- Population growth, rapid industrialization, urbanization and an increase in production and consumption are major drivers to exploit oceans and freshwater
- It is estimated that 4.8-12.7 million tons of plastics enter the ocean every year, highly concentrated around Indian Ocean Rim Countries
- The impact of microplastics, a bigger threat, is an unexplored area that requires elaborate investigation
- With ESG in action, companies mitigate lawsuits, minimize footprint, and show greater governance
- Maritime Research Centre’s UDA framework with its research and industry arm would be grounding stone to decipher the vulnerability of organisms, its implication on the ecosystem and population
- MRC has designed a UDA framework to understand the exploitation spectrum of underwater
Our Blue Planet encompasses oceans covering 71% of Earth’s surface and 99% of living space by volume. It is indeed a gigantic source of biodiversity, resources, climate modulation and livelihoods. However, the ever-increasing appetite of growing population’s energy and mineral demands has exhausted the land resources, consequently shifting gears to use water bodies for economic benefits. Alas, water bodies are in dire crisis owing to aggressive anthropogenic factors such as industrialization, urbanization, population growth coupled with wide scale environmental changes. Water crisis seems to be daunting for the terrestrial ecosystem, political stability, and the future of the planet. Hence, it is essential to judiciously grab the opportunity of conserving our precious heritage before it is too late.
Road Blocks to Marine Ecosystem Sustainability:
Oceans as well as freshwater ecosystems are a storehouse of services such as regulation of climate change, waste treatment, groundwater recharge, nursery for species, pool of renewable and nonrenewable resources. On economic side, they offer food, minerals, pharmaceuticals, oil and gas, transportation, and livelihoods, while freshwater additionally is source of drinking water, irrigation, and hydropower. Unfortunately, human activities have taken a toll on oceans, a burning threat for current as well as successive generations. Therefore, it is utmost important to mitigate such pressures at the source. For which it is imperative to understand the set of challenges for aquatic ecosystems.
Few of major threats to aquatic sustainability have been enlisted as follows:
Fishing beyond nature replenishing stocks is termed as overfishing. Indian Ocean has been source of 13% wild caught fishes. Of which 26% were estimated to be caught unsustainabily. Illegal, unreported, and unregulated catches prevail to be a serious threat owing to weak governance and poor surveillance. With water pollution, it leads to further degradation of fish population, thus altering the food chain. But the damage is beyond marine species loss, as millions of people rely on fish industries for their livelihood. As a result, economies have suffered major losses of US$3 billion per year.
Overexploitation of resources:
Population growth, rapid industrialization, urbanization and an increase in production and consumption are major drivers to exploit oceans and freshwater. This has bolstered the blossoming of industries like deep sea mining, offshore oil and gas, shipping, seafood, and bioprospecting. Among which offshore oil and gas is largest stakeholder in Indian Ocean region. Specifically, such industries are detrimental to marine habitats owing to oil spills that choke aquatic species (microbes, megafauna, and vertebrates) to death besides drilling and decommissioning.
Moreover, agriculture accounts for 70% of freshwater withdrawals. With outdated irrigation practices and water hungry crops, a further layer of strain is added, while construction of dams takes a toll on freshwater ecosystems.
It is a defining issue in this country. The way we deal with it is going to shape the lives of current and succeeding generations. Global warming leads to elevated temperatures of aquatic ecosystems affecting: distribution pattern of marine species (sensitive to temperature) that migrate to favorable environments. Another disturbing effect is on food chain, with phytoplankton’s in underwater getting knocked off, survival of higher population dependent on them gets affected. Habitat destruction is yet another dramatic effect of climate pressures. Coral bleaching (whitening of coral reefs that results from the loss of coral’s symbiotic algae produced pigment) causes fishes dependent on reefs (food and shelter) to either migrate or die and coastlines vulnerable to erosion. In fact, it has a measurable impact on the timing, distribution, quality of water and precipitation patterns, with floods and runoffs contaminating water.
Plastics make up 10% of global solid waste. It is estimated that 4.8-12.7 million tons of plastics enter the ocean every year, highly concentrated around Indian Ocean Rim Countries. This could be attributed to improper waste management practices, excessive use of single use plastics and illegal dumping. Owing to the high risk of ingestion and entanglement, subsequent economies, especially fisheries, seems to be affected. Subsequently, impact of microplastics, a bigger threat, is an unexplored area that requires elaborate investigation.
Noises generated from abiotic sources such as: ship traffic, ballast fishing, military sonars, recreational and fishing motor boats, seismic air gun noises from oil and gas exploration sites are aggravating. Depending upon the duration, type and intensity of noise generated, marine life is affected at physiological and behavioral level. Consequently, permanent changes occur in coral reef invertebrates, predator -prey interaction, spatial distribution, resulting in reduced survival.
Moreover, the direct discharge of chemical pollutants without treatment from various industries is just the cherry on the top. Pesticide runoffs from agricultural lands, leads to eutrophication (oversupply of nutrients leads to algal overgrowth depleting oxygen) consequently leading to death of marine species and plants.
Degradation of ecosystem:
An array of interacting factors such as urbanization, population spurt, overexploitation of fisheries, climate change has been driving agents. Oceans being largest carbon sinks absorb 23% of Co2 emissions mitigating major temperature fluctuation, but severe Co2 emissions leads to ocean acidification resulting in increased dead zones. Nonetheless, coral reef bleaching, the result of temperature rise, affects the size of aquatic life dependent on them along with coasts left unshielded to suffer erosion.
Lastly, widespread invasion and introduction of exotic species such as poisonous algae, cholera through ballast waters compounds the strain in both freshwater as well as oceans.
Global stressors as listed above are sure to haunt us in future, if the necessary intervention is not done at appropriate time. Thus, Maritime Research Centre’s UDA framework with its research and industry arm would be grounding stone to decipher the vulnerability of organisms (how and why are they affected), its implication on the ecosystem and population. Further, technological innovations through the UDA framework would be actively prompted to mitigate their impact. Information generated shall assist decision makers to tackle stressors with a multi sectoral involvement collectively.
Role of ESG in Shaping Marine Reservoirs for Future:
Today, water is the critical limiting factor for many spheres of life such as environment stability, economic growth, biodiversity, and health. An increasing thrust of anthropogenic factors and climatic change is destabilizing marine ecosystems and economies. Besides, the World Economic Forum has declared the ocean to be a new economic frontier. But it is indispensable to decouple economic benefits from environmental damage to cultivate sustainable development in oceans.
Various companies like textiles, energy rely on water to meet their business and operation needs. However, inefficient water usage coupled with exponential population growth exacerbates the water crisis issue. Henceforth, it is essential for companies to understand environmental and social consequences of their operations and risks pertaining to water consumption and withdrawal.
To address this vital issue, the UN has entered the United Nations Decade of Sustainable Ocean Development with SDG 14 goal emphasizing on transformative ocean science solutions for sustainable development.
Nowadays, even companies are aligning to become more socially and sustainably responsible. Hence, there is a boom in sustainable investment and ESG term has gained grounds. But what is ESG and why do we care so much about it? ESG stands for environment, social and governance. These non-financial factors are used by investors to assess a company’s business sustainability. With ESG in action, companies mitigate lawsuits, minimize footprint, and show greater governance. Climate and water risks are amongst several parameters to measure ESG performance of companies. However, water risk measurement is undermined compared to carbon footprints as far as the company’s sustainability performance is concerned. Current reporting system includes water risk metrics, typically being quantitative indicators, that are of little utility for businesses and company investors to assess their future financial losses
Navigating Marine Sustainability:
To promote blue economy and sustainability of marine ecosystems, it is imperative to close gaps of weak governance, policy enforcements and scientific research along with multi sectoral collaboration across industries, environment regulators, research, and policymakers.
Matrices generated from research shall serve as building blocks for companies to measure and report sustainability of their operations with minimal environment, social damage, and financial losses. This in turn will aid environmental regulators, policy makers to efficiently make decisions for aquatic beneficiaries at national and global scale.
Aradhya Kapoor works in the Communications and Advocacy team of the Maritime Research Centre (MRC), Pune.