“No water, no life.
No blue, no green.”
-- Sylvia Earle, Oceanographer
When we talk about the environment, we often focus on trees, we don’t focus on water.
And so it makes sense when we talk about building a new economy that respects the boundaries of the natural world -- we are often talking about what’s on land while forgetting what’s in the ocean.
Oceans cover roughly 70% of the Earth’s surface and contain 97% of the planet’s water supply.
Many people around the world depend on oceans for their incomes and livelihoods, and what’s more, these massive water bodies also curtail the impacts of climate change by absorbing approximately 30% of carbon dioxide gases into the atmosphere.
Any plans for a more sustainable world are going to have to take oceans into greater consideration.
The “green economy” by now has become a popular concept around the world. As extractive industries continue to take a toll on the planet’s remaining resources, “going green” imagines a process of development that protects the environment while at the same time allowing a country like Bangladesh to expand its economy.
A green economy involves everything from switching to renewable energy, expanding green spaces, and sustainably using forest resources to rooftop gardening.
But what about the blue economy? Nobody is talking about that -- most people do not even know what that is.
In laymen’s terms, if the green economy is attempting to maximize profit while at the same time allow us to live sustainably on the planet, then a blue a economy is the same thing except that it deals with oceans and seas.
A blue economy involves everything from managing marine ecosystems and harnessing hydro-power from the sea, to governing fisheries so that they are both sustainable and economically productive, to promoting ocean-based tourism.
These activities are often forgotten in development because we don’t often stop to think and wonder what oceans might offer us. From above, oceans seem like a vast desert of blue.
Yet, oceans are not only essential to human survival, they also provide us with many economic opportunities from aquaculture to submarine-mining to subsistence-fishing.
Even one of the seventeen new Sustainable Development Goals is dedicated solely to oceans. Policy-makers and practitioners need to turn their attention to oceans -- this is true for countries all around the world including Bangladesh.
Bangladesh and the Blue Economy
How important is building a blue economy in Bangladesh? Very important, especially when you consider the country is located on the delta of the Ganges and Brahmhaputra rivers that flow directly into the Indian Ocean.
Fortunately, our government is already ahead of the game when it comes to incorporating the ocean and seas into our country’s planning processes.
The prime minister of Bangladesh gave a speech on blue economy in 2014, describing the many economic opportunities our coastal region has to offer.
And if you go to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ website, you will quickly find a webpage that describes in great detail how a blue economy could be incorporated into Bangladesh.
One example of sustainable ocean management in Bangladesh is the regulation of Hilsha fish (known as Ilish in Bengali). Although Hilsha is a culturally and historically significant fish to Bengalis, overfishing led to a decline in population, making Hilsha too expensive for most Bangladeshis to eat on a regular, or even occasional, basis.
The government declared a number of Hilsha sanctuaries for the uninterrupted natural growth of the fish. Since this regulation could hurt fishers who depend on Hilsha for their daily income, the government also provided rice and alternate livelihood options to these affected households.
While Hilsha are found all across the rivers of Bangladesh and not just the sea, they are still an example of what a blue economy would look like.
Bangladesh still has a lot to learn if it is going to incorporate the blue economy into its national planning. Good marine governance will be necessary, that much is certain, particularly with our neighboring countries whose coasts also border the Indian Ocean.
Bangladesh would also benefit greatly from technical assistance from richer nations, particularly in regards to harnessing hydropower.
We need to understand how to use the resources of our oceans and seas without destroying fragile marine ecosystems.
More research is needed on how to lessen the negative environmental impacts of seaborne trade.
Yet, overall, Bangladesh is in a good position, not only for green growth, but for protecting and utilising our oceans as well.
Every morning, before the sun is out, all along the coast of Bangladesh, thousands of fisherman row out to the Bay of Bengal in small fishing boats. By the first few hours of dawn, you can smell the fresh fish they have caught in the many fish markets Bangladeshis visit daily.
Water is, in many ways, the lifeblood of this country and the source of livelihood for many of its people. As we attempt to re-define what future development looks like in Bangladesh, it is important we do not forget the ocean and the seas.