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'Blue' potential

Blue potential

A 'blue revolution' is about to begin. There is a growing discussion about investing finances to tap opportunities to explore the "blue economy" which involves sustainable and shared exploitation of the ocean. It includes expansion of ocean-based industries and sectors to enhance economic growth and strengthen livelihood opportunities, without undermining the marine ecosystems that buttress the social and economic benefits. The industries that could be considered include small-scale and commercial fisheries, aquaculture, tourism, transport, mining and energy. There are efforts to capture atmospheric carbon in revived marine and coastal ecosystems such as coral reefs, mangroves, swamps and seagrasses, often termed as "blue carbon". An increasing scientific conviction is gaining ground that "blue carbon" is one of the cheapest options for carbon arrest. And that capturing carbon in coastal ecosystems brings with it a host of other ecological, economic and social benefits, from improved fisheries to richer tourism experiences and conservation of the environment. As countries gear up for a sustainable blue economy, there is an urgent need for effective measures to strengthen the coastal and marine biodiversity, to regulate resource usage and to protect the livelihoods of millions of those who are involved in community-based models. Along with other areas, the Arctic, too, is witnessing this unexpected economic opportunity. Due to unprecedented global warming and the melting of ice caps, a new ocean is steadily emerging and with it the scope of 'new shipping lanes and access to hitherto untapped natural resources'. Keeping this in mind, the Arctic could soon become a new arena of conflict with world powers trying to establish their control over it. This could directly impact the collapse of the immediate environment which would outweigh the benefits of commercial expansion. The Arctic's fishing stocks could supplement China's indigenous overfished waters as Beijing has recently declared itself as a "near-Arctic state" and a "stakeholder", despite its distance from the region. It has expressed its urge to build a "Polar Silk Road" as part of Beijing's Belt and Road trade initiative in the "new ocean." The United States is strengthening its military presence in the region, creating a totally new position for Arctic affairs within its regime. Even Russia is increasing investment, expanding its fleet of icebreakers and reopening Cold War-era military bases above the Arctic Circle. All this will undoubtedly have an impact on the particularly sensitive ecosystem which is very vulnerable to climate change and is warming roughly twice as fast as the rest of the planet. Fears of a "tipping point" have already been discussed when warming would become irreversible. It is, thus, absolutely imperative to conserve this vital region and address more urgent climate concerns rather than intensifying military competition in the region which have a direct impact on marine life. It is time to get real and understand "what happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic."

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