The blue economy presents a remarkable opportunity for India, with the potential to generate millions of jobs and billions of dollars in revenue. Spanning diverse sectors such as fisheries, aquaculture, tourism, shipping, and offshore energy, it leverages India’s extensive coastline of nearly 7.5 thousand kilometers, including 1,382 islands. To capitalize on this potential, India recognizes the need for a sustainable approach that balances economic progress with environmental stewardship.
The Importance of the Blue Economy
The blue economy has already emerged as a significant contributor to India’s GDP, with the National Institute of Oceanography estimating its contribution to be around 4% in 2021. Looking ahead, the sector is projected to grow at an annual rate of 6% to 8%, reaching a substantial contribution of $200 billion by 2030.
It is expected to be a major driver of economic growth and development in India on its path to becoming a developed nation by 2047 with increasing demand for seafood globally, advancements in technology, and the expansion of international trade. These factors, combined with India’s favorable maritime position, make it imperative to harness the potential of the blue economy while ensuring its long-term sustainability.
Understanding the Underwater Domain
Given the sector’s vast potential, the government is committed to positioning India a global leader. One of the major steps in that direction is the National Policy on Blue Economy. The draft policy release for public consultation in 2022, and to be released in the next few months. This policy will provide a framework for the sustainable development of India’s maritime resources.
However, it is important to note that most of our oceanic resources lie under the surface of the ocean making understanding of the underwater domain critical is enabling the sustainable growth of the blue economy.
By deepening our understanding of what lies beneath the surface of the ocean, we can pave the way for a thriving blue economy that strikes a delicate balance between economic progress and environmental stewardship by identifying opportunities for fisheries, mineral extraction, renewable energy, and more, thereby optimizing India’s blue economy for maximum benefit.
Enabling Underwater Domain Awareness
At the heart of constructing a sustainable blue economy lies the Underwater Domain Awareness (UDA) framework. Serving as the foundation for digital transformation, the UDA framework enables crucial initiatives like (MSP). MSP involves analyzing and allocating the spatial and temporal distribution of human activities in marine areas to achieve sustainability. It serves as a governance tool to effectively manage and balance competing uses of marine resources, supporting the sustainable growth of the blue economy. By implementing the UDA framework, India can optimize its national resources, promote coherence among stakeholders, and drive collective efforts in research, strategic security, disaster management, environmental sustainability, and technological advancements.
Building Indigenous Technological Capacities
To truly harness the potential of the blue economy, India must develop its own technology optimized for use in tropical waters. Currently, much of the technology used in this domain is designed for temperate and polar water environments, leading to inaccuracies in data collection and premature wear and tear. Developing indigenous technology will not only improve accuracy but also ensure durability and longevity in India’s unique marine environment.
This endeavor requires significant collective effort, surpassing the capabilities of any single stakeholder. Collaboration across the ecosystem, including science and research institutions, corporations, national security agencies, and environmental conservationists, is essential to foster local site-specific research and development, leading to the building of indigenous capabilities.
To overcome this hurdle, concerted efforts are needed from various stakeholders. Pooling resources and synergizing efforts at the national and regional levels can optimize the utilization of available resources, both human and financial, and drive the development of indigenous capabilities tailored to the Indian Ocean Region’s tropical waters.
Building Human Capital
Another challenge is that India currently lacks the specialized expertise, talent, and capacity in acoustics required to comprehensively capitalize on the blue economy. A significant national capacity & capability building initiative is required to ensure the true realization of India’s blue economy.
Setting up a skill council focused on building out these capacities would not just bring focus on skilling not just in India, but could also be used as a diplomatic tool to reach out to the neighbors in the Indian Ocean Region and other countries in the Indo-Pacific region.
Ensuring Environmental Sustainability
The marine environment already faces mounting pressure from pollution, overfishing, and climate change. Without sustainable practices, the growth of the blue economy could exacerbate these challenges, leading to adverse consequences. These consequences include worsening effects of climate change, increased instances of natural disasters, and the loss of biodiversity. By adopting the UDA framework, India can mitigate these risks and steer the blue economy towards a sustainable path.With enhanced domain awareness, policymakers and stakeholders can make informed decisions, implementing measures that protect marine ecosystems, conserve biodiversity, and address climate change impacts. As India continues to develop its blue economy, the importance of understanding the underwater domain will only grow.
As India strides towards its vision of a developed nation, the blue economy presents an exceptional opportunity for sustainable economic growth. Understanding the underwater domain will be a key determinant of success in realizing this vision. The UDA framework, with its focus on digital transformation and initiatives like Marine Spatial Planning, serves as a critical tool for ensuring the long-term viability, resilience, and sustainability of India’s blue economy. By embracing this framework, India can position itself as a global leader in the blue economy while safeguarding the marine environment for future generations.
Dr (Cdr) Arnab Das is Founder & Director, Maritime Research Center (MRC), Pune.