Marine Plastics are destroying our Blue Economy

Blue economy is a term that refers to all economic activities related to oceans, seas and coasts and the interlinked benefits around biodiversity , coastal protection and its precious natural heritage.

Indian Agriculture and its allied industries contribute to around 20% of India’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product is the total value of goods and services produced in a country). The allied industry consists of forestry, animal husbandry, natural resources and fisheries . The Blue economy directly linked to fisheries and ocean resources is estimated to contribute to around 4% of our GDP which is ~100 Billion USD (7 lakh crore INR).

And why is the blue economy in focus ?

Typical ocean activities are around fisheries, tourism and maritime transport . Fisheries have harmed our oceans ; fish catches have gone down and 87 % of our fish stocks are over-exploited. Let us consider Aquaculture. Aquaculture refers to water farming, breeding, harvesting fish, shellfish, aquatic plants etc. is a growing economy critical to the food security of our poorest people. Aquaculture provides more than half of all fish consumed with 63%  of production in freshwater (mostly in ponds on land), 28% in marine waters, and 9% in coastal ponds.

To improve our blue economy , we need to accelerate our focus on emerging areas such as offshore renewable wind energy(ocean energy), marine biotechnology and Bioprospecting (usage of medicinal plants for healthcare).Not only will these prevent rapid degradation of our ocean resources but spur our governments and public sectors to invest and create new employment and development opportunities.

Looking at India’s projected population growth, such measures are needed for improving the social and economic status of our current and future generations. The picture below shows the importance of  ‘blue economy’ as the seventh largest contributor to our global economy.

Marine plastics are hurting our oceans:

Due to ineffective waste management of plastic on land , smaller particles of plastics called as Microplastics ends up in our oceans . A concerning fact is 80% of the debris in our oceans is from plastic .

A bigger problem is the volume of plastic pollutants from Textile, Tourism, Fishing and Shipping Industries . The table below summarizes the extent of marine pollution from these industries .

India’s Initiatives :

Though India has committed to a ban of single-use plastic by 2022 and uses about 14 million tons of plastic annually, there is a lack of an organized system for management of plastic waste . Blanket bans are ineffective as alternatives are not immediately available and so it is a multi-step process for phasing-out of plastics.

India has 7500 kilometers of coastline and has established national and regional campaigns to measure marine plastic footprint and take steps towards a plastic pollution free India. The Sagarmala program is a port modernization program to enhance the capacity of India’s ports and power the blue economy. Implementation of sustainable fisheries, conservation of biodiversity, enforcement of strict environmental laws with respect to pollution is a key aspect of Sagarmala but coastal industrialization programs have adverse impacts on marine ecology and strong alignment between governments, policy makers and engaged research scientists is need of the hour.

Blue Carbon is here to help ….

Mangroves are salt tolerant trees with inter-wining branches found along our coastlines and is known to store carbon, improve water quality and provide protection against floods and storms. Mangroves are super-hero trees and have an enormous capacity to suck up carbon-dioxide from air and covert to biomass in the form of thick, heavy layers of carbon-rich soil that stays waterlogged and does not rot . Promoting Mangroves along our coastal ecosystems and declaring them as protected and reserved forests is essential.

Pichavaram mangroves in TamilNadu

Technology to our rescue ….

A new study reveals that plastic-eating super enzymes can break-down plastics in a few days. Scientists are engineering a super plastic-eater by stitching together the DNA found from plastic eating bacteria into one enzyme that can breakdown plastic quickly . Nature’s most affected are several species of marine life and we humans must help save them. How quickly these solutions would come to the market and leveraged by our industries remains to be seen.

Plastics impacting marine life- Seabird in picture

In conclusion…It is indeed disheartening to see slow progress of mega government projects, lack of governance by our local municipalities ,careless public attitude towards garbage disposal and the cleanliness levels of our localities and the sea of litter that often surrounds us. Strong governance and investment in technologies that help our natural habitats can accelerate our progress towards a cleaner society .

We are grappling with a world-wide problem and need to come together as a civil society and break the plastic wave that is endangering our planet. It is important to recognize that this marine pollution topic has cross-boundary impacts with global plastic supply chains and our careful consumer attitudes with respect to consumption and safe disposal of plastic products is key to a sustainable marine life.

Published by Meena Iyer

Sustainability champion and naturally committed to support the cause of healing our planet impacted due to climate change.

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