Indian blue economy is thriving but country needs to be careful about marine litter

Abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear is a serious threat worldwide

By Ashish Kumar Chauhan
Published: Monday 20 February 2023
Photo: iStock

India has been leading the blue economy discourse at the highest level with its geographic and geostrategic position, putting greater focus on the Indian Ocean region. It is the world’s third largest water body, covering 70 million square kilometers with rich mineral resources and connectivity with global cities.

India has a vast coastline stretched over 7,517 kilometres and 1,382 offshore islands that bring generous resources and opportunities. Most coastal regions of India are densely populated and low-lying, with around 250 million people active within a 50-kilometre range of coast. 

There are 486 census towns along the Indian coast, according to the Census data of 2011. Of them, 36 are classified as Class I towns that have a population of more than 100,000 persons. Twelve major ports and 239 non-major ports are located along the Indian coast. More than 100,000 ships are estimated to transit close to Indian coastal shores per year.

Blue economy

Blue economy refers to a wide range of economic activities pertaining to the sustainable development of resources and possessions in the oceans, connecting rivers, water bodies and coastal regions and with a focus on equity, inclusion, innovation and modern technology.

India envisions a blue economy will contribute to food security, poverty alleviation, the mitigation of and resilience to the impacts of climate change, enhance trade and investment, enhance maritime connectivity, boost diversification, job creation and socio-economic growth. 

This sector has grown despite the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and has recorded exports worth $7.2 billion from April 2021-February 2022.

The Indian coastal economy sustains over four million fishermen and coastal towns. India is the second-largest fish producing nation in the world with a fleet of 250,000 fishing boats. In India, shipbuilding and shipping are also important aspects of the blue economy. The archetypal of coastal shipping has the potential to increase to 33 per cent by 2035 from 6 per cent at present. 

Blue revolution

The blue economy of the Indian Ocean has become a corridor of the Global Economy as India is strategically located between two important plug points called Strait of Hormuz and Strait of Malacca, through which most of trade in commercial shipping moves in the Indian Ocean. 

With the focus on promoting the blue economy, port-led development plans, growth in coastal shipping, trade protocol routes, cruise tourism and the ‘Sagarmala Project’ for port-led development, oceanic traffic is expected to increase further. 

The Government of India launched the Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana (PMMSY) in May 2020 with a budgetary outlay of Rs 20,050 crore to bring a ‘blue revolution’ through sustainable and responsible development of the fisheries sector of the country. 

In the Union Budget 2023-24, Rs 6,000 crore was allocated to launch a sub-scheme under PMMSY to further enable activities of fishermen, according to Nirmala Sitharaman, Union Minister of Finance.

Threat of marine debris

Abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear (ALDFG) is a serious threat worldwide due inadequate data availability. Due to fishing or fishing accidents and bad weather, a huge amount of fishing net and gears are lost and remain in the ocean as waste (ghost net). Throughout their lifetimes, they keep killing marine species. 

About 20 per cent of all the plastic debris in the oceans is present in the form of ALDFG, according to the United Nation Environment Programme.

Globally, about 640,000 tonnes of ghost gears are disposed of in the oceans annually. India has 174,000 units of fishing gear in operation, of which 154,008 units are gillnets / driftnets, 7,285 units are traps and the rest are fishing lines. Of these, India loses 15,276 tonnes of gillnets annually, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

To safeguard life below water and above sea from adverse impact of marine litter, the Union Ministry of Earth and Sciences launched a coastal clean-up drive under the “Swachh Sagar Surakshit Sagar” campaign in 2022.

India participates actively in the International Coastal Clean-up Day annually and conducts public awareness programmes with the help of local bodies located near coastlines.

Further, India is already on the way to formulate the “National Marine Litter Policy”. It is also engaged in blue beach development for tourism preferring clean blue beaches with ‘zero waste’ approaches.

Extensive research and expeditions are being conducted by the National Centre for Coastal Research (NCCR) of the Union Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) and National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management (NCSCM) of the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) as well as the National Institute of Oceanography to reduce marine litter; manage coastlines; reduce coast erosion; manage high tide-low tide, wind, storm, cyclone, tsunami; forecasting accurate weather; planning fishing activity zones; reducing vessel traffic-generated pollution; mapping minerals and biodiversity with the object of sustainable growth of the blue economy of India.

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