Blue economy for Agenda 2030
Aligning economic development for sustainability of oceans

As the largest habitat and home to a unique biodiversity, the role of oceans as the world’s “temperature controller”, absorbing the sun’s heat and dispersing it across the globe through its ocean current is critical to combating climate change. Even minor changes in the sea would lead to cyclic impact on the temperature and weather conditions across the globe.Fragile marine ecosystems get affected with miniscule changes in temperature, water quality and salinity levels, endangering both flora and fauna. The ocean ecosystem is complex and delicate, requiring local, national and global responses and the emerging blue economy framework will be critical for the success of sustainable development of oceans.For a robust ocean economy, the necessity to preserve oceans.

With 2030 approaching, accelerating the implementation of SDGs is a necessary action and an urgent need. Goal 14- Life under water is a critical goal among the SDGs that needs urgent implementation mechanisms. It focuses on tackling the growing marine pollution and eutrophication in the ocean. The goal emphasizes on the need to preserve 10% of the affected marine protected areas and enhancing the management of Marine Protected Area (MPAs). The goal also focuses on the need for sustainable fishing practices, combating ocean acidification, safeguarding marine life and ocean biodiversity. SDG 14 targets have particular relevance for India’s growing marine economy and also to understand and analyse India’s position in the Global Maritime Governance Framework. India has actively engaged at the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) level and has been the initiator of the Blue Economy agenda for the Indian Ocean region.

Blue economy is considered as vital framework to address economic, social, environmental challenges and opportunities within one umbrella. Blue economy goes beyond the traditional forms of trade and geopolitical dynamic and also includes fisheries, tourism, deep sea mining, harnessing ocean energy, increasing biotechnology and technological innovations based on ocean research. The concept of blue economy encompasses myriad opportunities and challenges that the Ocean faces into one composite goal to be achieved through dialogue, global governance and international cooperation.

Global Fish production peaked at about 171 million tonnes in 2016 with 47 percent emanating from aquaculture. Capture fishery production has largely remained static since late 1980s. 85 per cent of global population involved in fisheries and aquaculture was in Asia and 75 per cent of global fishing vessels are from the region as well. According to FAO 2018, the percentage of stocks fished at biologically sustainable levels have increased from 10 per cent in 1974 to 33 percent in 2015- with most of the increase emanating in the 1970 and 1980s. Fisheries is also a major contributor to Food security, as global food fish consumption has grown from 9.0 kg in 1961 to 20.2 kg in 2015 (in per capita terms) with Asia emerging as the largest consumer in 2015. Combating illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing is critical to ensure sustainability of fishery stocks in the future and a necessary aspect from the Blue economy perspective. Ocean and coastal based tourism is also major contributor to coastal economies.

According to IUCN, from 2004, before the first International Marine protected Areas Congress (IMPAC) until August 2017, global marine protected area (MPA) coverage has increased 5-fold, from 1.1% to 6.3%. Currently, MPAs cover 15.9% of marine areas under national jurisdiction but only 0.25% of areas beyond national jurisdiction. By 2020, Global marine protected area target of 10% has to be achieved under Aichi Biodiversity Targets and countries are still to reach this milestone.

Studies indicate that around 80% of the plastic debris in the marine environment originates from land based sources, with minimal coming from abandonment of fishing nets, waste from shipping or other offshore activities. The other major forms of waste are sewage water and industrial effluents. Most of the pollutants are transported through rivers systems and waste water treatment works. The movement of waste and pollution from land to oceans also occurs due to extreme weather events like floods, hurricanes that shift debris to the high seas (Li et al, 2016). Large part of the marine debris includes plastic waste comprising mainly of single use plastics. The most commonly used plastics when they reach marine environment, break down to ultra violet light and low temperature and transform into microplastics. Microplastics are smaller than 5 millimeters in size and either made for special purposes such cosmetics or breakdown over a period of time. Both large and small organisms in the marine systems have been reported to have ingested these microplastics including Bivalves, zooplankton, mussels, fishes, shrimps, oysters, copepods, lugworms, and whales. These microplastics cause various health problems for marine organisms including pathological stress, reproductive complications, blocked enzyme production, reduced growth rate (Auta, 2017). External injuries such as blockages in breathing vessels, nostrils, ingestion and entanglement in plastic debris have also occurred especially with plastics that still haven’t broken down. According to Xanthos and Walker (2017), international policies have been existent for some time, however the issue is of lack implementation strategies.

The forthcoming decade from 2021-2030 has been marked as the decade of oceans with particular emphasis on enhancing science-policy interface to address sustainable development of the oceans. Many countries including India are focusing on advancing the blue economy agenda in the national, regional and global governance framework providing an opportunity to conserve, protect and manage oceans and accelerate sustainable development efforts within its purview. With sustainable development as one of its pillars, blue economy agenda could provide appropriate mechanisms and measures to conserve and protect oceans while enhancing economic growth of ocean based economies.

With just a decade left, there is much to be achieved under the SDG 14-Life under water. There is a need to enhance policy measures, strengthen implementation mechanisms and accelerate technology deployment to address major environmental challenges such as marine pollution, expansion and management of marine protected areas and to increase sustainable fishing. The goal also focuses on strengthening national, regional and global governance frameworks to manage oceans that move beyond national boundaries. With blue economy agenda being considered as the core of discussions on oceans development by many countries, aligning SDG 14 goals and targets to Blue economy would enhance the efforts for implementation of the goals in the coming decade. Some of the key issues or questions that are vital to achieving SDG 14- Life under water within the blue economy framework are-

  • How can blue economy framework help coastal and ocean based economies attain their SDG goals by 2030?
  • What is the role of Science, technology and innovation in Blue economy agenda and how could it facilitate the implementation of SDG 14?
  • How can countries achieve their biodiversity targets within the blue economy framework and what policy options should be explored to address sustainable fishing, marine pollution and marine protected areas.