MANAGING THE COASTAL & SEA RESOURCES OF BALOCHISTAN

SYED FAZL-E-HAIDER
Feb 16 - 22, 2009

Coastal and sea resources are the national assets, which should efficiently be managed and exploited by the development planners and policymakers in the country. Balochistan makes up 70 percent of Pakistan's total coastal belt. The coastline of the province is one of the most productive marine ecosystems of the world. According to an estimate, 60 species of fish and 10 of shrimps, including the best in the world, are found in Balochistan. The province produces 200,000 tons of fish per year, of which 80,000 tons are fished by trawlers from Sindh. 35 settlements are situated along the Balochistan coast, of which Gwadar, Pasni and Ormara are the most important.

The Sonmiani bay of Lasbela district in coastal Balochistan is a good source of seeds for all three mangrove species in Pakistan. This picturesque bay is internationally recognized as an important wetland, home to migratory birds. The existing mangrove forests in Sonmiani spread over 2,500 hectares, which have been declared a protected area. In order to protect their natural resources, the people of Sonmiani came together to form a community based organization called the Sonmiani Development Organization (SDO). According to the environmentalists, the Miani Hor in Sonmiani is a closed lagoon with a four kilometer wide mouth that opens out into the Arabian Sea and through this feature nurtures life forms that are distinct from the open shores of the Makran coast. Much of the lagoon waters lie within mud flats and islands. In the waters of the bay, there are bottlenose dolphins, turtles and a multitude of water and sea birds.

Sonmiani Bay is also full of shrimp, crab and other fish, which feed and live around the roots of the dense mangrove trees. Over the years, with the help of international NGOs, the fishermen of Sonmiani Bay have been protecting their natural resources and saving the mangrove forests for their children. The dense mangrove forests provide an abundance of fish for trade and food, as well as fodder and fuel for the local residents. The mud crabs which grow in the mangrove roots are considered a delicacy in south East Asia and if marketed properly, can provide profits for the local community.

The ecology of Gwadar region can be described as semi arid and coastal environment. While, the semi arid mainland has limited vegetation and biodiversity, the coastal zone is a valuable ecological resource. Mekran coast is known to be an important breeding ground for turtles. The turtles to lay and incubate their eggs use the beaches around Gwadar. The turtles are very sensitive to light pollution. The major environmental constraints are focused on the coastal zone where the most sensitive ecosystems are located. The port operation and economic activity should remain undisturbed. Inevitably, the port development at Gwadar will bring about changes in the environment. All new development needs to adopt the highest standards of environmental protection. The ecology of East Bay will be more directly affected by the port development. There is a need to take steps for conservation of habitats along the East Bay.

The land along coastal belt has enormous potential for development of shrimp farming and processing projects, which can play a vital role in fisheries development in the province. The shrimp farming projects would not only earn huge foreign exchange for the country but also prosper the local fishermen by providing them a constant source of income. There are greater prospects for generation of employment for local people, as a huge labor force may be required to run the shrimp farming units in coastal areas. . The provincial government should allot lands in coastal districts of Lasbella and Mekran to private parties interested in promoting shrimp farming in Balochistan.

Experts are of the view that stock of shrimps in Pakistani sea will reduce with the passage of time, and in order to meet the increasing demand, shrimps being caught recently were the mangroves with small eye nets, which is said to be very dangerous for ecosystem.

Balochistan has an ideal land and suitable conditions for shrimp farming. Shrimp farming is an important economic activity, which can develop unproductive salty coastal areas of Pakistan. The fish farming projects will improve the socio-economic conditions of the people in coastal areas. The farm raised shrimp production is export-oriented. There is a great demand for shrimps in the foreign countries. The main buyers are USA, Japan, Gulf and European Union countries.

Experts emphasize the need for reviewing the known information about coastal and marine life and resources, baseline surveys of biodiversity, mapping of habitat, monitoring of key pollutants, studies and stock assessments of declining fisheries species and undertaking of research on key issues

Gwadar port will require effective town planning to protect valuable coastal resources, otherwise the haphazard development of coastal settlements and pollution of coastal beaches would be the important problems to be confronted by the people in coastal areas in future. Water scarcity is a big problem in coastal towns of Balochistan. There will be an urgent need to install desalination plants at different points along coastal belt in the province. Gwadar port project would necessitate augmentation of water supply to ensure a safe source of water for the population and the Agriculture.

A comprehensive strategy needs to be developed for preventing the decline of marine environment and falling fish stocks. Unplanned coastal development should not be allowed. The water resources should be managed effectively. Fishing should be organized on modern and efficient lines and steps be taken to ensure sustainability of fisheries resource. Government should take steps for protecting marine life and seawater from being polluted in view of development along the coastline and construction of the seaport.

Marine scientists and coastal zone management experts have identified at least 11 potential sites for the establishment of marine protected areas (MPAs) in Pakistan. The MPAs would prevent extreme depletion of fishery stock and protect their genetic diversities. The sites proposed by the experts for the establishment of MPAs in Balochistan include Jiwani, Gunz, Ormara, Hingol River Estuary and Sonmiani. The MPA is an area in the coastal zone particularly dedicated to the protection and maintenance of biological diversity and of natural and associated cultural resources and it is managed through legal means.