Ocean Action Hub

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The Ocean Conference: Challenges & Opportunities for Sri Lanka

26 Apr 2017 - For Sri Lanka, heavily economically dependent on the ocean, UN initiatives relating to the ocean and climate change are of particular importance.

26 Apr 2017 - COLOMBO (IDN) - The landmark United Nations Ocean Conference will take place in New York from June 5 to 9. The close connection between the health of the oceans and climate change now being widely accepted, the outcomes of this conference are likely to have a significant impact on UN activities on the oceans and on climate change for many years to come.Trout.

The Prime Minister of Fiji, Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama, and the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for International Development Cooperation and Climate of Sweden, Isabella Lövinwill chair the conference. Prime Minister Bainimarama will also Chair the Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to be held in Bonn in November 2017.

The oceans have now become a critical focus of discussions involving a number of major UN initiatives, including those relating to the SDGs and climate change. While it is easy to get lost in the confusion of the UN's disparate political work, practical initiatives that affect the lives and livelihoods of millions tend to be missed by the mainstream media.

Sri Lanka, was part of a small group of countries that pushed intensely for the oceans to be given due recognition during the negotiations (2013 - 2014) that resulted in the adoption of the list of 17 SDGs. The need to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources is now enshrined in SDG 14. The concept of the blue economy, economies dependent on the oceans and seas, has become the overriding factor in the thinking of many small coastal states.

For Sri Lanka, the ocean is of critical import and it could become the major basis of its national economy. The country, located in the middle of the Indian Ocean, possesses a territorial sea of 21,500 km2 and an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 517,000 km2. The EEZ, with its rich fisheries and other biological resources, is more than seven times larger than the land area of the country above the sea level.

Under the UN Law of the Sea Convention, Sri Lanka is entitled to claim another vast extended area of seabed as its continental shelf. The claim for the continental shelf was submitted to the UN in 2009 and, if approved, Sri Lanka will gain an additional seabed area which would be 23 times that of the island’s land area. This extended land mass beneath the waves is thought to be abundantly rich in non-living resources, such as hydrocarbons and a range of economically important minerals.

Already, the country is extracting mineral sands from an endless accumulation on the north eastern coast. Seismic surveys conducted during the preparation of Sri Lanka's claim, suggest the possibility of significant, exploitable concentrations of natural gas in the shelf area.

At present, fisheries are the major economic resource exploited from the waters around Sri Lanka and they account for 1.8 percent of the GDP. The total fish production in 2014 amounted to 535,050 metric tons valued at Rs.176,239 million (1,350 million dollars). In 2014 the fisheries sector enjoyed a growth rate of 4.5 percent.

Around 272,140 active fishermen are engaged in both marine and inland fisheries and 1,023,780 members of their households depend on the income generated through fishing and related activities. The fisheries sector provided Rs. 34,797 million (266.5 million dollars) of export earnings in the year 2014 and it accounted for 2.4 percent of all export earnings. Given the overwhelming Lankan preference for canned fish, there still remains considerable potential for expanding the fish canning industry. About 32,025 motorised boats and 21,963 of non-motorised boats are operated in marine fishing. 

As Sri Lanka is extensively dependent on the ocean for large-scale employment creation, wealth generation, foreign exchange earning, trade, etc, UN initiatives relating to the oceans and climate change acquire a particular importance.

Tourism is fast becoming a preeminent source of foreign exchange earnings for the country and the availability of hundreds of miles of largely unpolluted sandy beaches, warm seas, a myriad water sports and leisure activities, etc are a magnet for leisure seeking visitors. With visitor numbers exceeding two million in 2016, the potential of this sector for further expansion is enormous. Naturally, the health of the ocean around us, especially the impacts of climate change, becomes a critical for this growing and potentially lucrative industry.

The Indian Ocean also carries the second biggest accumulation of floating plastic waste in the world. The problem of this floating continent must be addressed and the long term health of the oceans must be ensured. It also creates economic opportunities for countries such as Sri Lanka. The technology exists for converting waste plastic to useful products, inter alia, to diesel.

The geographical location of Sri Lanka also creates immense economic potential. Located approximately 20 nautical miles to the north of one of the busiest sea lanes in the world, Sri Lanka can exploit it's location to gain significant economic benefits while simultaneously shouldering the responsibility of ensuring the safety and security of the vessels passing so close to its shore. Much of the energy needs of the Far East passes along this sea lane.

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