Steering the world towards a Blue Economy

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Steering the world towards a Blue Economy

Abu Dhabi - Seychelles' former president James Alix Michel says there are enormous possibilities for island countries to use the oceans for more benefits.


Ashwani Kumar

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Published: Wed 18 Jan 2017, 7:50 PM

Last updated: Thu 19 Jan 2017, 9:40 AM

Seychelles' former president James Alix Michel urges world leaders to rethink their views on the oceans. He has been at the forefront of the Blue Economy concept for a long time now.

In an exclusive chat with Khaleej Times, Michel says there are enormous possibilities for island countries to use the oceans for more benefits.

"For a long time, men have concentrated on land for development. Two-thirds of our planet is ocean and there is lot of potential for its development, as there are a lot of resources in there," he said, on sidelines of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week. Island nations, in particular, stood to gain a lot of benefits in developing resources and boosting the economy.

"I call it the new frontier, because it represents a new form of economic benefits from the development of infrastructure to do with the oceans. For example, let us look at trade. Lot of countries use the oceans to transport goods. For island and coastal countries, you have fish, offshore oil and gas and tourism too. The algae from the sea can be used for pharmaceuticals and other nutritional benefits."
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Michel bets on young minds to come up with innovative means to develop potential possibilities. "Use the oceans and get more benefits - this is the concept as I envisage."

So, is the Blue Economy about diversifying beyond fishing and tourism? "Yes, apart from fishing, most of the other resources have not been exploited, used and developed in an innovative manner."

The sea is for everyone

Treading on a touchy issue of the South China Sea dispute over resources, Michel said: "In South China Sea, unfortunately, you have a dispute of possession of islands and resources. These countries should realise the earth and ocean doesn't belong to one nation but to everyone. You have the economic zone, territorial waters, and exclusive economic zones, which belong to that country. Then you have the open sea which belongs to everybody. So, the way forward is to come up with ocean legal architecture, where the United Nations should take over the laws of the sea, which regulates the various economic zones that belong to different countries. There should be an architecture that protects those countries in a legal way to enable peaceful development of all areas."

Michel said Seychelles is already leading the way by sharing a large part of the Indian Ocean with Mauritius for development and exploitation. He wants other countries to follow the same. "It's the underground sea bed, which we have agreed in accordance with the UN charter, to develop and exploit any resources in the area, like fishing, mutually. We plan oil exploration in the future.

"We have done a lot of research with top oil companies and it's been there are possible reserves of oil and gas. We can be sure when we drill; we haven't started yet. So, it is all part of Blue Economy concept."

The UAE-Seychelles love affair

Michel said the UAE's ties with his country could help its oil exploration. "We have excellent ties since the 1980s. His Highness Shaikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan loves Seychelles and has been there often. It's also a favourite with the other royals for their holidays. They have been very generous. Some people say there is a love affair between the UAE and Seychelles. I am very happy to have been the architect of this relationship.

"The UAE has all the technology and resources and in the future when the time comes, we can work together. Abu Dhabi has been very helpful to Seychelles in developing our economy and renewable energy. The UAE has built wind turbines in Seychelles and we will soon start a project to setup a solar farm."

Do his own people understand and accept the concept of Blue Economy? "At first, they didn't understand, but then they embraced the concept. We had to convince them that this is not just important for the country but for the world."

And now, Michel is on a war footing. "I have taken this concept to international conferences and to the UN too. This is now accepted as part of Sustainable Development Goals. The Alliance of Small Island States and the EU have also embraced it. So world over, we now have different institutions promoting the concept of Blue Economy. We can proudly say this has become a global movement."

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