Commodore Sujeet Samaddar, NM (Retd)

  1. The period 2020-30 has been designated as the decade of the oceans. The substantial reason is that mankind must undertake remedial action to preserve this natural bounty because, as the United Nations emphasises:-
  2. Oceans comprise 70% of the Earth’s surface, contain 97% of the Earth’s water, and represent 99% of the living space on the planet by volume.Oceans absorb about 30% of GHG emissions with shipping being the 5th largest emitter with a share of about 2.8%. Over three billion people  depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods. 200 million people alone derive their livelihood from fishing and associated activities. Globally, the market value of marine and coastal resources and industries is estimated at $3 trillion per year or about 5% of global GDP. Marine fisheries directly or indirectly employ over 200 million people. Around 680 million people live in low-lying coastal zones which may grow to a billion by 2050. Around 80%  of the international trade in goods, in volume,  is carried by sea. About 65% of the world’s ocean spaces and 95% of the earths habitat, by volume, comprise the areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ) which the UNLOS defines as “the Area”. The ABNJs host millions of species that have evolved to survive extreme heat, cold, salinity, pressure and darkness but are now challenged by human greed.
  3. The well-known core problems of the oceans relate to-
  4. Marine pollution, marine debris and microplastics from land based and sea based activities, noise and toxic spills from ships; Decarbonising shipping and reduction of GHG emissions; Unsustainable exploitation of fisheries and seagrass endangering the global food web. Two-thirds of fish stocks in ABNJ are being fished beyond sustainable limits; Unplanned mariculture, irresponsible marine tourism, growing population of windfarms, wanton port expansion etc. leading to creation of “ocean slums”; Disruption of the delicate maritime ecology from the emerging threat of needless and indiscriminate seabed mining. Deep-sea mining has the potential to destroy habitats and wipe out species in ABNJ; Ocean acidification from toxic wastes and acid rains. Climate change, with the ocean disproportionately affected by increasing amounts of carbon dioxide and heat content adding to the stressors mentioned above.
  5. Though various International institutions, frameworks and agreements exist to address and mitigate these issues, they work in silos and within their respective domains of expertise. International organizations such as the UN, EU, IORA, ASEAN, Arctic Council and various regional organizations have all come forward to provide prescriptions on the issues that arise from overexploitation and misuse of the ocean spaces. Apart from the legally constituted international authorities, there are academic councils, industry associations and non-governmental organisations contributing towards ocean health issues.
  6. More recently, the G20 has committed to protect or conserve 30% of the global ocean spaces and an agreement on the Areas beyond national jurisdiction has been concluded. A sectoral approach cannot address the multiple pressures on the ocean, and the different ways they interact. Regional approaches will not be sufficient either given the large-scale connectivity of the marine ecosystem through ocean currents, weather, migratory species, trans-oceanic shipping etc.
  7. On 19th December 2022, the 15th Conference of Parties on Biological Diversity, adopted the “Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework” (GBF). Hailed as ‘a historic package of measures deemed critical to addressing the dangerous loss of biodiversity and restoring natural ecosystems”, it set four goals and 23 targets for achievement by 2030. Target 2 requires states “[to] ensure that by 2030 at least 30 per cent of areas of degraded terrestrial, inland water, and coastal and marine ecosystems are under effective restoration”. Noting that less than 17% of the ocean spaces are presently under some elemental form of a Marine Protected Area, there is a substantial challenge in achieving the 30 by 30 target set by the GBF and earlier by the High Ambition Coalition (HAC). This is a humungous challenge. For India, the target is immensely daunting – only 0.17% of the EEZ has been ‘proetcted’ which leaves about 620,000 sq kms to be protected in7 years i.e by 2030. It is not clear whether this exercise has even commenced!
  8. India is a signatory to both these documents that truly capture the purpose of Vasudeva Kutambikam where the survival of each depends upon the sustainable actions by all.
  9. Also, Shri Narendra Modi, Hon’ble Prime Minister has emphasised the necessity of adopting a Blue Economy model for the comprehensive development of the maritime sector. Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) is the core foundation upon which the Blue Economy Model is developed. Therefore, more than ever before the world needs to have a MSP document that would leverage the potential of the Blue Economy on the one hand and simultaneously meet the COP 15 and HAC targets.
  10. The MSP transparently informs the user of what can be done and what is prohibited in a marine space and is the fundamental tool for evidence based decision making for ocean resource management, asset monetisation of ocean spaces, equitable governance, demarcation of MPAs and for the sustainable promotion of the Blue Economy industries. Using space-based assets, open source intelligence and artificial intelligence to determine suitability of ocean spaces for various economic and environmental purposes by identifying the most suitable location for each maritime activity or matter of concern is now feasible. Depending upon the use case appropriate intelligence can be pulled or pushed to the consumer. Such data may be coarse or of high resolution depending upon the requirements sought by the user.
  11. Now, more than ever, the G20 must leverage its expertise and its asset base to together provide stewardship to provide the overarching template for harmonising, integrating and coordinating the international resource base for scientific ocean governance and implementing maritime order in the ocean spaces. This would require accurate survey of the ocean areas to determine its best use for a variety of marine industries such as – sea based wind farms, offshore solar plants, recreation and marine sports, transportation, fishing, ocean energy, marinas, environment protected areas and floating or moored assets and thus identify suitable MPAs. A digital colour coded map of the ocean spaces for different projects and their monetisation opportunity through lease can be prepared and once the data is collected the entire ocean space under the jurisdiction of the state governments and union territories can be monetised using hard data driven information for determining fair lease values in open competition.
  12. The MSP can transform the global blue economy and create scores of new sustainable business and millions of high skill jobs, whilst ensuring down selected MPAs remain undisturbed. MSP is essential for the World to achieve the 30 by 30 Marine Protected Area and the Global Bio-diversity Framework targets in an organised and structured manner. MSP maps and characterises the ocean spaces and the land-sea interface to help make informed decisions, deconflict competing requirements by fusing distributed data from different silos into one composite picture. This becomes an excellent governance tool for sustainable, integrated, efficient and effective ocean management of competing and conflicting human activities.
  13. The G20 domain experts are best placed to ideate and fructify this concept to reality.

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