Rediscovering the Bay of Bengal

The Centre for Bay of Bengal Studies will strengthen India’s overall framework for maritime engagement

September 29, 2022 12:15 am | Updated 01:24 pm IST

Japanese and Indian Navy warships participating in the sea phase of the sixth edition of Japan India Maritime Exercise 2022 in the Bay of Bengal off Visakhapatnam coast. Photo: Special Arrangement

Japanese and Indian Navy warships participating in the sea phase of the sixth edition of Japan India Maritime Exercise 2022 in the Bay of Bengal off Visakhapatnam coast. Photo: Special Arrangement

The Bay of Bengal (the Bay) is experiencing an increase in geo-economic, geopolitical, and geo-cultural activity. It is poised to once again play a key role in shaping the maritime order in Asia. Therefore, it is noteworthy that at the fourth BIMSTEC summit, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the opening of the Centre for Bay of Bengal Studies (CBS) at Nalanda University. The official launch of the CBS has once again demonstrated India’s commitment to advancing constructive agendas by forging connections and setting up platforms for all those with an interest in the Bay.

Rethinking the Bay

CBS will offer collaborations in areas such as geo-economics and geopolitics, ecology, trade and connectivity, maritime security, maritime law, cultural heritage, and blue economy to generate opportunities for the Bay region. This will strengthen India’s overall framework for maritime engagement, which aims to advance sustainable economic growth for all by fostering closer nautical ties.

The Bay has long been a major commerce hub for the Indian Ocean. It created a conduit between the East and the West in terms for trade and culture. An Indo-Pacific orientation and the realignment of global economic and military power towards Asia have had a considerable impact on the Bay region. The key sea lanes of communication in this area are lifelines for global economic security and are crucial to the energy security that powers the economies of many countries in the region. Further, non-traditional dangers including terrorism and climate change have become more prevalent. The Bay also provides an opportunity for greater regional cooperation in the environmentally friendly exploration of marine and energy resources. The Bay has a biodiverse marine environment. It receives water from some of the world’s largest rivers. It is a partially enclosed sea that has given rise to several geological characteristics. It is home to many rare and endangered marine species and mangroves, which are essential to the survival of the ecology and the fishing sector.

Disorder at the Bay

The region’s maritime environment has changed as a result of major powers expanding their economic and geopolitical influence. Political and cultural engagement, together with economic competition, have taken on new dimensions. More crucially, the Bay’s ecosystem is going through an unprecedented crisis brought on by widespread environmental exploitation and geopolitical unrest. Species extinction is a result of careless exploitation of the maritime environment, which has severe consequences on biodiversity.

Problems such as population growth, altered land use, excessive resource exploitation, salinisation, sea level rise, and climate change are exerting significant strain on the Bay’s environment. Operational discharge from small and medium feeder ships, shipping collisions, unintentional oil spills, industrial waste, pollution, and the accumulation of non-biodegradable plastic litter are all contributing to the deterioration of the Bay. A dead zone has formed as a result, and the mangrove trees that protect the shore from the fury of nature are under more threat than ever.

For a better knowledge of challenges, and strategies to overcome them for the sustainable development of the region, more focused and interdisciplinary study is required on these issues. By founding the CBS, Nalanda University has already started its journey and given the nation a unique interdisciplinary research centre devoted to Bay-focused teaching, research, and capacity building. Additionally, scholars from many countries and academic streams are already participating in CBS’s first certificate programme on the Bay.

It is essential that nautical neighbours develop a partnership and cooperate because of the maritime domain’s interrelated and interdependent nature, transnational character, and cross-jurisdictional engagement of various governments and diverse organisations and enterprises. A few concerns that need immediate attention include expanding cooperation in maritime safety and security, enhancing cooperation on maritime connectivity and the ease of maritime transit, and boosting investment possibilities in the maritime connectivity sector. The latter subject involves addressing non-traditional threats and fostering group efforts to reduce illicit, unreported, and unregulated fishing. Standardising and harmonising data reporting remains a challenge. Furthermore, regional marine entities should strive to balance opportunities and goals on a national, regional, and international scale.

Littoral governments need to support and promote skill-building, research, and training. Countries in the region will need to mobilise incentives and investments, manage oceanic affairs more effectively, and support people as they switch to alternative lifestyles. Working together is important due to shared nautical concerns and the complexity of the marine environment.

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