Sri Lanka bets on the ocean to chart a green path towards a blue economy


  • Sri Lanka’s coastal and marine ecosystems provide a variety of essential services to coastal communities and the environment.
  • To protect these ecosystems while meeting national development needs, Sri Lanka is well positioned to invest in a “blue economy” focused on economic growth that integrates and protects the environment and ecosystem services.
  • Officials and experts have identified huge potential to improve livelihoods and value chains in Sri Lanka’s coastal and marine sector without destroying local ecosystems, based on expertise and technical advice.
  • If coastal sector development can be achieved in harmony with the growth and conservation of ecosystems, proponents say, this will strengthen Sri Lanka’s capacities in climate change mitigation and adaptation, supporting the resilience of its climate. population and its commitments under the Paris Agreement.

COLOMBO – Sri Lankan authorities have called for renewed interest in the conservation of the island’s rich coastal ecosystems, identifying the “blue economy” as the key to the country’s sustainable development.

The Indian Ocean island has a coastline of 1,340 kilometers (833 miles), territorial waters extending over 21,500 square kilometers (8,300 square miles), and an exclusive economic zone of 517,000 km2 (200,000 mi2). ), nearly eight times its area. Its coastal zone is home to most of the population and urban infrastructure, as well as abundant ecosystems that include mangrove forests, coastal marshes, seagrass beds and coral reefs.

However, large areas of these ecosystems have been lost or degraded over the past decades, leaving many parts of the coastal belt exposed.

“Even if we benefit from our geographical location and our pristine coastal and marine environment and very rich in biodiversity, our coastal and marine environments are under immense pressure”, Darshani Lahandapura, President of the Environmental Protection Authority Sri Lankan sailor (MEPA), told a research colloquium on the marine environment in May. “While much attention is paid to the problems facing the ocean, the ocean is also the source of potential solutions and innovations.

“Ocean-based climate actions such as ocean-based renewable energy, ocean transport, coastal and marine ecosystems, fisheries and aquaculture, and carbon storage in the seabed have the potential to close the emission gap and mitigate the impacts of climate change, ”Lahandapura added. “Sustainable oceans development and economic growth for development while preserving healthy oceans can define a new era of opportunity for ocean-front countries. “

The concept of the “blue economy” promotes inclusive economic growth and livelihood development that also ensures the environmental sustainability of oceans and coastal areas. UNESCO defines it as “the decoupling of socio-economic development through sectors and activities linked to the oceans from environmental and ecosystem degradation. “

The fishing sector is one of the main sources oflivelihoods, with enormous potential to optimize supply chains, reduce waste and develop value-added activities. Image by Dennis Mombauer.

Pathways to a blue economy

A blue economy can include renewable energy, fisheries, maritime transport, tourism, waste management and other sectors related to the coastal and marine environment, according to Ruchira Cumaranatunga, principal professor in the Department of Fishing and Aquaculture of the University of Ruhuna.

“There are many sustainable socio-economic development programs that could be implemented in Sri Lanka without harming or with the least impact on natural vegetation,” Cumaranatunga told Mongabay.

“They are possible and economically feasible, but when preparing such development programs, appropriate experts on the coastal environment and vegetation should be consulted. “

Sri Lanka has no shortage of ocean-related knowledge and expertise. But this expertise must be actively used and integrated into planning and implementation processes, Cumaranatunga said. Improving livelihoods that use coastal and marine resources in a sustainable and holistic manner is often made difficult by gaps in awareness, knowledge, institutional coordination and intersectoral collaboration, he added.

Stimulating sustainability and economic growth in the coastal belt without harming the environment can improve existing livelihoods, for example by optimizing supply chains, introducing added value or reducing post-harvest losses in fisheries .

“When it comes to fishing waste in Sri Lanka, it is thrown away haphazardly without considering it to be a valuable resource, causing serious environmental impacts,” Cumaranatunga said.

Every year, 50-60% of Sri Lanka’s fish harvest is discarded as junk fish or fishing waste and dumped in lagoons, estuaries or the sea. However, if collected, fish wastes could be converted into valuable products, for example animal feed, fertilizer, fish oil, fish. fish skin leather, collagen and gelatin, chitin and chitosan from crab shells and shrimp waste, or natural calcium from shellfish.

Experts have long identified many opportunities to create additional livelihoods in Sri Lanka’s coastal and marine sector without destroying local ecosystems, for example through seaweed cultivation, which is currently only practiced small scale with no added value; the transplantation of coral reefs to create artificial reefs; captive breeding to rebuild fish populations; mariculture; or the construction of an underwater observatory for tourist and educational purposes. The tourism sector itself offers many opportunities for sustainable development within the blue economy and would benefit greatly from healthy ecosystems, according to supporters.

“In Sri Lanka, when buildings are constructed, coastal vegetation is removed to have a better view of the ocean without thinking about its functions,” Cumaranatunga said. “If the coastal vegetation is kept as natural trails for people to walk and get to the beach while enjoying the beauty of the natural coastal ecosystems, it would also help protect the coastline and act as a barrier against the coastal erosion. This type of development will bring long-term benefits while contributing to sustainable socio-economic development.

When restoration programs have been launched for already disturbed coastal ecosystems, the natural flora and fauna of these areas should be taken into consideration to prevent the introduction of alien or invasive species, experts say. For example, when replanting mangroves, natural diversity and density must be taken into consideration, for which aerial photographs and even Google images before destruction could be used.

Vulnerable coastal communities who often depend on a few key livelihoods, such as fishing or tourism, would also benefit from a blue economy, supporters say. Climate-related impacts and other shocks can severely affect these livelihoods and push people into poverty, and if coastal ecosystems are degraded and lost, it will also reduce fish populations and tourism potential.

But thriving ecosystems would help mitigate these impacts while providing a wide range of other goods and services, such as flood protection, reduced coastal erosion, and greater carbon sequestration – mangroves and other ecosystems. of blue carbon being among the most effective ecosystems in the world for climate change mitigation.

Sri Lanka’s coastal and marine areas are exposed to multiplesources of land-based waste and pollution that negatively affectecosystems as well as people. Image courtesy of SLYCAN Trust.

National and world rosters

The shift to a blue economy is already part of Sri Lanka’s national policy, “Vistas of prosperity and splendor”, Which is committed to“ sustainable management of ocean resources for a blue-green economy ”. Other key policies and commitments include Sri Lanka’s nationally determined contributions under the Paris Agreement; the national plan for adaptation to the impacts of climate change; and the National Policy on the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Mangrove Ecosystems in Sri Lanka.

In the global context, Sri Lanka’s efforts to move towards a blue economy align directly with the Sustainable Development Goals; the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development 2021-2030; and the United Nations Decade for Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030. Sri Lanka also chairs the Mangrove Ecosystems and Livelihood Action Group within the framework of the Commonwealth Blue Charter and a member of the Indian Ocean Rim Association, which has a priority area of ​​intervention on the blue economy as well as a “blue carbon hub”.

Its position as an island surrounded by the natural riches of the Indian Ocean gives Sri Lanka enormous potential to invest in its blue economy, experts say. But they note that this will require the sustainable and integrated management of coastal and marine spaces, the inclusion of ecosystems in planning processes, the consultation of technical experts and a legal regime that facilitates these processes.

Awareness and training are crucial, as is continued research focused on practical application and improving livelihoods, covering topics such as marine ecology, blue carbon, sustainable fisheries and aquaculture. , ecotourism, circular economy, renewable energies, land control and treatment. based on waste and pollution, and perceptions and notions of risk among coastal populations.

Between the impacts of climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for sustainable development, conserving coastal and marine ecosystems can unlock many synergies for Sri Lanka’s blue economy, proponents say. Conservation and development don’t have to be mutually exclusive, they argue: they can be mutually beneficial, support livelihoods, and tackle the causes and impacts of climate change.

Banner image of mangroves, also among the most productive coastal ecosystems offering a wide range of benefits and services, from flood protection to fish nurseries and carbon sequestration. Image courtesy of Kanchana Handunnetti.


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