‘Technology is future’, well we have heard this multiple times, but what we often ignore is – oceans are the future. After exploiting the land-based resources, the world is moving onto the oceans. If people are still wondering about China’s claim in the South China Sea and Norway’s recent expedition to mine in the Arctic, it is all clearly for the resources that oceans have to offer. 

Oceans with the value of 24 trillion US dollars would continue to offer their traditional resources like fisheries, transport, tourism, hydrocarbons as well as new non-traditional deep-sea mining, renewable energy, ocean biotechnology and many more. Blue Economy that recently received its due attention needs more detailed and sincere attention before we witness any climate catastrophe. 

European Union has already made an exemplary framework for sea exploration which includes tackling pollution as a major agenda. The World Bank Group has even added marine pollution as a major hindrance in the ocean based economy exploration stating that cleaning the ocean of the plastics and sewage is of utmost importance to avail the natural resources. 

Some Major Challenges

In the South Asian region, a lack of specific data on oceanic resources is a significant hindrance for the estimation of the economic and social value of ocean-based resources. 

The region has no published data for ocean sectors, the figures are often amalgamated in the agriculture sector like the government expenditure, the number of employment, contribution to GDP, environmental indicators, effluent emission etc. Such irregular unspecified data restricts the predictions of the results of the sea explorations. Statistical data is critical as evidence-based policies helps in policy-making. Many developed countries evaluate their marine-sector activities separately. 

A study in British Columbia evaluated all the benefits of ocean-based activities and estimated that the ocean-based economy is larger in the region. However, to benefit from this economy, there are certain challenges that can disrupt the economic values of oceanic resources. 

Environmental threats are an amalgamation of multiple obstacles and impediments since several challenges combine to impact the climate. A major challenge is a sustainable framework; if the sea explorations are not practised within the sustainable framework, it will create similar environmental challenges as the green revolution did. The table (below) shows the similarity between unsustainable practices of land-based and ocean-based activities.

Source: Author

The other dispute is not including the intangible resources like carbon sinking, nutrient recycling, sustaining fishery resources, protection from coastal erosion and assimilation of waste, etc. in market value, which is critical for further planning. The other significant challenges include marine resources being heavily exploited and disturbance by anthropogenic activities.

Climate change is a severe disturbance; El Niño was a major reason for declined fish stocks in South Asia. The increased maritime traffic could see chemical and oil spills threatening the ocean environment. 

Waste disposal management is difficult in the region and plastics that constitute a larger part of the marine litter eventually enter the food chain. 

Resource depletion is another challenge due to over-exploitation and population increase, which could disrupt the livelihood of a specific community. 

The sea-level rise needs our immediate attention as understanding the issue more locally, a report of Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts of Karnataka states that 28 per cent of their coasts have been eroded due to sea-level rise. In Andhra Pradesh coastal areas have seen a reduction of fish catch. 7.1 million people would be displaced due to an additional 1-meter rise in sea-level, which has been already predicted.

Lack of adequate technology is a serious challenge since a similar situation couldn’t provide satisfactory results during the green revolution. Thus, making available the researched techniques and suitable technology is essential for the required results. 

The most discussed hindrance- pollution and unsustainable environment. The polluted environment, improper sanitation can make the worst scenario to practice oceanic activities. Trillion dollars economy is at stake due to the dirty mess humans have created. 

Asia – a major polluter and a potential leader 

Southeast Asia is a major contributor to the plastic waste that is choking the world’s oceans. As per a 2017 report of Ocean Conservancy and the McKinsey Center for Business and Environment, more than half of the plastic waste in the ocean comes from just five Asian countries: China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand. 

90% of ocean plastic originated from only 10 rivers, eight of which are in Asia, as per the study conducted by scientists from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research. Asia has a great potential to join hands for a massive cleanup and sea exploration project through its innovations and technology. Private sectors should be designated with this important task as the use of technology to clean the mess would require private investments. 

There are many organizations who are leading in the field, like: The Ocean Cleanup – Backed with $30 million in funding their technology corrals floating plastic in these ocean currents with U-shaped screens, in which it’s trapped and shipped away to be recycled. They have estimated that they can clean up to 50 per cent of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in less than 5 years. 

Seabin Project – that installs floating rubbish bins at harbours, marinas, and other major hotspots, cleaning up garbage and oil floating in the water. An individual Seabin catches around 3.3 pounds (1.5 kilograms) per day, which is about a half a ton of debris a year. There are multiple other examples like 5 Greys Institute, Origin Materials, Sea Vax who are making efforts to protect the natural resources of the seas. 

Many countries in Asia like MalaysiaPhilippinesVietnam have already mapped out their ways to clean ocean which are mostly tax-based as to increase the tax on plastic products and promote their recycling. ASEAN members have joined hands to collectively take the responsibility and clean the mess, however, their plan lacks any concrete or new-era solutions. 

The world is tired of listening and reading diplomatic words like ‘Strengthening’ ‘Promoting’ ‘Enhancing’ and so on. While EU has developed an exemplary plan and getting the support of its member nations, Asia lacks such leadership and collective actions, however, if done so, it can change the figures from being top polluter to top recycler benefiting its nations’ economy.

(This post first appeared here in The Tilak Chronicle.)

Sugandh Priya Ojha

Sugandh Priya Ojha is the co-founder of a political consultancy startup. She is also an IR professional and a polyglot with interest and experience in Political Analysis, Culture, International Security and Climate Governance.


The views and opinions expressed in the above article belong to the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official opinion, policy or position of Lokmaanya.


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