THE mysterious nature of oceans compelled humans to explore and exploit them. Transportation of goods, recreational activities, fisheries and seafood, energy, minerals and collecting valuables are some indispensable advantages of oceans that humans have been enjoying since centuries, but all these activities would not have been possible without the support provided by Hydrographic surveys and studies. Hydrography is basically mapping out the water depth, shape of seafloor, presence of shoals, rocks or wracks that can affect navigation, physical feathers of oceanic bodies and adjacent coastlines etc. As a specialised branch of science, it provides help for a number of maritime activities such as dredging, anchoring, laying pipelines and transmission cables, understanding fish habitats and most importantly keeps maritime transport system operational. Safe and efficient movement of ships from congested waterways, narrow chokepoint and busy ports is not possible without hydrographic charts. Thus, hydrography provides bases for all activities conducted in, on or under the sea. According to some economic studies carried out to assess the role of hydrography in maritime development, it was surfaced that national investment in hydrography is always positive and also carries regional and global dividends. While, in economic context of ‘cost to benefit ratio’ it can be better than 1:10 for any coastal state. But unfortunately, Hydrography is hardly heard in the everyday parlance of the public. Neither, it is discussed nor regarded as matter of national significance or a key enabler for maritime development, by the public office holders in Pakistan.
Almost 100 years ago in 1919, an international conference on the subject was held at Trinity House, London to deliberate upon the various aspects of the blue seas and future course of collaboration between the countries on maritime affairs. The participating countries in the conference decided to develop an international body for mutual progress in the field. As a result, IHO was formed in the year 1921. World Hydrography Day (WHD) is accordingly dedicated to acknowledge the substantial contribution of hydrographers towards global maritime development. The UN designated day is celebrated since 2005, in 93 member states of International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) around the globe to recall trinity conference. It is widely assumed that much has been discovered, but the truth is that a lot is still to be explored in global oceans and seas. According to IHO, more than 50% of the global oceans are yet unknown to mankind.
Therefore, in the year 2020, IHO is focusing on the aspects of Hydrography – enabling autonomous technologies. This theme is very apt and timely as many coastal countries are now focusing on oceanic development. Blue Economy has become a focal agenda in the discourses on economic development around the world, and hydrography is the most fundamental of all the enablers of blue growth. All sea-based activities are reliant on mapping and knowledge of oceans. And requirement of marine data is increasing not only for the sustainable maritime development, but also because of growing environmental challenges, safety and protection issues. This emerging need provides a significant opportunity to the scientists, to use oceans as testing grounds for new technologies. Whether it is artificial intelligence, drones, use of metadata or any other application of science, the global surge for blue growth can be much advanced by applying these tools to oceans. It expected application of modern technology will get us more high resolution bathymetry data and more accurate synthesis of seabed. This will be used for improved maritime management, protection and development plans.
Currently the expertise of hydrography lies only with Pakistan Navy. The Department of Hydrography was established in 1959 and over the time has accomplished excellence in the field. We must oblige hard work undertaken by our hydrographers and the scientific community. Establishment of Polar Research Centres at the Antarctic, transmission of navigational information for NAVAREA IX region and furtherance of research in collaboration with National Institute of Oceanography are some significant achievements of PN Hydrography Department. We must also acknowledge the vital role they have played for demarcation of maritime zones and particularly for the successful extension of the Continental Shelf. John F. Kennedy once very aptly encapsulated the need to explore mystery of blue oceans in these words, “Knowledge of the oceans is more than a matter of curiosity.
Our very survival may hinge upon it.” Pakistan is envisaging development of its maritime sector on the lines of blue growth strategy, it can only be possible if we promote oceanic and hydrography research and focus on marine spatial planning for future development. The specialised data/oceanic information is very important for navigation, exploration of off-shore marine resources, planning for deep sea research activities, fishing, development of marine and coastal tourism, building ports, harbours and maritime infrastructures along the coast, marking of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) as well as for the management of maritime safety and security in our national waters. The scope of the subject as academic field is very vast and promising, and indeed has the potential to contribute considerably into the national economy. Relevant ministries and public offices need to pay due attention to this much neglected maritime field.
—The author is IOI Ocean Ambassador to Pakistan and freelance maritime writer.