Having strategically located in the shipping lanes connecting the East and the West, Sri Lanka plays a crucial role in the geopolitics of the Indian Ocean. Its location is of great significance and of importance to the emerging powers in Asia. If managed properly the ocean which is seven times more than our land area and our EEZ which is 53,2619 Sq. km is a gold mine.
Organised by the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies, the two-day seminar discussed on the theme “Sri Lanka’s Ocean Resource: Our Hidden Gold Mine” and it brought together eminent personalities and scholars in the field of Indian Ocean studies and marine environment.
The speakers explained in detail on the coastal and marine ecosystem in the Indian Ocean and said various marine life that breed in the shallow waters of the ocean, the largely undiscovered deep sea ecosystem which comprises of 62% of the entire globe.
“If the Marine and Coastal Ecosystems in Sri Lanka are doomed or blessed as the various fishing practices and pollution are destroying the natural resources endowed on us. It is the individual’s responsibility to protect our coastal waters and Marine life,” the speakers stressed.
“To be secure on land we must be supreme at Sea,” said the Navy Commander Vice Admiral Jayanath Colombage quoting Pandith Jawaharlal Nehru. Sri Lanka plays a strategic role in the Indian Ocean Region, as 25% of the sea lines of communication fall within our national jurisdiction and there is a daily traffic of about 100 to 120 ships on average. The Navy’s role is combating terrorism, piracy and the rescue of illegal immigrants most recently the Myanmar Nationals.
" Thousands of Indian fishing trawlers are plundering our wealth in Sri Lankan waters and the Sri Lankan Navy has to perform a very difficult job. It is like our hands are tied behind our backs and we are expected to do our jobs. "
Furthermore, he said: “Thousands of Indian fishing trawlers are plundering our wealth in Sri Lankan waters and the Sri Lankan Navy has to perform a very difficult job. It is like our hands are tied behind our backs and we are expected to do our jobs. Because the moment we act it becomes a bilateral and diplomatic issue. We know that they are doing it, no one is denying that the Indian fishermen are trawling in our waters.” The Navy Commander speaking on the mineral, fisheries and the sea bed resources said “historically Sri Lanka was a ship building nation and is the interest of super powers in the region,” he said.
Dr. Sinha Raja Tammita- Degoda who spoke under the topic “Sri Lanka and the Sea. The environment as a geopolitical tool” said: “environmental concerns transcend national boundaries, political divisions and geographical boundaries and the negative impact of these are common to all nations and one nation alone cannot tackle environmental issues. The purpose of environmental diplomacy is to bring in more countries to a common ground where they can reach a mutual agreement by discussion”.
“Sri Lankan diplomacy is reactive and that we haven’t taken an active role in taking initiatives forward and should associate ourselves and participate actively and play a bigger role in international organizations such as the International Coral Reef Initiative, UNEP programme, CITES—the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora etc.,” he said.
" Sri Lankan diplomacy is reactive and that we haven’t taken an active role in taking initiatives forward and should associate ourselves and participate actively and play a bigger role in international organizations "
Patrick Evans, the country representative for FAO in Sri Lanka spoke of the Bay of Bengal Large Marine Ecosystem Project (BOBLME) which supports the implementation of an Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management. He explained that a large percentage of the population depended on fisheries as a livelihood and the project was with the aim of improving the lives of the coastal population through better regional management to increase the fisheries harvest. He further gave an overview of the fisheries industry in Sri Lanka and he also explained that Sri Lanka has a good legal framework and planning system but the lack of compliance with the fisheries rules and regulations and the need for clearer policy directions are some of its weaknesses.
Speakers also highlighted on the history of hydrocarbons, heavy minerals, and phosphorite explorations in Sri Lanka and what measures need to be taken in the future to develop these resources.
The Chairman of the Geological Survey and Mines Bureau, Dr. N. P. Wijayananda who discussed the topic “Delimitation of Sri Lanka’s Legal continental Shelf - Challenges and Anticipated benefits” said that there are challenges ahead in Sri Lanka as certain states are trying to limit its continental shelf to 350 nautical miles even though it can go beyond, and the overlapping areas with other countries that need to be dealt through bilateral discussion and India’s claim as a neighbouring state.