Indonesia and Australia are sleeping ocean superpowers
In many ways, Australia and Indonesia represent ocean superpowers. The two neighbouring countries share huge marine resources and opportunities. At the same time both face increasing challenges to their oceans and coastal regions brought about by climate change and over-exploitation.
Recently, marine scientists from Australia and Indonesia identified possible areas of collaboration for their countries to solve these challenges.
The scientists came together at the inaugural Australia Indonesia Science Symposium organised by the Australian and Indonesian scientific academies. We were conveners for the two-day discussion between the Australian and Indonesian marine experts.
The scientists highlighted at least eight potential areas of collaboration on marine science and climate change:
Scientists from both countries believe it’s important for Australia and Indonesia to work together to understand the impact of climate change on marine resources, and to create solutions. Climate change is causing rising sea levels and surface temperatures as well as ocean acidification. These have resulted in the bleaching of corals and mortality that affect livelihoods in both countries. Both scientific communities urge their governments to do more to rapidly reduce greenhouse gases.
They pointed out that Australia and Indonesia should look into developing a strategy to reduce CO₂ and other emissions by maximising their coastal ecosystems and oceans as carbon sinks.
The scientists recommended the two countries explore ways to increase cooperation and knowledge sharing in new technologies for the rapid monitoring of key marine resources. Many breakthroughs in technologies, such as image recognition, neural networks and machine learning, are set to rapidly reduce the time and costs of detailed reef monitoring.
The two scientific communities also suggested the countries work together to advance the sciences to better manage migratory species such as turtles, sharks and other megafauna.
They recommended a holistic approach to developing coastal fisheries. These fisheries require the development of whole-of-system thinking, with integrated management/governance that recognises the multiple uses and activities across space and time.
They noted that development of national parks has been successful to a substantial extent in both countries. But more work must be done in both countries. Baseline datasets need to be developed in order to detect and respond to present and future impacts.
The scientists see a need for Indonesia and Australia to develop greater cooperation on research, innovation and business development. The links between science and innovation and the blue economy need to be strengthened and reinforced.
They identified a need and interest to develop a regional partnership to collaborate on problem solving in the ocean space and to develop databases that readily available to multiple cultural and language groups.
Why is this important?
Both Australia and Indonesia are heavily dependent on their extensive coastal regions and oceans for their food, income and well-being. The ocean holds enormous economic potential, which runs into billions of dollars each year.
Australia’s ocean spans over 13 million square kilometres – an area twice that of Australia’s landmass. Indonesia’s ocean stretches across almost 2 million square kilometres and the country is endowed with one of the longest coastlines of the world – almost 100,000 km long!
An estimated 70% of Indonesia’s population, or around 180 million people, lives on this coastline. Similarly, 85% of Australia’s population lives within 50 km of the coast.
But marine ecosystems of both countries are facing threats of over-exploitation and destruction.
Pollution from chemicals and plastics has begun to choke entire coastlines, destroying ecosystems and opportunity. At the same time, ocean ecosystems such as coral reefs, kelp forests and mangroves are disappearing at rates up to 2% per year from many coastal areas.
Most fisheries are under-performing. According to the FAO, 80% of the fish stocks are fully exploited or are collapsing. That is, we are getting much less than the sustainable yield should give us.
On top of this, ocean ecosystems and fisheries are severely threatened by climate change – through ocean warming and acidification. These impacts – from the deepest sea to our coasts – are threatening to foreclose on our future ocean wealth and opportunity.
The blue economy
The World Wildlife Fund recently estimated the asset value of the ocean to be US$24 trillion – which if it were a country would be the seventh-largest economy on the planet. This oceanic “wealth” fund delivers US$2.5 trillion in benefits to humanity each year – an economic activity associated with the marine economy that is growing three times faster than Australia’s GDP.
Increasingly, countries and businesses are turning to the ocean to generate novel industries and opportunities for food and income. Termed the “blue economy”, there is increasing focus on better using ocean resources to feed our hungry world.
By 2050 the world’s population will have added 3 billion people and will reach 9 billion. To feed those extra 3 billion people the Food and Agriculture Organisation has indicated that food production must increase by 70%.
The FAO has said that 80% of the required production increases will have to come from increases in crop yields, with only 20% coming from new farmlands.
But the stark reality is that the rate of growth in yields of the major cereal crops has been steadily declining – from about 3.2% per year in 1960 to 1.5% today. Consequently, we must find another alternative or risk ecological disaster as we turn more and more parts of the world’s crucial ecosystems into food production systems.
And it is much more than a matter of simply finding more food.
For industries, such as tourism, new fisheries, energy production and the development of new pharmaceuticals, the blue economy represents an enormous untapped potential.
It is critical to strike a balance between harvesting the economic potential of our ocean and safeguarding its longer-term health and well-being.
Unfortunately, despite the economic value of these opportunities, the marine resources of Australia and Indonesia are at serious risk of being degraded before we develop these opportunities.
There is a great opportunity and imperative for Australia and Indonesia to join forces to solve these critical challenges.
But to solve the problems, we need greater knowledge about our ocean wealth. We also need to build the capacity to understand and sensibly exploit these ocean resources.
All this means more people and infrastructure. We also need to promote greater regional knowledge and regional information exchange. We need to come together much more regularly to swap ideas and develop new solutions and approaches.
And if we do, then the power of our respective oceans will be unleashed for the greater good.