Potentials of blue economy in the Indian Ocean, which is worth $25 trillion, remain largely untapped due to shortage of investments and absence of comprehensive research on marine resources, according to experts.
“The countries bordering the Indian Ocean extracted resources worth only $2.5 trillion, whereas its value is worth $25 trillion,” said Rear Admiral (Retd) Khurshed Alam, secretary to the maritime affairs unit of Bangladesh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The amount of resources extracted by Bangladesh is worth only $9.6 billion, but its potential is much more, he said at a press conference yesterday following the third ministerial conference of Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) on blue economy.
Bangladesh organised the two-day event at InterContinental Dhaka hotel, attended by ministers and representatives of 22 IORA member countries and nine dialogue partners.
IORA members are Australia, Bangladesh, Comoros, India, Indonesia, Iran, Kenya, Madagascar, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritius, Mozambique, Sultanate of Oman, Seychelles, Singapore, Somalia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Thailand and UAE, while the dialogue partners are China, Egypt, France, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Turkey, United Kingdom and USA.
Khurshed Alam said knowledge about the sea in Bangladesh has traditionally been poor. The country began to conduct research on oceans only after the settlement of maritime dispute with India and Myanmar in 2012.
Apart from research, there are some areas like shipping, but there is also not much investment from Bangladesh’s private sector. Bangladesh’s international trade is worth $80 billion, and 95 percent of it happens through shipping. It involves 3,000-plus ships, and earning from carrying these goods is worth $5 billion. However, Bangladesh has only 46 ships.
Bangladesh has 668km of sea, but “Our fishing trawlers can fish only up to 80km. We also don’t have many big trawlers to fish in the deep sea,” he told reporters.
“We don’t see many entrepreneurs investing in the sea. Media needs to write more about the potentials of the sea,” Khurshed Alam said.
Fisheries, particularly tuna fish production, needs to be managed properly, he said.
The conference encouraged exploration of marine genetic resources, creating a network of biorepositories and promoting cross-border cooperation through sharing of materials and data.
“IORA should aim at initiating the process of marine spatial planning as well as evolving a national ocean policy in all the member states to sustainably use the resources of the Indian Ocean,” according to recommendations of the conference.
IORA member states also adopted the Dhaka declaration, stressing the importance of promoting entrepreneurship and innovation, with special focus on promoting youth and women’s engagement and generating decent employment opportunities.
They emphasised on harnessing the potentials of blue economy to promote economic growth, creating jobs, trade and investment. They also committed to safeguard the ocean’s health through the sustainable development of its resources.
IORA members committed to uphold the solidarity, unity and the spirit of collaboration for balanced development in the IORA region.
However, they also expressed concerns over emerging threats like over-exploitation of resources; ocean acidification; increase in plastic debris and nutrient pollution; illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing; drug and human trafficking through the sea; maritime crime and terrorism; illegal mining and the impacts of climate change.
Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen, who chaired a session at the conference, said, “We are releasing 8,000,000 tonnes of plastic in the oceans every year. The way we are going, there might be more plastic in the oceans than fish by 2050.”
Ingesting microplastics is increasing chances of disease, affecting reproduction system and threatening the lives of millions of marine creatures, he said, adding, “At the end of the day, these toxic marine animals, specially fishes and seafood, may end up on our dining tables and plates.”
“Our actions will determine our future. To that end, Bangladesh is always committed to align its development strides with IORA’s Concord and Plan of Action.”
He urged IORA member states and dialogue partners to formulate and implement projects in order to provide maximum opportunities to develop shared interests, wider networks and reap mutually beneficial results.
IORA Secretary General Dr Nomvuyo N Nokwe also spoke at the press conference.