5 things we can do for a healthy ocean in South Asia

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Traditional fishing boat in India Traditional fishing boat in India

Covering almost 20 percent of the earth’s total surface, the Indian Ocean is the third largest ocean in the world, spanning from Africa to Australia. For South Asia, it serves as a critical geographic connection, having significant geopolitical, economic, and environmental impacts on the region.

The Indian Ocean is a source of food and livelihoods for millions of people in South Asia. It is also home to a rich diversity of marine life and plays a vital role in generating oxygen and regulating the global climate. 

But it is in serious crisis due to coastal habitat destruction, marine pollution, overfishing, and climate change. Here are five things we can do to improve the health and well-being of this important resource.

1. Protect coastal natural habitats

South Asia is home to some of the largest natural coastal habitats such as mangroves, coral reefs and seagrass. The world’s largest contiguous mangrove forest - the Sundarbans - located between Bangladesh and India, is home to unique flora and fauna including tigers and rhinos and sustains more than 4 million people who directly depend on them. The coral reef systems that make up the more than 1,000 islands of the Maldives are the seventh largest coral reef area in the world. Protecting such natural coastal habitats is imperative for the environment and the region’s biodiversity. Sound natural resources management practices, such as protecting, restoring and replanting native species and coral reef rehabilitation can protect these resources and at the same time boost people’s livelihoods and economic opportunities.

2. Reduce marine pollution

Up to 80 percent of South Asia’s 334 million metric tons of solid waste, including plastic, ends up in the ocean each year. India is the world’s second highest contributor of plastic waste to oceans, while Bangladesh is the eighth, and Sri Lanka is the thirteenth.  Marine pollution and marine plastics are choking marine creatures and clogging rivers and streams. There is an urgent need to phase out single-use and other plastics, build efficient and effective waste management systems, update and implement sound waste management regulations, and promote change behavior around the use and disposal of plastics.

Karachi Harbor in Pakistan with marine pollution
Up to 80 percent of South Asia’s solid waste, including plastic, ends up in the ocean each year. Photo: World Bank/ Sachiko Kondo

3. Work together for sustainable fisheries

Fish are a vital source of protein for millions of people in coastal areas in South Asia. Fisheries provide jobs and other income-generating opportunities and export revenue. However, overfishing and illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing are seriously depleting fish stocks.  South Asia needs to promote science-based fisheries management; improve monitoring and surveillance; and generate and share knowledge about sustainable and inclusive fisheries management practices. The World Bank is helping to strengthen sustainable fisheries management through projects and research work such as in Bangladesh, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, and the Southwest Indian Ocean Region.

4. Enhance the ocean’s climate resilience

The Ocean plays a critical role in regulating the climate and is at the same time affected by climate change. The increased frequency of abnormal temperatures and extreme weather events including flooding, drought, and tropical cyclones are impacting the ocean ecosystem. Rising sea levels, tidal surges, salinity intrusion, ocean acidification, and coastal erosion in turn cause serious negative impacts on the lives and livelihoods of those who live in coastal areas. We can boost the resilience of coastal areas to climate change by applying more nature-based solutions, including by protecting coastal mangrove areas and using coral reefs to protect against natural hazards by reducing wave energy.

Coastal erosion in Sri Lanka
Climate change is impacting the ocean ecosystem and causing rising sea levels, tidal surges, salinity intrusion, ocean acidification, and coastal erosion. Photo: World Bank/ Sachiko Kondo

5. Promote the Blue Economy

The ocean is fundamental to major economic activities in South Asia including fishing, shipping, and coastal tourism. But these various uses are not well coordinated. It is crucial to have an integrated approach to sustainable management of the ocean space. This includes promoting integrated seascape management and the blue economy—the sustainable use of ocean resources for inclusive economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem.  South Asian countries need to bring together all relevant stakeholders including local communities to work together on the blue economy approach. The region should also take bold steps towards advancing its commitment to the Thirty by Thirty global initiative to designate at least 30 percent of land and ocean area as protected areas by 2030.

World Oceans Day is the day to celebrate the ocean and all it does for us and to shore up efforts to protect it. Let’s work together for healthier oceans today and every day.


Sachiko Kondo

Senior Natural Resources Management Specialist, World Bank Group

Christophe Crepin

Practice Manager; Environment, Natural Resources and Blue Economy South Asia

Poonam Rohatgi

Environmental Analyst

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