With reckless development, Indian Ocean at risk of pollution

With reckless development, Indian Ocean at risk of pollution

Dr Alex Rogers, the Director of IPSO said that “The findings are shocking; it is a very serious situation demanding unequivocal action at every level. We are looking at consequences for humankind that will impact in our lifetime, and worse, our children's and generations beyond that.”

The oceans form a single ecosystem covering 361 million square kilometers or 71 per cent of the Earth’s surface. Like forests, these ecosystems do play an important role in stabilising the climate.

There are heavy pressures on coastal areas and oceans due to the developmental activity. Exploitation of renewable and non-renewable resources from the deep sea has steadily increased. In a developing country like India, the burgeoning demand for establishing new ports, heavy infrastructure and increased pressure form human population is causing stress on the fragile marine ecosystems.

Human interventions
The threat of loosing entire marine ecosystems like coral reefs and large mass extinction in ocean is already under way due to human interventions. For example the American food system with major emphasis on corn and soy is grown in the mid west with high inputs of fertilizers and chemicals have led to formation of the dead zone over Gulf of Mexico.

The resilience of the ocean is threatened by the human activities of large-scale fishing, destruction of fragile mangrove ecosystems and indiscriminate pollution of aquatic life. Eventually these activities would affect the ecosystem that supports the humans.

FAO studies show that we are over harvesting the marine fishes, leading to depletion of the resources in the long run. A study done by PEW Foundation has shown that every year $27 billion is given as subsidy for marine fisheries, which lead to over fishing and destruction of the aquatic resources.

How does India fare in terms of pollution of our ocean? With a coastline of 7,000 kms, and part of the large Indian Ocean, about three million people depend on sea for their survival. The engines of economic growth are based on development of coastal regions and ports. These unregulated development activities have caused irreparable damage to our coastal ecosystems.

The Ministry of the Earth Sciences has launched a comprehensive assessment called Coastal Ocean Monitoring and Prediction System (COMAPS) programme since 2006. It reveals that currents of untreated effluents thick with metals and chemicals, and torrents of raw sewage steadily degrade our coastal ecosystem.

Each day 5.5 billion liters of sewage water is drained into sea, most of it untreated! Obviously, we treat oceans as a dumping ground for industrial and municipal waste. In addition to these pollutants, the high dosage of chemical inputs in our agricultural sector is drained in to the sea, adversely affecting the underground living organisms.

Alarming situation
The situation of Indian Ocean is alarming, as pointed out by a study of Indian Ocean Experiment (INDOEX). They have documented widespread pollution covering about 10 million square kilometers of Indian Ocean, roughly the size of United States! This is 1,000 kms away from the source of pollution. Obviously, the extensive pollution is taking toll of the marine life and affecting the Ocean on a drastic scale.

Ramanathan, one of the Scientists of INDOEX study said, "It appeared as if the whole Indian subcontinent was surrounded by a mountain of pollution, At times, we couldn't even see the low clouds because the haze layer was so thick."

The Indian Ocean bears the burnt of oil transits as the 80 per cent of the world’s seaborne trade in oil is through this region. This has additional risks of oil spills and dangers due to heavy traffic.

The prospect is bleak for Indian Ocean, as the region with more than two billion population and unbridled economic agricultural activity, will cause increased amount of pollution in the coming years. The oil and gas exploration will put additional pressure on the fragile marine ecosystems.

In order to arrest the crisis it is essential to address the issue of biocapacity and biodiversity of marine bio diversity. There is an urgent need to reduce carbon emissions, establish protected areas in the high sea and limit coastal pollution to bring back the resilience of the ocean.

The recommendation to combat the destruction of oceans is to reduce fishing activities, initiate steps towards sustainable fishing, prevention and control of marine pollution both on the land and in the sea, and evolving a policy regime of governing high seas with legal implications with an objective to halt the process of slow death of seawaters.

It is high time that the human interaction and attitude towards oceans must change towards holistic perspective, incorporating the principles of sustainability in dealing with marine ecosystems. We need engagement of ocean stakeholders. We need to have the political will to secure human and financial support for improved governance to save the global commons, the ocean.

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