18 Feb 2003 -- Pattaya, Thailand - Eight South and Southeast Asian countries bordering the Bay of Bengal are meeting here to discuss cooperation to protect their fragile coastal and marine resources that are vital for the well-being of a quarter of humanity.
Some 50 senior government officials from these countries and leading international marine ecosystem experts have gathered at this Thai beach resort for the 17 to 21 February 2003 First regional workshop of the Bay of Bengal large marine ecosystem programme (BOBLME).
Under the multi-donor initiative, FAO is assisting the countries to develop and implement an action plan for the protection and sustainable management of the ecosystem and living resources of the Bay of Bengal in order to improve food and livelihood security of the region’s large coastal population.
Over-exploitation, destructive fishing practices, habitat destruction, and pollution from land and sea-based sources are serious threats to the continued survival of the region’s marine bounty. A recent study of trawl fisheries off the southeast coast of India found a more than 40 percent reduction in the catch and nearly two-thirds decline in the catch rate during the past decade.
“The Bay of Bengal and its resources are indifferent to man-made boundaries, but are very sensitive to man-made influences, which also cross those man-made boundaries. Recognizing this shared physical reality, the eight countries have agreed that effective management of their coastal and marine environment and living resources require a collaborative approach,” said FAO deputy regional representative for Asia and the Pacific, Hiroyuki Konuma while opening the consultation.
The US$1.3 million preparatory phase of the programme is the latest in a series of such ventures being funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) set up after the 1992 UN Earth Summit. The BOBLME is co-financed by GEF (through the World Bank), the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), FAO and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). It is the first GEF International Waters programme in the Bay of Bengal.
Jointly organized with the Thai government’s department of fisheries, the five-day meeting has launched the first intra-regional exercise to identify main threats to the coastal and marine resources of the eight countries, and will suggest priority areas for joint action and identify gaps in information needed for collaborative action.
According to Philomene A. Verlaan, regional coordinator of BOBLME based in the southeast coastal Indian city of Chennai, the Pattaya meeting is a “team-building exercise meant to assist the eight countries to develop a shared understanding of shared problems.”
Bounded by Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Maldives, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand, the Bay of Bengal is one of the world’s over 60 large marine ecosystems. The eight littoral nations are home to some 1.5 billion people and the world’s largest concentration of the income-poor. Most of the 400 million people living in the immediate vicinity of the Bay of Bengal are among the world’s poorest.
More than 2 million people make a living by fishing in the coastal and offshore waters of the Bay where the marine fish catch has increased four-fold in the last three decades to 4 million tones. In the year 2000, India and Thailand each accounted for 22 percent of the catch, followed by Myanmar and Malaysia with 21 and 13 percent respectively. Tuna and similar species have nearly doubled their contribution during this period to 7.6 percent, with Sri Lanka now the top tuna producer in the region with a catch of 103 000 tonnes in 2000. Thailand’s tuna catch, which peaked at 58 000 tonnes in 1995, had declined to 42 000 tonnes by 2000.
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