For the love of the ocean

By Erum Noor Muzaffar
Tue, 04, 22

In an exclusive interview with You! Dr Nuzhat Khan, Pakistan’s first female Oceanographer, talks about her work and her love for ocean…

For the love of the ocean

Dr Nuzhat Khan is clearly a woman of substance. She is not only the first female oceanographer of Pakistan but is also the first female Director General in National Institute of Oceanography (NIO). She received NIO-Excellence award 2011, as recognition of outstanding contribution in research development activities of NIO. She was also awarded WWF-Pakistan ‘Living Planet Award’ as recognition of outstanding contribution in nature conservation. Dr Nuzhat Khan has a MSc degree in Analytical Chemistry. She did her PhD thesis on ‘Persistent, Bio-accumulative and Toxic Contaminants in Coastal Marine Environment of Pakistan’.

Dr Nuzhat Khan has been a visiting scientist at various national and international universities and institutes including the School of Oceanography, Seattle Washington U.S.A, University of British Columbia, Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS), University of Queensland, Institute of Space Technology, Karachi (SUPARCO HQs) and Environment and Microbiology Department, Jinnah University for Women, Karachi.

In her career spans over 33 years, Dr Nuzhat has contributed a lot towards achieving a clean and better environment. Her consultancy firm ‘ELeenks’ provide assistance for environmental assessments, skilful training programmes, and develop programmes that assist in economic development with environmental sustainability. She has also established ‘Ocean Technology Incubation Center’ (OTIC) for strengthening ocean science and technology for sustainable economic development in Pakistan.

I had an opportunity of meeting this wonder woman at one of the social networking events of Ladiesfund by Tara Uzra Dawood. Talking to Dr Nuzhat was a pleasurable experience. She was assertive, energetic and passionate about ocean. “I am obsessed with ocean,” says Dr Khan. Here are some of the excerpts from her interview…

For the love of the ocean

You! Why did you choose to study ocean?

Dr Nuzhat Khan: I am a self-motivated person, always keen to pledge with new and exciting realms that made me the first female Oceanographer in Pakistan and First female head of the organisation (Director General) in NIO’s history.

You! What do you find fascinating about ocean?

NK: I have always been fascinated by ocean as it represents all extremes – limitless, incredible, deep, vastness etc.

You! What qualifications one needs to become an oceanographer?

NK: Passion with a natural science degree. The ambit of oceanography extends from the atmosphere to the ocean floor and below it, and from the coastal region to the great mass of the deep oceans.

You! Where is National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) located?

NK: The National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) is located in Karachi. It was established in 1981 by the Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of Pakistan. Its Head Office is at Clifton Karachi, with three sub-stations at Gwadar, Sonmiani and Ghora Bari. The main area of research of the Institute is the north Arabian Sea and beyond. The oceanic and atmospheric processes of the north Arabian Sea modify our climate, offer numerous living and non-living resources, Oceanographic research brings together all the scientific disciplines needed to study the ocean.

You! As first female head of NIO, what major developments took place during your tenure (May 1986- July 2020)?

NK: I tried to create an environment for women - opened up the door for females to join NIO. I also proposed an ocean university, incubation centre and many others. Sadly, with the exception of few, I couldn’t achieve all my targets.

You! What do you like most about your work?

NK: It is challenging and exciting.

You! What important role ocean can play in boosting trade and economy of a country?

NK: Ocean is of huge importance in terms of natural resources and energy, trade and industry, innovation, technology and tourism. In addition, the port and shipping activities provide thousands of jobs. There is urgent need to explore the opportunities for strengthening ocean science and technology for sustainable economic development in Pakistan.

The Blue Economy can be harnessed for enhanced climate action - the Paris Agreement on climate change, United Nations Framework Summit on Climate Change (UNFCCC). When we talk about the Blue Economy, we are talking about all economic activity relating to oceans, seas and coasts, from fishing to renewable marine energy to coastal tourism. It is indeed an area where appropriate climate responses can unleash socio-economic and environmental benefits.

You! How long is our coastline?

NK: Pakistan coast is about 990 km long extending from Indian border in the east to the Iranian border in the west. The Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Pakistan is about 240,000 sq. km, with additional continental shelf area of about 50,000 sq. km. As such, the total maritime zone of Pakistan is over 30 per cent of the land area. This region is characterised by distinctive oceanic phenomena, that produces rich fisheries, mineral, and hydrocarbon resource.

You! You’re the founder of Ocean Kafe, tell us a bit about it?

NK: It is an initiative for the ocean and its resources advocacy. The objective is to showcase Pakistan’s maritime blue economy potential and ocean entrepreneurship. And to create awareness towards environmental and social issues.

You! How does a common man perceive ocean?

NK: Sadly, a common man perceives ocean as a mere waste bin.

You! Why there are few women in this field?

NK: It is a challenging and ignored field, hence few women in this profession.

You! What are the primary goals of your setup - Women of Substance?

NK: It is a forum of inspiring and successful women from diverse backgrounds. It aims to uplift and empower women through horizontal networking opportunities and provide support to grow further. WOS will bring inspiration and motivation for women from all walks of life to be more confident and successful individuals.

You! Being a woman, what kinds of challenges do you encounter?

NK: Hard to explain: many invisible, unarticulated and tacit moves and behaviours.

You! Tell us about your videography?

NK: I make short videos on business opportunities and investments in Blue Economy, health of the ocean and communities. I also develop programmes on entrepreneurship that would facilitate stewardship in maritime sector.

You! What is the most important advice you can give to women?

NK: Self-motivation and firm determination is the key to success.

You! Any lessons learnt the hard way?

NK: Nothing is impossible, sky is the limit.

You! What’s your biggest accomplishment to-date?

NK: Still feeling young, fresh and ready for all new challenges.

You! What are you preoccupied with these days?

NK: My mission is to seek solutions to speed up appropriate action on the progress of Pakistan’s ranking in World Economic Forum (WEF) 151 & 153/156.

You! Do you think general mind set of our society is changing with regard to working women?

NK: Not yet. Long way to go.

You! What are the positive points of being economically independent?

NK: You are respected in the society.

You! What does a typical day look like for you?

NK: Nuzhat Khan with a computer on a driving seat.

You! Your philosophy of life:

NK: Be a good dreamer.

You! How do you unwind?

NK: Long drive with loud music.

You! What are your future plans in terms of expansion of your work?

NK: An ocean science and technology resort!