March 19, 2019

Solving Key Ocean Challenges Facing the Indian Ocean Rim Countries

Charting the course for ocean sustainability in the Indian Ocean Rim is a whitepaper published by The Economist Intelligence Unit (The EIU) highlighting the key ocean challenges facing the Indian Ocean Rim countries and showcases initiatives undertaken by governments and the private sector in the region to address these challenges. Sponsored by Environment Agency Abu Dhabi and the Department of Economic Development Abu Dhabi, the paper "explores how ocean sustainability can be achieved through the lens of developing nations, taking into consideration the challenges of a low-income population as well as an environmental regulatory framework that has yet to mature."

The EIU's "investigation delves into five key ocean issues in the region—degradation of marine ecosystems, plastics pollution, unsustainable fishing, extraction of non-renewable marine resources and rising salinity from desalination—and highlights key steps that governments and companies in the Indian Ocean Rim need to take on the path to ocean prosperity."

The paper, which is available in English as one document and Arabic in separate chapters (introductory chapter, chapter 1, chapter 2, chapter 3, chapter 4, chapter 5, and final chapter), presents the following key findings:

"The Indian Ocean is vital to the global conversation on ocean sustainability but is currently an afterthought among global ocean experts compared with other regions. The Indian Ocean, as the third-largest ocean, houses 30% of the world’s coral reefs, has 40,000 sq km of mangroves, some of the world’s largest estuaries, and nine large marine ecosystems (LMEs). Approximately 13% of the world’s wild-caught fish is from the Indian Ocean. It plays a central role in international trade, carrying 40% of the world’s containerized cargo and 80% of the world’s oil shipments. Mapping the way for the sustainable use of these resources is crucial, particularly for coastal communities dependent on marine resources.

"Governments and organisations recognize that land-based initiatives can address ocean issues. Brine from desalination plants, often discharged into the ocean, is being diverted into aquaculture and agriculture in the UAE and being used for salt production in Somaliland; a waste-insurance clinic in Indonesia is offering healthcare in exchange for garbage that often ends up in the ocean. Ocean sustainability initiatives therefore need to involve a wide range of stakeholders, factoring in wider climate change considerations too.

"Advanced technologies are proving useful in tackling ocean issues. Illegal fishing is being dramatically reduced across Indonesia with opensource satellite data and GPS technology significantly lowered the cost of mapping mangrove forests across Sri Lanka. Information technology also facilitates public engagement: in Zanzibar, Tanzania, dive operators are helping to record coral bleaching events through an online portal; In Kenya, social media galvanized political will for the ban on plastic bags. Understanding emerging technologies and how these can be leveraged can go a long way in accelerating efforts towards ocean sustainability.

"Ocean challenges can be reframed as commercial opportunities for the blue economy. In a southern state in India, plastics in the ocean are being collected and repurposed to build roads; in the Seychelles, a focus on ocean sustainability is creating new opportunities to raise finance for economic development; and in Thailand, seagrass conservation is strengthening conch production in some villages. Thus, ignoring pressing ocean issues such as plastic pollution and unsustainable fishing not only increases the risks to the environment and people, but also means that opportunities for economic diversification and sustained, inclusive growth may be overlooked. This mindset shift is imperative to further engaging the private sector in this space.

"A strong return on sustainable projects is imperative for institutional investors, despite a growing interest in impact investing. To make it worthwhile for institutional investors, projects need to encompass three key characteristics—scalability, leverage and security-—and have an economic model that provides a return on investment and a real sustainability benefit. Within sustainable finance, although ocean projects will have unique considerations, experts we interviewed conclude that blue finance does not need to be treated differently from the "green finance" market.

"Strong political will is the engine for blue economic growth. Setting assertive targets and policies captures the imagination, provides a clear checklist for countries and partners to get behind and creates an enabling environment for the blue economy. Government sources of finance have been the first port of call for sustainable ocean projects too; gaining traction on this front not only requires participation from environment ministries but also the buy-in of finance ministries. Case studies from the Seychelles, Kenya, India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, among others, showcase examples within the Indian Ocean where this leadership is shining through. Beyond national priorities, governments have an important role to play in regional and global coordination, without which the blue economy will not achieve its full potential."

The paper importantly notes: "The Indian Ocean is a vast body of water enclosed on three sides. This not only makes it a compelling scientific study, but an economic one too, given the characteristics of the countries that surround it." As reflected in the image below, "These countries are home to 2.5bn people, the majority of whom fall into the low-income bracket, and many of these countries are poised for rapid economic growth. The ocean industry is an important contributor, and the sustainable use of this resource is crucial."

In its conclusion, the paper says "[t]he global blue economy is set to grow faster than the general economy, possibly doubling by 2030. Yet it is a time-limited opportunity. Without coordinated action it will not achieve its full potential: natural capital will be lost at the expense of future populations and, without future-proofing. ... This paper invites the Indian Ocean Rim countries to grasp the opportunities, scale innovations and approaches already present within the region, and take strategic action against future threats."

What solutions do you propose to solve the key ocean challenges facing the Indian Ocean Rim countries?

Aaron Rose is a board member, corporate advisor, and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of Solutions for a Sustainable World.

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