Mauritius’ ocean economy to blaze trail for island nations
A diver swims above the coral reef at the Blue Bay, Mauritius, one of the island’s richest habitats for marine life (Source: Reuters)
For an island nation that relies heavily on tourism to support its economic development, Mauritius’ tourism sector is badly in need of a shot in the arm. In the wake of the global economic crisis, tourism services, which relied heavily on European travelers, have taken the worst hit among all economic sectors.
The third pillar of the Mauritian economy, after agriculture and manufacturing, tourism made up 11% of the country’s total GDP in 2000 when tourism arrivals hovered around 660,000. Tourist footfalls rose to 965,000 in 2011, displaying a year-on-year growth of around 3.5%. However, arrivals are expected to peak at 980,000 by the end of this year, representing just a 0.8% increase over the last 2 years.
Prime Minister Navinchandra Ramgoolam’s July announcement to create an “ocean economy” to leverage marine opportunities has given the hospitality sector renewed hope. Mauritius’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) extends over 2.4 million square kilometers and offers vast potential for the tourism sector.
Also, the move to an ocean economy will extend the suite of tourism services with a value-added offering and make the sector less vulnerable to external disruptions.
Milan Meetarbhan, ambassador of Mauritius to the United Nations, adds that the government wishes to promote the ocean economy as one of the new pillars of its economic development. Creating jobs for the youth is part of the agenda, besides chartering new territory for growth in mature industries.
He noted that the ocean contributed almost 11.5% of GDP in 2011, an indication of how significant the ocean economy could become.
Marine pharmaceuticals are one area that would benefit from the transition to an “ocean economy”.
The Mauritius Oceanography Institute (MOI) is spearheading the research and strategic planning for the new plan. Dr Daniel Marie, officer-in-charge, MOI, said that there are around seven to eight marine organisms that can be sources for marine drugs, apart from the better known marine sponges. Incidentally, marine sponges are proving promising candidates in the search for cancer drugs, he adds.
Five clusters of business opportunities can be envisaged under an “ocean economy” framework: marine services (marine tourism and marine pharmaceuticals); petroleum, minerals and ocean energies; fisheries and aquaculture; seaport related activities; and deep ocean water applications (DOWA).
Sotravic, a private Mauritian company eyeing this opportunity, predicts that the DOWA network could reduce CO2 emissions by almost 100,000 metric tons per year through electricity savings. DOWA covers plans to pump cold water of approximately 5 C from depths of around 1,000 meters to the surface to cool buildings and the water is returned to the ocean at 11 C.
Under the project, a draft of the ocean economy road map has been drawn up identifying lucrative avenues and the way forward. The finalized version is due in October.
The first business opportunity on the agenda is coral farming and restoration while the second step consist of monitoring and studying coastal erosion to invent sustainable solutions.
In terms of marine tourism, a government-regulated system would, in fact, be better, says Dr Marie. As of now, as much as 80% of the coral life has been ravaged by the combined onslaught of natural forces, largely climatic changes, and human beings, in the absence of a strong system to clamp down on offenders.
Once that industry is bought under the scrutiny of the ocean economy, rules can be drawn up and enforced to minimize impact on ocean life even as marine tourism is promoted – a win-win situation for man and nature.