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Monday, Aug 15, 2005

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Charting the seas with aplomb

Kavish Kamat

A view of the National Institute of Oceanography.

NATIONAL Institute of Oceanography (NIO), the country's premier ocean research institute situated in the picturesque Dona Paula village on the outskirts of Panaji city, has a mission... "To continuously improve our understanding of the seas and translate this knowledge to the benefit of all."

Headed by the distinguished scientist, Dr Satish R. Shetye, NIO, under the aegis of Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), has carried out research in coastal and open ocean environment for the last three decades.

The Institute endeavours to find solutions to human diseases, environmental pollution and damage to marine structures by marine organisms. It has acquired several US patents in recent years. NIO has in recent times focused on three potential non-living resources: gas hydrates in the continental shelf, phosphorites, and manganese micro-nodules found in the Bay of Bengal.

For coastal states, NIO provides yeoman service by promptly investigating, on request, the health of the waters. It has on innumerable occasions rushed to study the impact of oil spills and other problems that could endanger the waters, marine life as well as the coastline.

Marine archaeological studies carried out by NIO have the potential to help unearth details of past civilisations. Such studies were carried out at Goa, Dwarka and Orissa among other places.

With encouragement from CSIR, NIO has generated significant revenues through externally funded research in order to achieve self-sustainability. Ocean engineering and applied oceanography remain important components of NIO's industry-sponsored research. It sees huge potential for application-oriented research in areas like continental shelf, which can generate resources worth $ 20 billion in the next decade.

Most oil exploring companies, beginning with ONGC and Reliance, feature as NIO's clients, apart from state governments and ports. These projects from application-oriented industry, as well as state governments, help generate an external cash flow.

There is a global search for molecules that are exclusive to the marine environment and which can find use in new drugs. NIO is one of the leading players in this area. It has applied for many patents too.

India's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) is 200 nautical miles from the coastline. There is a provision to extend that distance into what is called legal continental shelf. Under the Department of Ocean Development (DoD), three laboratories, including NIO, Research Laboratory, Hyderabad, and National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research (NCAOR), Vasco da Gama, Goa, are creating the scientific basis for this. NIO's findings will be communicated to DoD in another year's time.

Other important projects include gas hydrates and changes brought about in the water close to the coastline due to human activity.

With well equipped laboratories, modern communication and transmission facilities, an extensive library, and an information services facility NIO has been recognised as a Responsible Oceanographic Data Centre by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission catering to organisations both within the country and those bordering the Indian Ocean.

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