The ‘Blue Economy’ Approach

By Cassendra Doole and Kavindya Chris Thomas

The ocean covers two-thirds of the Earth's surface area. Over three billion individuals depend on marine and coastal systems for their livelihood, both directly and indirectly.

Important maritime activities such as fishing, transportation, tourism, offshore mining, and energy generation play a significant role in the national economies of many countries, including Sri Lanka. The expansion of marine economic activities can be considered as one of the frontiers of globalization, especially in a country like ours. However, despite the fact that over 50% of the population reside in the coastal area, our country has mostly veered towards the Green Economy concept, rather than maximizing on the readily available Blue Economy.

The Ministry of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (MFAR) has proposed to look into the concept of a 'Blue Economy' with the long term goals of alleviating poverty and hunger, generating sustainable livelihoods, and minimizing climatic hazards.

Definition of Blue Economy

The concept of 'Blue Economy' is being widely used to refer to human activities based on oceans, taking them as one entity. Some international agencies have come forward with interpretations that are aimed at introducing a balanced view on the concept, emphasizing on its economic, social, and environmental dimensions. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has defined a Blue Economy as a marine-based economy that provides social and economic benefits for current and future generations, while restoring, protecting, and maintaining the diversity, productivity, resilience, core functions, and intrinsic value of marine ecosystems being based on clean technologies, renewable energy, and circular material flows keeping within the limits of one planet. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) promoted the idea that a Blue Economy is a marine and coastal analogue to the Green Economy (GE); in essence, it implies that a Blue Economy applies the concepts of Green Economy to the unique and irreplaceable role of marine and coastal ecosystems. The legitimacy of the concept was further enhanced due to the adaption of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by world leaders in the UN General Assembly in 2015. SDG Number 14, 'Life below Water,' is aimed at enhancing conservation and sustainable use of ocean-based resources, through wise management of resources and protection of marine and coastal ecosystems from pollution, including the impact of ocean acidification. It is this concept of sustainable development that the ministry has adapted.

Adviser to the State Minister of the Ministry of Fisheries, Ayesh Ranawake speaking to Ceylon Today said "The Blue Economy concept embraces Sri Lanka's 530,684 square kilometres of territorial waters and its vivid natural resources for sustainable economic development. Our island consists of nearly a 1785 kilometre long coastline comprising of a vast area of marine habitat including sandy beaches, extensive lagoons, mangroves, and coastal marshes abundant with resources." He added "As an island nation, it is time that Sri Lanka, like many other countries, too adapts the Blue Economy concept alongside the Green Economy concept that is already in place to achieve sustainable economic development."

Project Blue – The Way Forward

The core objective of Project Blue is to investigate the variety of marine resources that can be used in the sustainable development of the country. Furthermore, Project Blue will be focusing on the development and recreation of three major aspects – The Delft Island, Hummanaya Marina, and the Tangalle Fishery Harbour.

The Delft Island

In the North, is an island popularly known as Delft (named by the Dutch), known by the Portuguese as Ilha das Vacas, and by the locals as Neduntheevu. Delft, famous for its wild ponies, baobab trees, coral fences, and historical ruins, is home to a population of about 4,500. Of this, about 1,200 people are fishermen. Delft Island is the largest island owned by Sri Lanka with an area of 50 km2 which is strategically located between South India and the North of Sri Lanka with high levels of socio-cultural bonds. It is an island of centrically topographical modus. The first Blue City in Sri Lanka will be built here. In addition, the proposed multipurpose harbour complex at Delft will also contribute to the enhancement of the fisheries industry in the North. Furthermore, this project will focus on and enhance marine tourism as well as the fisheries industry. Adviser to the State Minister of the Ministry of Fisheries, Ayesh Ranawake said: "The multipurpose fishery harbour complex will consist of facilities for fishery, tourism, and commercial trading. The present fishery harbours in Sri Lanka are running at a loss and this is the only reason for us to propose a multipurpose fishery harbour complex which will be economically viable."

Hummanaya Marina

Under Project Blue, a resort harbour complex will be built in the Hummanaya Marina. The reason the Hummanaya Marina has been selected for this is because most ships travelling from the Red Sea to the Malacca Sea will be travelling through the Kudawella and Tangalle harbours. According to Ranawake, by building berthing facilities for these yachts and ships, Sri Lanka's Marine Tourism Industry too will flourish. "Through this, we will also be developing the Kudawella area, building underwater sea aquariums, cable cars, recreational water sports, and much more," he added.

Tangalle Fishery Harbour

The Tangalle Fishery Harbour will also be developed as a multipurpose fishery harbour to be a significant economic hub under Project Blue. This will uplift tourism and generate foreign exchange for Sri Lanka," Ranawake said, adding "A tourism plan related to Yala Safari, whale watching, underwater safari, sea turtle watching and boutique hotels under a specific Master Plan will also be a part of this project."

The Tangalle Fishery Harbour was completely destroyed by the Tsunami disaster in 2004 and was rebuilt with a new Ice Factory, Cold Room, Winch House and a Slipway.

The main objective of developing the Tangalle Fishery Harbour is to promote tourism. This project has been introduced to develop the Tangalle Fishery Harbour inclusive of all the related sectors and components of a successful tourism industry. "Sri Lanka has been given a major opportunity by nature itself to optimize its natural resources in a sustainable way to develop the economy," Ranawake said, adding "Project Blue aims to tap into these resources to achieve this goal. By identifying the ways and means that Sri Lanka can make the best of its ocean resources, we can, as a nation go further in the international arena, as well as grow economically."

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