Blue economy is a much used phrase these days internationally. Recently the term is widely spoken of in Bangladesh. The idea of ‘blue economy’ has sparked interest in the country after the resolution of the maritime boundary dispute with neighbouring Myanmar and India. In the Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh now has a total of 1, 21,110 square kilometres (sq km) of marine area including Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). With the marking of the maritime boundary, the government is now poised to formulate policies and mobilise resources. But as we are eying the benefits of the blue economy, it seems that we have become engaged in the act to replace the base-rock of blue economy — sustainability with old style ‘economic progress at any cost’.
Even some segments in the responsible quarters are not cautious enough to differentiate between non-renewable fossil fuel-dependent economy and the blue economy approach. After the verdict of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), exploring offshore fossil fuel and leasing blocks to International Oil Companies (IOCs) became hassle-free, for sure. But importance on extraction of fossil fuel is not a positive gesture for sustainable or at least environmentally congenial maritime economy. Fossil fuel, whether offshore or onshore, which is responsible for emissions and global warming does not go with the blue economic approach. Rather, we need to put in place coastal and offshore renewable energy options. Blue economy is necessarily the green economy’s version 2.0. It acknowledges that our planet is not only a green planet but also a blue one, and directs economic activities which prioritise the sustainability of marine environment. It’s not just a new maritime economic front, but a new kind of ecological approach which ensures sustainable benefits for the communities, while protecting the ecosystems and biodiversity. As the UN framework on Blue Economy states, the blue economy espouses the same desired outcome as the Rio +20 Green Economy initiative: “Improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities”. It endorses the same principles of low carbon, resource efficiency and social inclusion. The author of ‘The Blue Economy’, Gunter Pauli, defines the principle of this approach as “Nature evolved from a few species to a rich biodiversity. Wealth means diversity. Industrial standardisation is the contrary.” As the ocean is the main regulator of our planet’s climate system, the idea means and includes protection of marine ecosystem and diversity of life, so that the oceans, the lungs of our planet can operate normally, and support livelihoods for the global population with its ecosystem services and benefits. The blue economy is a biodiversity-driven approach which necessarily includes local coastal communities as principal drivers.
Hence, when we want to build a blue economy for Bangladesh, we ought to design the national framework and policies on the basis of environmental sustainability. Fortunately, the leading international instrument to incorporate sustainability as the main mantra of development now is the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Total 169 targets under 17 goals are meant to guide the transition of development towards sustainability over the next 15 years. Among them the Goal 14 deals with oceans. It is titled ‘Conservation and sustainable use of the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development’.
As part of a goal-reaching exercise, nations and other interest groups have assembled, and discussed new goals and adopted them. Thus more or less a suitable step materialised to act as an ‘accountability standard’ for the nations’ journey towards sustainable development. The UN and other inter-governmental bodies will devise strategies, and facilitate capacity building, mobilise financial mechanisms to help the nations achieve the targets. Particularly, SDG 14 has stressed increased scientific knowledge and research capacity as well as the transfer of marine technology, which will enhance capacity of the countries like Bangladesh in marine science and technology.
Once taken into consideration in accordance with local needs, the ocean-related SDG could become a standard of accountability for Bangladesh’s quest for marine conservation and blue economy. On national level, Bangladesh needs to scrutinise the targets to set priorities, and determine on what targets we need to do more work before we proceed.
Considering the present scenario and status of Bangladesh’s coastal and marine ecosystems, the priority targets may be identified: restoring marine and coastal ecosystems, science-based management for sustainable marine fisheries, significantly reducing land-based marine debris and nutrient pollution, and ensuring full access of marine resources to small-scale fishers. These are the urgent needs and at the same time the arena, where Bangladesh still is in need of policy and strategy formation before starting work in earnest.
National Environment Policy, National Fisheries Policy, Coastal Zone Policy, Bio-safety Guidelines of Bangladesh, and National Sustainable Development Strategy (NSDS) 2015-2020 should be reshaped according to the demand of the ‘Ocean SDG’. In addition, we need to devise appropriate strategy and policy frameworks and the National Programme of Action (NPoA) regarding Ecosystem Restoration, promoting community-based cooperative enterprises in deep-sea fishing, Fishing Monitoring and Regulation, by-catch reduction, Marine Debris and Nutrient reduction, Ballast Water Management and Prevention of Invasive Aquatic Species.
By 2020, Bangladesh needs to restore marine and coastal ecosystems in appropriate cases and establish sustainable management. Chakoria Sundarban and Coral colonies of St. Martin’s Island are among coastal and marine ecosystems of Bangladesh which have been miserably degraded and require restoration work. Due to lack of scientific research and survey, we are not certain about the extent of our marine subsystems which are degraded to the level that they cease to provide ecosystem service and benefits; and hence need restoration. Identifying the subsystem in the Bay of Bengal and coastal waters and delineating their boundary for further conservation management should be the priority. An NPoA is a good point to start with.
Science based management plan for sustainable marine fisheries is the second important target to achieve by 2020. To proceed with it, assessment of marine fish stock and determining Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) by intensive field investigation is the starting point. Management plans should be launched by proved stock and MSY. The amount of discarded by-catch especially from shrimp trawling needs to be significantly reduced (at present the by-catch ratio is 8:1). Bottom Trawling and Shrimp Trawling can be considered for extended temporary ban, given the damage to juvenile fish populations, predator loss, marine mammals and turtles, seabed communities and fin-fishes. The Marine Fisheries Ordinance and Rules of 1983 need to be amended to meet the demands of the improved management. Coordination between government agencies and the private sector should be institutionalised for full compliance with Bangladesh Code of Conduct for Responsible Fishing.
Protecting the reserves in at least 10 per cent of marine and coastal zones based on scientific information is set to be achieved by 2020. It’s a tricky task. If one just decides not to consider the “based on scientific information” part, protecting the reserves is then just a matter of declaring a reserve and increase the ‘percentage’ in paper, which has been done previously in Bangladesh. To initiate the process of effective reserve protection, Bangladesh needs standardisation of protected area categories according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) standard. A policy framework for planning, establishing, managing and evaluating the Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) which will include ‘reserve’ as a category needs to be drafted. Instead of depending on anecdotal reference or legends, the whole process of establishing an MPA should be based on scientific research.
By 2025, Bangladesh needs to significantly reduce marine debris and nutrient pollution. From policy aspects we have an advantage in this regard as we already have our Marine Pollution Ordinance 1977 and NPoA for reducing land based marine pollution. To adjust with the demand of SDG 14, we just need to amend these instruments to address the requirements of survey, monitoring and removal of marine debris, reducing micro-plastic pollution by consumer products and other industrial wastes, vessel based pollution like ballast water and invasive aquatic species.
By 2030 Bangladesh needs to ensure full access of marine resources to small-scale artisanal fishers. Legalisation of huge fleets of artisanal fishing boats should be the first priority.
An institutional form of coordination between the Department Fisheries and Marine Mercantile Department of the Department of Shipping to run registration and licensing activity is the first step. In the long term, ways to motivate, facilitate and promote small-scale artisanal fishing cooperatives in deep-sea fishing can be an effective process to transfer more access to and control on the part of coastal communities over their natural resources.
While the SDGs are the main mantra of sustainability now, the base-rock of sustainability is ‘going local’. Globally it is evident that management of natural resources is more effective when the responsibility rests with the local community. Participatory research, locally-led management and revival of coastal economy should be the guiding factors for policy reorganisation.
The writer is the founder and CEO of marine conservation group Save Our Sea.