- Suggests move as part of Sri Lanka’s post-COVID development strategy
Throughout the post-independent period, Sri Lanka has neglected the most valuable and accessible natural resource available to us – the sea around our shores and the country’s location close to some of the world’s most important routes for sea-borne trade.
That value was recognised by the European colonists (Portugal, the Netherlands, and Britain) who appreciated Sri Lanka’s location to the full and right up to World War II, when the British used it as the base for protection of their ‘possessions’ in Asia.
Until then, Sri Lanka’s strategic location brought wealth to foreign powers. Today, Sri Lanka, having regained its political independence and possessing a navy, coast guard, and merchant marine of its own should be ready to exploit the strategic location recognised by foreign naval powers for over some 500 years. In 2018 the Pathfinder Foundation established the Centre for the Law of the Sea as a modest step towards recognising the importance of ocean-related activities.
In order to mobilise the interest and ideas of our concerned and well-informed public on ways in which the Government intends to protect and utilise the rich and varied resources of the sea around us, the Pathfinder Foundation recommends the appointment of a Presidential Task Force on Ocean Resources, composed of representatives from Government, academia and the private sector who are knowledgeable and experienced in the conservation of our ocean resources and their sustainable utilisation.
This Task Force should be mandated and empowered to develop a comprehensive multi-sectorial strategy to responsibly utilise our ocean and its resources. This body would also be responsible for the ultimate coordination and implementation of the strategy.
In this context, the Pathfinder Foundation suggests that the following areas could be included for consideration by the Task Force:
a. National and regional security
b. Environmental and ecological protection
c. Trade, navigation, shipping and related activities
d. Regional connectivity and ferry services
f. Aquaculture, fisheries and food
g. Mineral and petroleum resources
h. Logistics and ports
i. Coastal development
j. Ocean-related scientific research and technology development
k. Energy and alternate energy opportunities
l. Culture and recreation
m. Education and training
In conclusion, throughout our long history, the relationship between the Sri Lankan people and the ocean has been complex and complicated. Sometimes insular and parochial attitudes have prevented our nation, unlike other islands, from thinking big when dealing with the ocean and its resources. Therefore, to fully utilise the opportunities presented by our oceans and her unlimited resources in the modern era, we would require to go through a complete change in our mindsets and attitudes. This process may have to begin through our education system.
To convey this reorientation, the Pathfinder Foundation suggests that the map of Sri Lanka depicted here – which highlights and profiles the nation’s prime location at the midpoint of the Indian Ocean – be used by the Government as the symbol for outreach activities related to this initiative.