Ocean, future’s nutrition hub
Food is related with hunger. For years, people have struggled and innovated many ways to battle with hunger. The food habit has been changing for ages, and the issue of nutrition has gradually risen in this process. People have become more health conscious than before. Research says the ocean is a unique, infinite source of nutritious food. It has many resources like seaweed, algae and many more. Five years back, a seaweed cultivation project started in Cox's Bazar through a joint initiative among Agricultural Research Foundation, Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council, Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute and the Department of Botany, University of Dhaka.
According to the history of seaweed cultivation, it was first cultivated in the Tokyo ocean in 1670 AD, which took commercial form in 1940. Since then, seaweed has become a unique cash crop in Japan, China, Korea, Philippines and many other countries. Seaweed is a huge source of various nutrients, vitamins, minerals and iodine. Japan produces seaweed worth around USD 2 billion every year. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 25,000 tonnes of seaweed is produced worldwide, and its commercial value is around USD 6.5 billion.
The length of the coastline of Bangladesh is about 710 kilometre. Moreover, seaweed can be cultivated in 25,000 square kilometre area under 146 upazilas of 19 out of 64 districts of the country.
In 2005, I had the opportunity to visit Japan to film an episode of Hridoye Mati O Manush (Soil & People in Heart). There I saw seaweed being cultivated along the long sea shores of the Tokyo ocean. I have found seaweed in many Japanese dishes as well. In 2015, I went to the Netherlands and saw seaweed cultivation on the shore of the North Sea.
In October 2019, I went to Ocean University in Qingdao, China. Ocean University has a reputation for research into marine economics. The purpose of going there was to know about their research activities, especially about their up-to-date research on marine resources. I went there and gathered a lot of information. The ocean is a major source of nutrition for China's vast population. In addition to nutrition, the blue economy is an important segment of their economy. They are moving forward in many ways to unravel the mystery of the sea resources. I had talks with many senior researchers and professors. Professor Zhou Hong, a lead researcher at the Benthos Lab under the Department of Marine Ecology, said not only marine fish but also seaweed is rich in nutrients. The demand for seaweed in China is increasing day by day. I came to learn about the great demand for seaweed by visiting a grocery shop in China. In a large part of the shop, there was a seaweed section, filled with different seaweed food products. I had to believe, Chinese were really too fond of seaweed.
Professor Chun Liu of the Department of Fisheries at the university was researching on the number of species of fish in the ocean. To determine from which part of the sea, fish can be netted and from where it cannot be, research on fish growth, mortality, density etc. He has already done a range of research about the sea fish. Basically, his another job is to assess the fish stock. I wanted to know about the current situation of marine fish in China. "If the Chinese economy had started in 1949, the first 40 years was a difficult time," he said. "At that time we had to lean more towards economic development. Gradually we realized that we need to come forward to protect the environment for the true sustainable development. So, to keep up the pace of economic development and also protecting the environment, we are now doing in-depth research of the ocean in search of nutritious food."
Professor Liu said there are two types of fish, farmed and fish from natural resources, supply in China to meet the demand. The demand for marine fish is very high. The government has enacted strict laws to protect sea fish species. Fishing in the seas of China is banned for four months from May to August every year. You must have a license to fish in the sea. Licensing is subject to certain rules and regulations. In response to a question on what steps they can take to address the issue of endangered marine life in many parts of the world, Professor Liu said the governments of the countries have a responsibility to work on this matter, together.
The Bay of Bengal accounts for 81 percent of the total area of our country. In the context of increasing the size of the sea, new possibilities have arisen with our blue economy. International researchers in the field of oceanography see this potential in our country as promising one. But the question is - have we been able to get closer to the proper survey, research and to protect our marine resources? Before the COVID-19 pandemic, I visited various fish landing stations in Cox's Bazar. As you know, the number of our marine fish species is decreasing day by day. As I had written on The Daily Star about the great prospect of 'Spirulina', an algae and kind of a seaweed, there can be lot to yield from this prospect. Saint Martin's island, the only coral island in Bangladesh, is home to naturally grown seaweed. According to available data, there are 215 species of seaweeds of 102 groups. But day by day, the seaweeds are becoming extinct due to heavy load of tourists and unawareness of the local inhabitants of the island.
The whole world is now talking about the protection of marine resources. Because the sea is gradually turning into waste and plastic mines. Scientists fear that by 2025, the figure could reach to such a dire level that one tonne of plastic waste will be found in the sea for every three tonnes of fish. Pollution has affected 700 species of aquatic life. Today, the sea is in disaster all over the world due to various man-made misdeeds including not following the proper rules of fishing. Some countries are very serious about protecting the inland and surrounding diversity of the sea. The Bay of Bengal is very important for the economic prosperity of our country as well as for the protection of biodiversity and environment. Our future will be in jeopardy if we are not sincere about calculating the resources of the sea and protecting those. The ocean will definitely be the next source of food and nutrition. In other words, the blue economy with immense potential will be the driving force of the future economy. The developed world is already aware of this. We also need extensive research on the marine economy. If the sea can be turned into a resource without harming the environment, we will go a long way in sustainable development.