Needed: A sustainable blue economy

- Shoko Noda, Resident Representative, UNDP India

May 16, 2023
UNDP India


I was recently in the Rushikulya beach, Bay of Bengal, Odisha, to witness the hatching of Olive Ridley sea turtles. A wonder of nature, millions of baby turtles hatch from their eggs in a matter of days, and, driven by the earth’s geomagnetic field, instinctively start crawling towards the sea.

Looking at this marvellous sight, I could not help but wonder how critical the ocean is to our own lives. Covering more than 70 per cent of the earth’s surface, it contains 97 per cent of the planet’s water, providing us food, regulating the climate, and generating most of the oxygen we breathe.

Its resources support the global economy through fisheries, aquaculture, tourism, energy, and transport. While we may not be living in the ocean, we are definitely living off it!

Blue economy refers to the use of these coastal and marine resources for economic growth and livelihoods. The United Nations estimates the blue economy generates between $3 trillion and $6 trillion globally every year, while sectors like fisheries and aquaculture support about 260 million jobs.

Today, the ocean faces a dual crisis. As the world’s population continues to grow and put pressure on natural resources, pollution, climate change, and global warming are threatening the health of these ecosystems. It is estimated if the current trend continues, there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050, an unimaginable scenario.

Conservation and restoration of marine resources and ecosystems is fundamental to development, and we need a sustainable blue economy to make this happen.

With over 7,500 kilometres of coastline, India is the second-largest fish-producing nation in the world. The coastal economy sustains over 4 million fisherfolk, and industries like shipping and shipbuilding generate significant economic output as well as livelihoods.

The government has identified the blue economy as one of its key growth drivers. The Draft National Policy for India’s Blue Economy-2021 aims to enhance its contribution to GDP, improve the lives of coastal communities, and preserve marine biodiversity.

Schemes such as the Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana on sustainable fisheries, the Maritime India Vision 2030 for coastal infrastructure, and the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notification for sustainable management of coastal areas highlight how the country is building a blue economy in an environmentally conscious manner.

As we chart the way forward through such initiatives, it is equally important to ensure the resilience of communities who live along the coast and are severely affected by the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. Through improved livelihoods, disaster preparedness and biodiversity conservation, we can ensure that they are able to thrive despite the challenges posed by climate change.

This is especially important from a gender perspective. Around 40 per cent of those employed or dependent on small-scale fisheries are women. Yet it remains a traditionally male-dominated sector where women’s work often lacks formal recognition, and they are vastly under-represented in policy and decision-making.

To ensure gender equality, we need to bring women into the formal workforce, and make them financially independent through better livelihood opportunities, including those in non-traditional areas, like shipping, for instance. The blue economy can be sustainable only if it is inclusive.

Towards these objectives, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is supporting governments and communities in 12 coastal districts in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Odisha. Scientific methods are being employed for restoring mangroves and coral reefs to protect against disasters and revive ecosystems. Livelihood opportunities in areas like aquaculture and tourism are being created, with a focus on women.

While these measures are strengthening national-level efforts, we must be mindful that more than 60 per cent of the ocean is “High Seas”, areas that are beyond national jurisdiction and fall outside countries’ exclusive economic zones (EEZs). Therefore, regional and global cooperation is important to develop and implement strategies to protect and enhance marine ecosystems and balance competing priorities.

With its G-20 presidency, India has stepped up to take global leadership on the blue economy. All G-20 member countries are coastal states, together accounting for 45 per cent of the world’s coastline and 21 per cent of EEZs. This makes the forum the leading platform to mainstream the blue economy into the global climate and development narrative.

The blue economy is extremely important for the global south. A significant percentage of vulnerable ocean-dependent communities reside in these countries. Yet it is also the next big economic frontier, with rapidly growing numerous ocean-based industries.

While bringing the interests of the global south to the fore, India can accelerate adopting global principles on the blue economy, facilitating dialogues and discussions to strengthen narratives, meanings, ideas, and best practices.

On a diving trip in the clear blue waters of the Indian Ocean, I was astonished at the sheer variety of life in the ocean. We may live on land, but our existence here depends upon the biodiversity of the underwater world. Protecting and restoring coastal and marine ecosystems is vital in our fight against climate change. As world leaders and experts gather in Mumbai for the Ocean 20 dialogue, building a consensus towards a sustainable and inclusive blue economy is our best bet to achieve this.


Original Op-ed in Business Standard