Published:  03:46 AM, 16 January 2022 Last Update: 03:51 AM, 16 January 2022

Blue Economy Approaches in the Bay of Bengal

Dr A S M Masuduzzaman

Blue Economy Approaches in the Bay of Bengal

Dr A S M Masuduzzaman

The blue economy is new concept and it means "sustainable exploitation and utilization of marine resources" for the welfare of mankind. Large marine resources of Bangladesh remain unexplored- that might be utilized in a best possible ways.  The 'blue economy' offers many prospects via: utilization of marine resources, all renewable energy resources, sea ports, fishing and oil-gas-mineral resources etc. for growth and employment. Blue Economy is considered as new possibilities through tapping huge potentials of marine resources.

The Honorable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina emphasized to expend marine based economic activities and to utilize huge marine resources under "Blue Economy" approach. With the great success of the present government - maritime boundaries between the India-Bangladesh-Myanmar have been settled.  Now, Bangladesh has maritime areas within 200 nm and the continental shelf beyond 200 nm. These huge maritime boundaries open the greatest opportunities for explorations of gas and oils.

Primary survey in our maritime areas indicated that the off shore areas possess gas reserves. It is important for us to become serious about deep-sea gas exploration. The offshore blocks are being used for explorations of natural gas-oil by selected foreign companies. For the first time, Bangladesh is continuing digging exploration wells in shallow sea near the Myanmar maritime border. Recently, Bangladesh has discovered natural gas hydrate deposits in economic zone of the Bay of Bengal- it is equivalent to 17-103 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves.

Bangladesh has discovered huge natural gas hydrate deposits - this finding was shared by the Foreign Minister Dr A K Abdul Momen. Methane gas hydrate is stable at seafloor at water depths beneath about 500 m. Gas hydrate is a solid ice-like form of water that contains gas molecules in its cavities.  Hot water is pumped into deposits of hydrate through a well for releasing methane gas. Thus methane could be trapped in nearby reservoirs. We could explore the potential of gas hydrates in our 'Bay of Bengal' territories.

The valuable minerals such as copper, manganese, cobalt, and zinc deposits on seabed- could be mined using hydraulic pumps systems. National Exploration Company BAPEX could utilize - ship or mining platform with drills to extract minerals from ocean bed. Minerals such as zircon, garnet, and magnetite could be explored from beach sands.

The sands after separation are valuable in construction industries. The dredged materials and sand from sea beds are also valuable for re-use in land reclamation. There are large volumes of sand/sediment and char lands in our sea areas. A suction hopper type dredger suck sand/mud from bottom of river and could  be pumped using pipes on nearby land- over the time sand is deposited. Research is needed- how to use dredged materials/sands for constructing dike, dam and land reclamation in sea areas.

 'The sea port' has facilitated trade between various regions of the world. There are many advantages by constructing export oriented industrial parks near the sea ports. If the industry is near to the sea port - it reduces transportation costs. Modern salt processing mills, agro based food processing; agro and heavy machineries industries could be established in 'protected coastal industrial zones' by the local companies.

Chattogram and Mongla ports handles large number of ships, but are too shallow for heavy ships. We need to develop deep sea ports, especially Sonadia deep sea port near Cox's Bazar. Matarbari deep sea port has already been planned to build near Cox's Bazar. The railway, road and river transport from Dhaka to coastal ports could be improved for exploring benefits from deep sea ports based export and blue economy.

Recent years, export based ship-building industries have emerged involving 200 ship-building companies. All inland ships, offshore vessels and fishing trawlers are being built inside the country. There will be a huge demand for Bangladesh made cargo-ships in the competitive International market. The government could have a policy for long term loans in this sector. Further, ship re-cycling industry could be turned into a modern industry through constructing eco-friendly infrastructures.

Oceanography is the study of subjects related to the ocean; an example is the study- how waves are formed, could be useful for hydro-electricity generation. Basic research on diverse disciplines of oceanography is needed to understand "marine biology, chemical oceanography, marine geology and physical oceanography". 'Multi-dimensional surveys of marine resources, conservation of bio-diversity and protection of critical habitats' are priority sectors. Determination of marine pollution by assessing seasonal sea-water quality is also important.

Marine aquatic products other than fish for human consumption are - seaweed, algae, crab and other animals etc. Farm cultivation of aquatic plants and algae is still new, farming of aquatic animals in 3 sub-sectors farming: marine shellfish (mussels), marine finfish and freshwater (carp, eel) could be emphasized. Emphasis should be given to collect seaweeds as food, and to create protective belt for dolphin and other marine animals.  Dried sea weed biomass could be used in industries as fuel.

Marine biotechnology has potentialities to food, human health, feed and chemical industries- towards production of metabolites and primary compounds (sugars, proteins), as well for developing new antibiotics and for utilizing marine bacteria as drugs. Bio-technological tools include gene cloning, transformation and production of transgenic marine organisms. Bio-prospecting is a process that might be applied for searching new plant and animal species having unique properties- from which medicinal drugs and valuable compounds could be extracted.

Marine fisheries is a major source of domestic food, export oriented income and employment. The flow of capital investment is important for strengthening a "sustainable marine fisheries development". The traditional methods of fishing in deep seas should be replaced with advanced technology. Capacity building in Marine Fisheries sector must be emphasized. In coastal areas of Khulna region- scientific shrimp and fresh water fish culture could be expanded.

The discovery of new fishing grounds and expending both shallow and deep sea fishing by using sophisticated fishing boats and merchant ships are important. Introduction of modern technologies for fishing are needed.  The Meghna estuary at Chandpur is the largest estuarine ecosystem and support diverse fisheries communities. Research should be carried out to assess the fish diversity status.

The government could build a business friendly environment in the country for foreign investment in coastal belts for  establishing  food industries based on  sea-weeds and other marine  fishes/animals, as well for establishing pharmaceutical, manufacturing, garments, textile and IT software sectors etc. For joint venture foreign investment- the government could build at least 10 large exports oriented coastal industrial zones near Chattogram, Payra and Mongla ports, as well as near to Sonadia deep sea ports.

An integrated approach  could be settled for utilizing all the potentialities under 'Blue Economy'. Off shore oil-gas exploration, coastal industrial park, deep port construction based large investment could be ensured. Human resources development in respect with engineers, navigators, and merchant mariners etc are important. Maritime safety and security must be maintained due to increasing number of illegal activities at sea. 

The huge opportunities in the Bay of Bengal could be utilized by Bangladesh being connected with a corridor of China's Maritime Silk Road through the Indian Ocean. China invested for constructing 'Payra deep sea port' at Patuakhali under Chinese economic relations. China is also interested to finance in other maritime potential sector. We could utilize all the scopes efficiently.

An environmental friendly coastal agricultural policy could be built-up involving public and private stakeholders- emphasizing climate resilient high-yielding variety development, crop diversification, modern rice cultivation (BRRI dhan78) as well emphasizing export oriented quality agro-products. Marine fisheries policy of government should aim at sustainable management of fish stocks and expending export oriented processed and dry fish.

With dynamic leadership of Honorable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina - the government is advancing with development visions focusing on 'blue economy'. An export oriented development friendly environments could be built-up - emphasizing privatization and quality of products in respect with 'utilization of marine resources'. In the long term- Bangladesh's export sector will be booming up based on 'blue economy'; the country could be a middle-income country by 2030 and developed country by 2041.

Dr A S M Masuduzzaman is Chief Scientific Officer of Bangladesh Rice Research Institute, Gazipur.

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