Recently the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has approved the Ministry of Earth and Science’s proposal for a ‘Deep Ocean Mission’, which sets out to explore the deep ocean for resources and develop deep-sea technologies for sustainable use of ocean resources.
The Deep Ocean Mission is a multi-ministerial and multidisciplinary approach which emphasises the development of deep sea technology, exploration of the deep sea mineral resources and biodiversity, acquisition of a research vessel for exploration, deep sea observation, and capacity building. The Ministry of Earth and Science as the nodal ministry for the implementation of the programme.
The Deep Ocean Mission consists of the following six major components:-
- Development of Technologies for Deep Sea Mining, and Manned Submersible: A manned submersible will be developed to carry three people to a depth of 6000 metres in the ocean with a suite of scientific sensors and tools. Only a very few countries have acquired this capability. An Integrated Mining System will be also developed for mining Polymetallic Nodules from 6000 m depth in the central Indian Ocean. The exploration studies of minerals will pave the way for commercial exploitation in the near future as and when commercial exploitation code is evolved by the International Seabed Authority, a UN organization. This component will help the Blue Economy priority area of exploring and harnessing of deep sea minerals and energy.
- Development of Ocean Climate Change Advisory Services: A suite of observations and models will be developed to understand and provide future projections of important climate variables on seasonal to decadal time scales under this proof of concept component. This component will support the Blue Economy priority area of coastal tourism.
- Technological innovations for exploration and conservation of deep-sea biodiversity: Bio-prospecting of deep sea flora and fauna including microbes and studies on sustainable utilisation of deep sea bio-resources will be the main focus. This component will support the Blue Economy priority area of Marine Fisheries and allied services.
- Deep Ocean Survey and Exploration: The primary objective of this component is to explore and identify potential sites of multi-metal Hydrothermal Sulphides mineralisation along the Indian Ocean mid-oceanic ridges. This component will additionally support the Blue Economy priority area of deep sea exploration of ocean resources.
- Energy and freshwater from the Ocean: Studies and detailed engineering design for offshore Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) powered desalination plant are envisaged in this proof of concept proposal. This component will support the Blue Economy priority area of off-shore energy development.
- Advanced Marine Station for Ocean Biology. This component is aimed at the development of human capacity and enterprise in ocean biology and engineering. This component will translate research into industrial application and product development through on-site business incubator facilities. This component will support the Blue Economy priority area of Marine Biology, Blue trade, and Blue manufacturing.
The mission also proposes to collaborate with non-governmental organisations for research collaboration for various components of the Deep Ocean Mission. Under the mission, the Government proposes to develop mining technology, which has strategic implications and is not commercially available. It, thus, attempts to develop indigenous technologies.
The Mission also creates job opportunities in relevant sectors. The research vessel to be used for research and exploration will be made in an Indian shipyard which would create employment opportunities. It is also directed at the capacity development in Marine biology, providing job opportunities in Indian industries. Additionally, the designing, development, and fabrication of specialised equipment for the mission will mean the setting up of such infrastructure in India, helping the growth of the Indian industries, especially the MSMEs and Start-ups.
The entire cost of the mission is projected to be around Rs 4077 crore for a period of 5 years to be implemented in a phase-wise manner. With the estimated cost of the first phase, spanning three years from 2021-2024 to be Rs 2823.4 crore.
As the Government of India envisions New India by 2030 enunciated in February 2019, it highlighted the aspect of Blue Economy as one of the ten core dimensions of growth. The Deep Ocean Mission in line to that is a modal project to support the Blue Economy.
As defined by the World Bank document, the Blue economy is a concept that seeks to promote economic growth, social inclusion, and the preservation or improvement of livelihoods while at the same time ensuring environmental sustainability of the oceans and coastal areas. Its core idea deals with the decoupling of socio-economic development from environmental degradation through ocean related sectors and activities.
The blue economy has many diverse components like established traditional ocean industries such as fisheries, tourism, and maritime transport, but also new and emerging activities including offshore renewable energy, aquaculture, seabed extractive activities, and marine biotechnology and bioprospecting.
India’s 7517 km long coastline is home to nine coastal states and 1382 islands, which creates a great maritime potential, opening a wide range of possibilities for India to develop in the sector. With around 30% of India’s population living in coastal areas, the ocean is also a major economic factor supporting fisheries and aquaculture, tourism, livelihoods and blue trade, which the Blue Economy policy proposed by the governments accounts for.
Considering the importance of the ocean and its resources the United Nations declared the decade of 2021-2030 as the Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development.
The Ocean, which makes up almost 70% of the world, is a major storehouse for power and harnessing its benefits can be key to the economic development of any country, and more specifically a country like India, which is surrounded by oceans on three sides.
The Deep Ocean Mission is thus an important step towards the plan of harnessing powers of the Blue Economy, said Madhavan Rajeevan, secretary, MoES as the TOI reported.
Countries around the world have already created different national and global initiatives towards harnessing the Blue Economy. Countries like the UK, Norway, USA, and Russia have in place dedicated ocean policies with measurable outcomes and budgetary provisions.