The Oceanic Economy popularly known as the blue economy has emerged as a crucial development issue for the optimum use of the oceans, seas, and marine resources for sustainable development. Among the sustainable development goals (SDGs), SDG-14 focuses on the sustainable use of the oceans, seas, and marine resources for sustainable development. Ocean assets provide food and energy which are essential ingredients of human life. By overlooking the three-fourth proportion of the surface of the earth, it is tough to achieve sustainable economic development by 2030. Given this, Bangladesh has adopted steps to ensure sustainable use of the oceans, seas, and marine resources attaining inclusive development and goal related to SDG-14.
A total of twenty-six marine economic functions including fishery, maritime trade and shipping, energy, tourism, coastal protection, maritime monitoring, and surveillance, etc. can be recognized as integral parts of the Blue Economy. The objective of the blue economy is to make the appropriate use of marine assets containing all economic exercises which are related to seas, ports, coastal zone, and other ocean-based exercises to entirely reduce environmental hazards and enhance human prosperity.
Blue Economy primarily targets establishing organic recycling processes to find out making various anthropogenic wastage re-useable innovatively. This economy helps to utilize marine assets not only nationally but also universally. In this way, Blue Economy contributes both deeply in the improvement of economic development and social welfare.
The blue economy is an emerging concept all over the world and Bangladesh is no exception. The blue economy of Bangladesh is subject to multiple interlinked activities. Bangladesh has a 710 km long coastline with an exclusive economic zone of 200 Nautical Miles of resourceful Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) inside the Bay of Bengal. Because of its large delta in the world, Bangladesh is enriched with an enormous range of marine biodiversity including fishes, shrimps, mollusks, crabs, mammals, and seaweeds, and the creation of employment opportunities. Blue Economy has also opened a new window of opportunities including commerce and trade, tourism, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, use of the deep-sea port, foreign trade, and so forth.
Marine fisheries contribute 19.40 percent of the total fish production of the country. Besides, on average, 81.0 percent of international tourists visit Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh. The ocean of Bangladesh is contributing a noteworthy role to its overall socio-economic growth by enhancing the economic activities across the country and especially in the coastal zone in the southern part.
But we have some challenges to the perspective of the Blue Economy such as frequent floods, marine pollution including Ocean acidification and blue carbon, lack of trained personnel, harmonizing sectoral policies, plans, and laws, poor ocean governance, and political support, etc. Some potential solutions need to be adopted by collaborating with different sectors for the development of the Blue Economy in Bangladesh.
A new economic area for Bangladesh is demarcated in the Bay of Bengal. Already, Bangladesh has taken steps to flourish its Blue Economy to utilize its new marine resources. Since 2015, the Government of Bangladesh has undertaken several consultations and workshops on Blue Economy. In addition, the Seventh-Five Year Plan of Bangladesh has mentioned twelve actions for maintaining a prosperous and sustainable Blue Economy, which include fisheries, renewable energy, human resources, transshipment, tourism, and climate change among others. Moreover, in 2017, the “Blue Economy Cell’ under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA), Government of Bangladesh has been established with the mandate to coordinate Blue Economy initiatives across sectoral ministries.
Shipping: Mostly Bangladesh’s external freight trade is seaborne (2018) which is 90.0 percent of the total freight trade of the country. Therefore, it appears that our economy may heavily depend on freight trade in the future. So, to retain the huge amount of freight charges within the country, incentives might be provided to local shipping companies to add more ships to the existing fleet. Besides, coastal shipping, seaports, passenger ferry services, inland waterway transport, shipbuilding, and ship recycling industries should get more important to carry on the sustainable economic growth of our country. The country’s ports are not located close to main international shipping lanes which is a constraint, however, serving as a hub within the Bay of Bengal (along with Kolkata or Chennai) could be an opportunity. Local shipping companies need to come forward to add more fleets including the expansion of fleet in terms of size and capacity to lift the economic the face of the country in a short time.
Fisheries and Aquaculture: In Bangladesh to harvest and exploit marine fish resources, which consist of multiple species, various fishing nets, and gear are used at different level water depths. It is estimated that Bangladesh catches only 0.70 million tons of fish every year out of the total 8.0 million tons of fish available in the Bay of Bengal. It is worthwhile to mention that 15.0 percent of the protein is provided from sea resources for people across the world. Bangladesh’s fisheries sector must move beyond traditional fishing practices to harvest large pelagic fish from deeper zones within 200 nautical miles of EEZ and even up to the high seas. The most essential and important task is to conduct a thorough survey to assess the stock of marine fish in the Bay of Bengal area to explore more new fishing ground(s). For harvesting large pelagic fish, the country should have to adopt appropriate deep-sea fishing technologies that are a long line and hook fishing and using supporting craft, gear, and vessels. Rehabilitation of the Hilsa fishery is another important task that must be addressed as a transboundary issue. Hilsa is a transboundary species of the Bay of Bengal, thus a joint effort between Bangladesh, India, and Myanmar might be effective to prevent the harvest of Hilsa juveniles and protect the mature broodstock during the spawning period. In respect of the indiscriminate harvesting of gravid mother shrimp, P. monodon, similar regulations can be adopted to avoid trawling at the depth of 10 – 40 meters of inshore marine waters. As many people depend on oceans for their livelihood and food, increased efforts are needed to save ocean resources.
Oil, Gas, and Minerals Mining: Bangladesh is yet to assess the true potential of its offshore gas prospects. Bangladesh could also have gas fields in its area of the sea. Bangladesh possesses some gas fields on the land and like Myanmar, Bangladesh may have the potential to get more gas fields in the sea which may add to the total reserve of gas of the country. Besides, oil and gas, sea salt, ocean renewable energy, blue energy (osmosis) and biomass, aggregates mining (sand, gravel, etc.), and marine genetic resource should get more attention as ocean resources. Several studies have found sands containing valuable heavy minerals intermittently over the 250 km of the coast from Patenga to Teknaf. If extractable, these minerals could contribute to a range of existing industries such as paper, glass, chemical, ceramic, and welding electrodes. Therefore, these plenties of potential may contribute to our sustainable economic development in the future.
Tourism: Globally, coastal tourism is the largest market segment and represents 5.0 percent of the world’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and contributes 6.0-7.0 percent of total employment. Bangladesh should process to enter the global ocean cruise map for opening a new era in the tourism industry. In 150 countries, it is one of the five top export earners. It is the main source of foreign exchange for one-half of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs). Coastal tourism includes (a) beach-based recreation and tourism; (b) tourist activities in proximity to the sea; and (c) nautical boating including yachting and marinas. Sustainable tourism can create new employment opportunities and reduce poverty. So, Bangladesh can earn foreign exchange from the tourism industry which may contribute to GDP growth as well as help achieve SDGs by 2030. It is reported that the country has 75 outer islands which could be utilized for tourists both local and foreign. Cruise tourism acts as another valuable travel proposition bringing the people of the world closer together through the connection of wishes and waterways.
Marine Biotechnology: Unlike other countries of the world, Bangladesh does not doubt that existing living resources particularly marine organisms can be used as a source of new materials/products, especially for application in human health care (antibiotics, anti-cancer, bioactive compounds, and other pharmaceutical drugs, nutritional supplements, etc.) and nutritionally balanced food (marine fish, shrimps, crabs, mollusks, seaweed, etc.).
Economic and Social Importance: Marine resources are playing an important role in the national economy and society by providing food and employment opportunities. Fisheries resources are important to the individual for food security, economic security, and empowerment, and to society for cultural services, recreational services, human health and well-being, knowledge transfer, and capacity building. The Sundarban mangrove forest in the southwest coastal zone offers diverse livelihood options to the local people and contributes to the national economy. Mangrove wood is resistant to rot and insects, making it extremely valuable. As seaweeds have medicinal and food values, they offer the potential for export as seafood to earn substantial foreign revenue. Mollusks species have medicinal values, for example, clams are supposed to be good for heart trouble. Tourism can provide direct jobs to the community that is tour guides and hotel housekeeping. Oil and gas sectors are also contributing to the national economy by creating job opportunities.
Future of Exploration: By exploring and exploiting these sea resources through the use of appropriate technology, the economy of Bangladesh can grow rapidly. Bangladesh gained a defined maritime zone in the Bay of Bengal after a long-time dispute settlement of the maritime boundary with India and Myanmar. Bangladesh may pay attention to advancing its Blue Economy to utilize its vast sea region with sea-based resources by ensuring a sustainable balance between the protection of the marine ecosystem and marine resources. Now, Bangladesh can create more spaces to ensure economic growth through fresh investments in marine trade and commerce.
Blue economic prospects in Bangladesh are notable but challenges and risks are also the pavement against blue economic development. The country has so far, explored only a few Blue Economy sectors such as fisheries and aquaculture, shipbuilding, ship breaking, salt generation, and port facilities. Besides, most of these sectors are following traditional methods. Therefore, there remain ample opportunities as well as challenges for exploring a large number of blue economy sectors, safeguarding mangrove and ocean grass, addressing environmental changes and managing carbon discharge, and introducing innovative technology for further development to contribute to achieving sustainable development goals. A successful blue economy can change the economic status (developing to developed) of developing countries like Bangladesh. It is now time for data, political will, and financial capital to be marshaled to bring Bangladesh on the blue path and form global and regional partnerships toward ocean governance and sustainable maritime growth. For the Blue Economy’s growth, the government should follow a future policy agenda that can focus on institutional cooperation, translating product science, a holistic approach to the Blue Economy, and empowering and educating young generations.