SINCE the World Maritime Day is celebrated in the last week of September, it is a good occasion to ask: which is Pakistan’s largest province? Punjba population-wise or Balochistan area-wise. However, the exclusive economic zone (sea of up to 200 nautical miles from the coast) and its extended area, 290,000-sq km is Pakistan’s largest province. We can call it Pakistan’s Maritime province. Commensurate with its size it needs more focus and a broad vision encompassing a time-frame of 100 years to be available to our future generation as an asset.
This province should have two regions; one comprising shallow waters (up to 200 metres deep) and the other deep waters (beyond this depth).
The world population has almost doubled in 50 years, hence the need for more food. Apart from fish and seafood, there are coral reefs which generate food for fish which get nourishment during their early days, whereas some of them come to the coast and their primary source of nourishment is the mangrove.
Pakistan is gifted with coral reefs and the world’s seventh largest mangrove forests. These blessings if well managed will ensure marine food for the country for the next 100 years.
Another life-sustaining item is the availability of balanced atmospheric oxygen and carbon dioxide. The sea absorbs one-fourth of CO2 and 93 per cent of excessive heat to keep the environment habitable. In future, many of our land-based fish farms would need to shift to the sea to promote aquaculture and increase food production and fish exports.
Industrialised nations are extracting microbes from the deep sea that are being used to generate oxygen for industry. Many antibiotics are prepared using sea bed elements. Similarly, the world is utilising sea bed resources in green technologies like manufacturing solar power panels and hybrid car batteries. One interesting application is the making of artificial blood. Similarly, coral skeleton is used to make bones for replacement in human beings.
The export of polymetallic nodules found on the sea bed would fetch valuable foreign exchange. The developed countries are planning to utilise these nodules in future industries.
Pakistan is self-sufficient in producing fertiliser which needs natural gas for production. Another source of fertilisers is phosphorus found on the sea bed. We can run future fertiliser plants using phosphorus from our sea-based reservoirs.
To achieve all this we need trained Pakistani scientists and human resource to better exploit the country’s sea resources. A sea bed exploitation authority should be set-up to better manage our deep sea resources.
Commodore (retd) M. Sohail Ahmed
Published in Dawn, September 30th, 2019