Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 9 June 2013





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

Ocean and education:

Lanka’s future prosperity lies in the sea

The Nilaveli Beach, known as one of the best beaches in the world

Sri Lanka possesses a territorial sea of 21,500 km2 and an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 517,000 km2, up to 200 nautical miles (370 km) from the coastal line. Sri Lanka has the rights to the resources in the water column, seabed and subsurface in the EEZ. According to the last comprehensive survey conducted in 1979-80, an annual harvestable yield of 250,000 tons is possible from coastal fishing and another 90,000 – 150,000 tons from the rest of the EEZ.

Under the UN Law of the Sea, Sri Lanka is entitled to claim an extended area of seabed where the thickness of the sediment layer exceeds one kilometre. This claim has been made and if accepted, Sri Lanka could gain an additional seabed area. Therefore, the EEZ is likely to expand further with the delimitation of the outer edge of the continental margin of the country, which would permit Sri Lanka to own an EEZ equivalent to 23 times (1.400,000 km2) its land mass. Apart from living resources, this zone contains a variety of exploitable minerals and hydrocarbons (oil and natural gas). Deposits containing titanium, zirconium, thorium, cobalt, nickel, copper and manganese have already been discovered.

In addition, Sri Lanka can promote oceanic recreational opportunities such as surfing, whale and dolphin watching, deep sea diving, sea entertainment and sea sport, targeting foreign tourists. With the dawn of peace in the Northern and Eastern Provinces following the elimination of terrorism, two thirds of the coastal area including some world-class beaches such as Passikudah, Nilaveli and Arugam Bay are freely accessible to tourists. Thus, maritime recreation and sea sports can be an important foreign exchange earner for the country, which hitherto remains almost untapped.

In view of the strategic location of Sri Lanka close to the world's largest Silk Route (shipping lane), it could become the naval hub in the region. Around 70,000 -80,000 ships presently navigate past Sri Lanka annually. With the commissioning of the Hambantota Port, over 10,000 vessels will dock at the Hambantota Port annually, opening a whole new world of attractive employment and income-generating opportunities.

The rich and enormous marine resource base (biological, chemical and physical) in Sri Lanka including its EEZ, coupled with its strategic location in the Indian Ocean, make it a country of great promise.

Therefore, the future prosperity of the country lies in the sea, and it is of paramount importance to formulate appropriate strategies and develop manpower in the fisheries, marine and maritime sectors to harness the hitherto under-exploited and unexploited marine resources and maritime potential of the country.

Ocean literate society

Fishing boats

The oceans have always had a profound influence on man. In addition to providing food, they have fascinated and inspired generations of artists, writers, poets, composers and musicians. They have provoked the imagination of adventures and explorers and stimulated the curiosity and intellectual pursuits of scientists. For generations, low human populations with low levels of technology have safeguarded the ocean from human interference, but that is no longer so.

Studying the ocean is, by definition and scope, an inherently inter-disciplinary process, cutting across and integrating the physical and natural sciences with environmental, social/cultural, history, and policy concerns. Ocean science can provide unique contribution to challenge, excite, and inform young students about science and the role of science in helping to meet and solve global challenges. The study of oceans involves all scientific disciplines, many of the engineering disciplines, and a significant fraction of the social sciences, particularly history, cultural studies, economics. A sound awareness of the oceans is a central feature of being a scientifically literate citizen.

Studying and learning about the oceans can also excite young people about the power and potential of science in ways few other singular topics can.

Marine environments support the livelihoods, economies, and quality of life for communities around the world. But growth of coastal populations and increasing demands on marine resources are putting the future ocean and coastal resources at risk through impacts, such as fishing, wetland drainage, coastal urbanization, climate change, and pollution of coastal waters. Therefore there is a greater need to have capacity to assess, monitor, manage, and govern coastal and ocean resources.

Ocean education

The Ocean University was established when President Mahinda Rajapaksa was the Minister of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources with a view to equipping the fisher folk with the new knowledge, skills and technology so that it would lead to improving their productivity and socio-economic standards. You may also add appropriately that Dullas Allahapperuma, Minister of Youth Affairs and Skills Development is providing necessary support to take the Ocean University to greater heights.

The Ocean University (National Institute of Fisheries and Nautical Engineering) was established by the President MR in 1999 when he was the Minister of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources. It has the mandate to produce requisite manpower for the sustainable management and utilization of fisheries, marine and maritime resources of the country.

It is the premier training and educational institution in fisheries and allied sciences in Sri Lanka. It is headquartered in Colombo with seven regional colleges, i.e. Kalutara, Galle, Tangalle, Batticaloa, Trincomalee, Jaffna and Negombo. In order to cater to the current and emerging manpower needs in the Fisheries, Marine and Maritime Sectors in a globalized environment, it is proposed to transform NIFNE to a full-fledged Ocean University in the near future.

Sri Lanka is an inland nation and the Indian Ocean is having a profound impact practically on every aspect of the country such as its climate, weather, industry, trade and commerce, nutritional security, culture, politics, security, defence etc. and on the way of life of a fair segment of its population. Yet, the knowledge of most of our people about the ocean is next to nothing.

Though the ocean is of such an overwhelming importance, our system of education has hitherto paid only scant attention to it.

A whale watching tour organised by the Ocean University

We have learnt in a very expensive and painful manner what a tsunami is. But, we still do not know if our education system has made any systematic and concerted effort to produce ocean-literate citizens in our country.

Though we have a coastline of 1700 km, only a very few can swim.

Even we are blessed with a huge marine resource base, we will not see the underwater treasure, the grandeur and beauty of coral reefs; we will never get inspired and fascinated by the sea or we will never feel for ourselves the enormity of potential the ocean holds for us.

We need to overcome this misplaced fear (“hydrophobia”) for the sea. The students at school should be taught about the ocean as a life support system, and a module in this regard should be included in the curriculum. Many good curricula already exist, (i.e.

Hawaii Marine Science Studies, University of South Florida’s Project Oceanography), which may be used as guidelines to develop appropriate ones for our country. We should also develop a cadre of well-trained teachers who are passionately committed to studying and exploring the ocean.

Ocean University

The vocational arm of the Ocean University proposes to set up “safe sea swimming pools” in major towns along the coast with necessary life support services. This may help to introduce the schoolchildren and the youth of the country to the sea and foster curiosity for sea exploration.

Children love to listen to stories, and there are many classic sea stories, which can generate interest and curiosity about the sea in children. We have to find and invite reputed and knowledgeable adults good in storytelling for the radio and TV programmes for children. We need to use the ocean and coastline as living laboratories and outdoor classroom. We should teach and show our children how marine species collectively create sustainable communities.

We need to focus on the interconnections of land and sea and the sea and people. It is necessary to get students to be engaged in activities such as snorkelling at night surrounded by bioluminescent planktons or swimming through a kelp canopy.

We need to turn to ocean and its profound principles of life to inspire the young generation.

Establishment of marine sanctuaries is a high priority environmental and educational concern. Schools should arrange educational trips for the staff and students to visit and study marine ecosystems until marine sanctuaries are established.

In addition, setting up of public aquariums and showing films and websites related to marine science prove useful. Like virtual zoos, we need to strive to set up virtual marine sanctuaries.

Similar to safaris to Yala, Wilpattu, Bundala etc., we need to arrange underwater safaris to witness the underwater treasures such as corals, ornamental fish, sea grasses and other forms of underwater life.

Such safaris are not uncommon in foreign countries and are offered at affordable rates. Cost-effective and safe “submarines” for use in shallow waters, down to about 5-10 metres, can easily be turned out locally.

We need to open up a new stream of degree programmes on Ocean Sciences and allied fields at universities. Most of the postgraduate courses presently offered by our universities on Natural Resource Management (NRM) mainly focus on terrestrial systems and the treatment on marine systems is only superficial.

Breaking away from traditional degree programmes in engineering, and natural and social sciences, we need to introduce and promote courses such as Marine Engineering, Naval Architecture, Nautical Science, Off-shore Engineering, Marine Geology, Petro-science, Marine Biology, Biodiversity Conservation, Aquaculture/Mariculture, Coastal and Marine Resource Management, Applied Marine Sports Science and Technology, Harbour Management, International Transportation Management and Logistics, Marine Archaeology, Maritime Law etc. at undergraduate and postgraduate level.

Current, emerging needs

These courses respond to the current and emerging needs in Marine and Maritime Sectors in a globalized environment and can offer lucrative employment opportunities for students in Science as well as in Humanities and Social Sciences.

Some of these courses can be quite attractive even to foreign students. Thus, they could also serve as a good source of income to higher education institutions in Sri Lanka.

In addition, in order to cater to the current and emerging needs in the fisheries, marine and maritime sectors of the country in the light of Mahinda Chinthana- Forward Outlook, the Ocean University proposes to offer the following vocational courses: Naval Architecture, Coastal Zone Management, Marine Navigation, Oceanography, Nautical Science Safety at Sea Ocean Resources Engineering Disaster Management Off-shore Surveying and Digital Mapping, Fibreglass Technology, Boat Building, Marine Engineering Technology, Maritime Heritage Fisheries and Aquaculture Sea Sports and Maritime Recreation, Off-shore Fishing, Post-harvest Technology, Marine Health Intl. Transportation Management and Logistics, Marine Management Warehousing.

It is of paramount importance to develop human resources in the said fields not only for the sustainable management of the fisheries, marine and maritime resources, but also to harness optimal benefits from those for the economic development and social well-being of the people of Sri Lanka.

We need to get together and use the beauty and wonder of the oceans to excite and challenge our schoolchildren and youth to learn and understand more about the world they will soon be inheriting. The more we understand our marine system the better choices that we can make.

Each of us by continuing ocean education, formal, informal and non-formal, formulating appropriate policies and working with relevant stakeholders can help make more intelligent and informed decisions that are required to maintain a healthy, productive and rewarding planet.

In view of the rich ecological and biological diversity, scenic beauty, tranquillity, high educational standards and strategic location of the island, Sri Lanka could emerge as a global leader in Fisheries, Ocean and Maritime Sciences. The Ocean University shall play a pivotal role in this regard and pave the way for it.

The trained manpower produced by the Ocean University will lead to sustainable management and utilization of fisheries, marine and maritime resources of the country, which will contribute towards building a competitive and robust economy in Sri Lanka.

The writer who holds PhD (Vienna) and PhD (Durham) h.c. is the Chairman of Ocean University, Professor and Chairman, Department of Crop Science, University of Ruhuna and Vice Chairman of the University Grants Commission (UGC).


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