During the recently held United Nations Ocean Conference at Lisbon, the Indian Minister for Earth Sciences, Dr Jitendra Singh said, under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a host of initiatives were being taken in India to ensure the protection of the oceans Dwelling on the theme of the conference “Scaling up Ocean Action based on Science and Innovation for the implementation of Goal 14: Stocktaking, Partnerships and Solutions”, Dr Jitendra Singh reiterated that India will take all possible measures to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal-14, which addresses some of the challenges faced by the life under water.

He informed that the Government headed by PM Modi has taken up several initiatives, programmes and policy interventions through different Ministries and Departments to protect the marine and coastal ecosystems, mangroves and coral reefs. An important initiative for Ocean protection in India is the Deep Ocean Mission. It is being implemented by the Indian Ministry of Earth Sciences with six thematic areas, which include development of Ocean Climate Change Advisory Services to address climate resilience, exploration and conservation of deep-sea biodiversity, development of technologies for harnessing ocean resources and capacity building.

On June 16, 2021, the Deep Sea Mission was approved by the Indian cabinet under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi. The estimated cost of the Mission has been estimated at Rs. 4077 crores for a period of 5 years to be implemented in a phase-wise manner. The estimated cost for the first phase for the 3 years (2021-2024) would be Rs.2823.4 crores. Deep Ocean Mission has been designed as a mission mode project to support the Blue Economy Initiatives of the Government of India.

The Deep Ocean Mission consists of the following six major components:
1) Development of Technologies for Deep Sea Mining, and Manned Submersible: A manned submersible will be developed to carry three people to a depth of 6000 metres in the ocean with suite of scientific sensors and tools. Only a very few countries have acquired this capability. An Integrated Mining System will be also developed for mining Polymetallic Nodules from 6000 m depth in the central Indian Ocean. The exploration studies of minerals will pave way for the commercial exploitation in the near future, as and when commercial exploitation code is evolved by the International Seabed Authority, a UN organization. This component will help the Blue Economy priority area of exploring and harnessing deep-sea minerals and energy.

2) Development of Ocean Climate Change Advisory Services: A suite of observations and models will be developed to understand and provide future projections of important climate variables on seasonal to decadal time scales under this proof-of-concept component. This component will support the Blue Economy priority area of coastal tourism.

3) Technological innovations for exploration and conservation of deep-sea biodiversity: Bio-prospecting of deep-sea flora and fauna including microbes and studies on sustainable utilization of deep-sea bio-resources will be the main focus. This component will support the Blue Economy priority area of Marine Fisheries and allied services.

4) Deep Ocean Survey and Exploration: The primary objective of this component is to explore and identify potential sites of multi-metal Hydrothermal Sulphides mineralization along the Indian Ocean mid-oceanic ridges. This component will additionally support the Blue Economy priority area of deep-sea exploration of ocean resources.

5) Energy and freshwater from the Ocean: Studies and detailed engineering design for offshore Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) powered desalination plant are envisaged in this proof-of-concept proposal. This component will support the Blue Economy priority area of offshore energy development.
6) Advanced Marine Station for Ocean Biology. This component is aimed at the development of human capacity and enterprise in ocean biology and engineering. This component will translate research into industrial application and product development through on-site business incubator facilities. This component will support the Blue Economy priority area of Marine Biology, Blue trade and Blue manufacturing.

The technologies required for deep-sea mining have strategic implications and are not commercially available. Hence, attempts will be made to indigenise technologies by collaborating with leading institutes and private industries. A research vessel for deep ocean exploration would be built in an Indian shipyard which would create employment opportunities. This mission is also directed towards capacity development in Marine Biology, which will provide job opportunities in Indian industries. In addition, design, development and fabrication of specialised equipment, ships and setting up of required infrastructure are expected to spur the growth of the Indian industry, especially the MSME and Startups.

Photo Credit : https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c5/Deep_Discoverer_%2851816198671%29.jpg