Development of Blue Economy for National Growth
The development of the blue economy holds immense promise for the Indian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The Indian Ocean is the world’s preeminent seaway for trade and commerce. It is also endowed with a wealth of natural resources, which are, as yet, largely untapped. The development of the blue economy in the Indian Ocean region is expected to yield a number of benefits for India.
Surrounded by the Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean, India has a vast coastline and the Indian Exclusive Economic Zone is equivalent to about 67% of the land area of the country. Humankind currently knows about only 5% of the oceans in the world, and most of this knowledge pertains to shallow waters. Deep oceans still remain a mystery to humans, even though our reliance on oceanic ecosystems is very high; since water bodies play an important role in maintaining the weather and climatic conditions that sustain us. Deep waters also provide us with food and energy along with other economic resources. The resources which we currently use from these areas continue to remain in abundance for future generations, and information gathered from analysing blue economy and the underwater domain aim at better management in this regard.
The blue economy, as defined by the World Bank, is the sustainable utilisation of resources from water bodies resulting in economic growth, the health of fresh and marine water ecosystems, as well as improved jobs and livelihoods.
Indian Exclusive Economic Zone
Considering the strategic importance of oceans, the United Nations (UN) has allocated a total global Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of ≈137 million sq. km., including ≈12 million sq. km to France, 11.3 million sq. km, to the United States, 8.5 million sq. km. to Australia and 2.3 million sq. km. to India. With the blue economies of the United States, China and the European Union estimated to be worth ≈US$ 1.5 trillion, ≈US$ 0.1 trillion, and ≈US$ 0.5 trillion, respectively, it is expected that the blue economy could significantly contribute to India’s vision of becoming a US$ 10 trillion economy by 2030.
Exquisite Minerals and General Materials in Underwater Region
Development of the coastal and offshore mineral resources is essential for industrial and economic growth. The coastal placer minerals, such as ilmenite, magnetite, and zircon, are extensively available on the coasts of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Maharashtra, and near shore waters.
Deep blue mineral resources include seafloor polymetallic sulphides around the hydro-thermal vents, cobalt-rich crusts on the seamounts and the polymetallic manganese nodules on the abyssal plains. The polymetallic nodules comprise of manganese, nickel, copper, cobalt, molybdenum, rare earth metals, and traces of elements of commercial interest, including platinum and tellurium. Seafloor sulphides are rich in copper, gold, zinc, lead, barium, and silver. The cobalt-rich crusts contain manganese, iron and a wide array of trace metals including cobalt, copper, nickel, and platinum. About 247, 1.82, 10.47 and 9.5 million tons of manganese, cobalt, nickel and copper, respectively, are located in water depths ranging from 5000 m to 6000 m as polymetallic nodules in the Central Indian Ocean Basin (CIOB), hydrothermal sulphides in the southern Indian Ocean, and cobalt crusts in the Afanacy Nikitin seamount area.
About 26 sedimentary basins in India, covering about 3.14 million sq. km., host 28 billion tons of conventional hydrocarbons. About 67% of these resources are located offshore. The Mumbai High Field hosts about 9.2 BT, the 1.3 million sq. km. sedimentary basin along the east and west coasts of India, from 400 m water depth up to the EEZ, hosts about 7 BT, while the rest of the resources are concentrated in the Krishna-Godavari (KG), Cauvery and Kerala-Konkan basins. Hydrocarbon production in the KG basin accounts for ≈40% of India’s in-house production. In order to foster natural gas production from deep waters, wells have been established in the KG basin at 2,483 meter water depths. For effective exploitation of the ultra-deep waters, the Indian government plans to invest about US$10 billion in deep water projects in the KG basin. About 1,684 TCM (Thousand Cubic Metres) of methane gas has been identified to be sequestrated as gas hydrates in the continental settings of 100-300 m below the sea floor at water depths ranging between 800-3000 m.
So far, there have been several cases of exotic deep sea biodiversity washing up dead on shores, bringing with them a slew of plastic waste. However, the exact extent to which such waste affects the oceans is not yet known. While attempts are being made by governments world over to stop such littering, focused research can put into perspective the harmful effects current practices have on marine ecosystems, and help to usher in a change in human habits. We’re only beginning to scratch the surface of what’s down there in the seabed area. The loss of biodiversity due to blue economy activities will be inevitable and permanent on a human scale, as nodules take millions of years to form. It is looking increasingly likely that deep-sea exploration and extraction will play a role in the move to a net-zero future, and how it is regulated and defined will be crucial.
India's Population Growth and Use of Islands as Smart Cities
India has about 1,208 individual islands which makes the Smart City Scheme an ambitious economic development programme that will be aimed at consolidating the international business and financial HUB by creating ideal conditions for working, living and spurring investment through the development of smart cities. The Blue Economy concept can be used as a tool to implement Smart City development in big islands, mine hubs in small islands and nano hubs in tiny islands for the economic growth of the nation. It has the potential to provide technology-driven facilities to the business community and create a vibrant city lifestyle.
Tourism brings substantial economic benefits to a nation. The islands in India are among the most exotic and beautiful in the world. Blessed with the whitest sandy beaches, crystal clear turquoise lagoons, spectacular underwater gardens, hundreds of breathtaking dive sites, natural atolls, and marine flora and fauna, they provide excellent tourism potential.
The tourism sector in India is expected to undergo a shift in focus with the Union Government intending to promote a few islands as global tourism spots. Taking the concept of blue economy to the islands is a relatively new avenue and marks a new era in development. The Central Government will lease out uninhabited islands to states for 20 to 35 years exclusively for the development of land-based infrastructure for smart city development and other economic activities such as the development of the shipping and mining industry.
Role of Underwater Development in National Growth
Optimum and efficient utilization of water resources is at the core of the blue economy. The rising importance of the blue economy in global activities represents a great opportunity for innovation, be it in coastal management, navigation assistance or biodiversity protection. The blue economy represents an opportunity to boost the local economy and create jobs in knowledge intensive economic sectors. It is imperative to create new services to better tackle the challenges faced by coastal regions and inland water bodies to unleash business opportunities and boost the local economy. Both local and regional authorities should therefore not hesitate in investing further into the adoption of innovative technologies. It is essential to promote and enhance collaboration between the various actors of the value-chain to develop strong and vibrant local economies.
The ocean is the last frontier for economic development in the world. The blue economy revenue of India is projected to be US$ 1 trillion every financial year for the next ten years. With their enormous resources, oceans will help to transform the economy from scarcity to abundance. With the extended Exclusive Economic Zone, India’s ocean jurisdiction equals the land area. An integrated approach with long term vision, technology, management, monitoring, and time-bound regulatory reforms are essential for building a sustained blue economy for India. It is beyond doubt that the upcoming blue economy will serve as a growth catalyst for the robust Indian economy envisioned to reach US$ 10 trillion by 2030.
Dr. P Sekhar
Chairman, Unleashing India, Global Smart City Panel, MTGF