth through preserving its ecosystem. Some important parts of blue economy are marine renewable energy, marine biotechnology, marine manufacturing, port, shipping and maritime logistics, and marine tourism.”

Blue economy has become a potential sector and opened up a new window for our national economy after Bangladesh obtained the right to manage maritime resources over a vast area covering 118,813 square kilometres in the Bay of Bengal, which is part of the Indian Ocean. Our country has settled maritime boundary disputes with two neighbours, Myanmar in March 2012 and India in July 2014. The government has declared 200 nautical miles from Chittagong seaport as an exclusive economic zone (EEZ). To ensure proper exploration and coordination of marine resources, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs formed the Blue Economy Cell (BEC) in 2017.

According to Alam, marine renewable energy includes solar, wind, wave and tidal energy production. Marine biotechnology pharmaceuticals include chemicals, seaweed harvesting, seaweed products, and marine derived bio-products. Marine manufacturing includes boat and ship manufacturing and repairing, marine instrumentation, marine industrial engineering. Port, shipping and maritime logistics include shipbuilding and repairing, ship owners and operators, shipping agents and brokers, ship management, container shipping services, custom clearance, freight forwarders. Marine tourism includes sunbathing, sailing and boating at sea, surfing, scuba diving, swimming in the sea, bird watching in coastal areas, whale and dolphin watching off-shore, and trips to the beach, seaside and islands.

Alam said the ocean is the biggest source of oxygen as it has unlimited amount of phytoplankton, which produces huge amounts of oxygen. So, we feel comfortable sitting on the sea beach. Among other things, the ocean provides food and minerals. It also tackles climate change through absorbing greenhouse gases.

“Marine bacteria are rich source of potential drugs. In 2011, there were over 36 marine derived drugs in clinical development, including 15 for the treatment of cancer. And marine bio-tech may make vital contribution to the development of new antibiotics,” Alam said.

Though the oceanography department is working to create professionals in the blue economy sector, as well as researching proper utilisation of marine resources, it lacks modern facilities.

“First of all, we need a ship for providing more practical knowledge about blue economy in the sea to our students. We have already signed agreements with some international universities to exchange academic lessons. We also need to hire experts from abroad. We do not have sufficient rooms,   laboratories or funds. We have seven teachers for six batches of students. We are trying to resolve those problems now,” the chairman of oceanography department added.

National Maritime Institute (NMI) in Chattogram (Chittagong) is an old training institute established in 1962 for training marine professionals. Now, NMI is also giving importance to the prospects of blue economy.

Captain Faisal Azim, principal of NMI, said over the phone: “It is fine that we have got a massive area of sea boundary. We now need modern ships and equipment to explore our marine resources. And of course, skilled and specialised operators are needed to operate the ships and explore the resources properly. So, besides other courses, we have designed some new courses to create skilled human resources in the shipping sector, which is lifeblood of the global economy and an important part of blue economy. In today’s globalised world, about 90 percent of import and export is going on through the oceans.”

According to Azim, most experts in the marine sectors are now being hired from abroad. “Only two Bangladeshi experts are working here in this sector (shipping). The rest of the experts, who are highly paid for taking part in searching for mines (oil, gas and other minerals) on the sea bed are from foreign countries. So, it is high time to create our own experts to save money and protect the secrecy of the hidden treasures of the Bay of Bengal,” the NMI principal added. “We have all types of equipment and tools to provide better training to our students. Our present motto is resource development. We will gradually develop this sector and get benefit from our marine resources.”

The country is earning a lot of foreign currency through exporting marine fishes and seafood. According to Bangladesh Marine Fisheries Association (BMFA), marine fish exports is worth around Tk 2.2 billion annually, and the amount is increasing rapidly.

Abid Hossain, deputy secretary of BMFA, said: “After its establishment in 1980, BMFA started exporting shrimps caught by mid-water trawlers. We export marine fisheries, including shrimps, to Japan only and white fish to China only. We also sell marine fish in the local market. Recently, the government has given us permission to buy some trawlers to catch fish in the exclusive economic zone.”

Regarding the problems they face when catching fish in the deep sea, Hossain said: “We need about 16 hours to reach the marine fisheries zone to catch fish. We need to maintain a temperature of minus 56 degrees (Celsius) for packaging tuna (a popular white fish) after catching it. So, if there is no possibility of catching a huge amount of tuna fish, it is really difficult to continue fishing at sea.”

As an important part of Blue Economy Cell (BEC), the Department of Fisheries (DOF) is coordinating with other stakeholders in this sector.

Regarding their initiatives, Aminul Haque, director (marine) of DOF, said: “Marine fisheries are an important component of blue economy. We do monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) for the marine fisheries sector with the help of the Bangladesh Navy and Coast Guard. Now, we are following Marine Fisheries Ordinance, 1983 which requires some changes from a modern perspective. So, we have submitted a draft of new fisheries law to the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock.”

“We impose a ban on marine fishing from May 20 to July 23 every year as is that is the breeding period of most sea fishes. Seaweed has a large amount of protein and it sells for Tk 150 per kg in the local market. We have an ongoing project on seaweed harvesting at Moheshkhali upazila in Chittagong. Our experts are doing research on modern cultivation of seaweed in the coastal areas now,” Haque added.

Coastal tourism is a major part of blue economy. A large portion of global tourism is focussed on the marine and coastal environment. Visitors are now increasing at attractive locations in our coastal areas and the sea.

Taufiq Rahman, director of Tour Operators Association of Bangladesh (TOAB), said: “Cruise tourism, a main attraction of coastal tourism, is the fastest growing sector in the leisure travel industry. Last year, we invited a foreign cruise ship to visit the Bay of Bengal.”

“We have met with the ministries of shipping, foreign affairs, civil aviation and tourism and other government agencies regarding cruise tourism. We have requested the authorities to arrange on-arrival visa at both air and land ports for foreign travellers. We will invite another cruise ship in 2019,” Rahman added.

Regarding the role of Bangladesh Parjatan Corporation (BPC) in blue economy, Ziaul Haque Howlader, an ecotourism expert and manager of BPC, said: “The government is very much sincere about marine-based economy and BPC is working with the Blue Economy Cell to get optimum benefit from this sector now.”

“With the cooperation of the cell, we have taken many initiatives, like establishing marine-parks, marine aquariums, floating restaurants, water vessels, surfing, scuba diving and sailing facilities in the coastal area. We have also a plan to organise an international swimming competition to promote marine tourism in our country,” added Howlader, who is also a member of BEC.

Bangladesh, a country of more than 160 million people, can add ‘blue economy’ as another sector to the existing list of foreign exchange earners that include readymade garments, agricultural produce and remittances if we can explore and utilise the vast potentials of our marine resources properly, experts say. n

Photos: Courtesy, Internet.

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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