Coastal models need innovation

| | in Oped

To better tackle ecological challenges facing coastal areas, including that of climate change, livelihood activities must be re-invented. Appropriate measures and suitable innovation are the need of the hour

Activities in the coastal areas, such as fishing, aquaculture and agriculture, on which tremendous number of people depend for their livelihoods, need  to be reinvented in order to effectively tackle the ecological challenges facing the coastal areas, besides the larger threat posed by climate change.

According to findings by a new report, the Marine Advantage, empowering coastal communities, safeguarding marine ecosystems from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) coastal communities and marine ecosystems can benefit a lot from climate-smart agriculture and fishing practices. The IFAD report shows that climate-smart agriculture can also have knock-on benefits for marine ecosystems. Sustainable development in agriculture and allied sectors, including aquaculture, can reduce human pressures on marine ecosystems, which are vulnerable to overfishing, ocean acidification and coral bleaching.

Thanks to rapid climate change, agriculture and fisheries, the backbone of food security and nutrition for coastal communities, not only in India but globally too, are under threat. Climate change and environmental degradation in coastal areas are already affecting the natural resource base on which fishing community and coastal farmers depend for food security and livelihoods.

Future projections outline an increasingly urgent need to help communities adapt to these changes and protect these fragile resources. The global community has been working overtime to make meaningful progress in the battle against climate change in order to safeguard the natural marine resources and this is represented mainly by the efforts of the United Nations.

In June this year, the United Nations Ocean Conference in New York focussed on Sustainable Development Goal 14 (SDG 14): Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development. But the achievement of SDG goal 14 also depends on empowering coastal and island communities through environment-friendly land-based agriculture.

The call for action is urgent and encompasses more support for small-scale and artisanal fishermen in developing countries to enhance their access to marine resources and markets to improve the socio-economic situation of the fishing community within the context of sustainable fisheries management.

The problem is manifesting itself in the unsustainable use of natural resources on land, which in turn exacerbates climate threats and results in the degradation of marine and coastal ecosystems.

As people struggle to cope with climate change and exclusion from access to land and critical production factors, they resort to surviving on what they can access — including using means that harm the environment. Ultimately, environmental degradation of marine and coastal resources makes it even harder for people to access critical ecosystems services.

For instance, unsustainable fishing practices destroy corals and deplete fish stocks, and the cutting down of mangroves for their wood or for land reclamation purposes mean that they are less able to buffer impacts of cyclones and other extreme events such as sea-level rise, wave action and coastal erosion.

What happens on land directly impacts what happens in oceans, and the inappropriate use of harmful substances to fertilise and protect crops on land results in harmful chemical run-off into coastal waters. Unsustainable land-based agriculture, therefore, undermines peoples’ options to diversify their livelihoods and protect marine resources.

For small holders, this ultimately translates into even greater food insecurity and ever-more fragile livelihoods. Given these challenges, the Government must increase climate resilience of coastal farming and fishing community. This can be done by reducing overfishing and by implementing integrated ecosystems approach to fisheries and aquaculture. The establishment of natural resource co-management regimes, involving community groups, fishers and fish farmers’ associations can aid this initiative.

Additionally, efforts must be made to strengthen the knowledge base and climate change advisory capacity of fishery and aquaculture extension workers.  This will in turn help in increasing awareness levels. Authorities must also invest in research to identify new commercially viable strains of aquaculture species tolerant of low water quality, high temperatures and disease.

Moreover, access to friendly financial services and insurance mechanisms must be encouraged so that communities can be secure about the future and invest in more fuel-efficient boats and static fishing gear instead of damaging gear such as trawls.

The livelihood options in coastal areas in their forms can contribute to national climate commitments mitigation efforts and sustainable development. However, without appropriate measures and suitable innovation to counter ecological challenges, especially climate change, the traditional livelihood practices can not only damage delicate marine ecosystems but also fall short of the objectives to slow down climate change.

(The writer is an environmental journalist)

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