Innovations for a Resilient Ocean

By Vicky Harris, Vice President Marketing on June 04, 2019
Vicky Harris
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A few weeks ago, American explorer Victor Vescovo broke the record for the deepest ever sub dive, reaching a depth of 10,972 meters (nearly 7 miles) into the deepest part of the Pacific Ocean, known as the Mariana Trench. This human feat was accomplished using the latest submarine technology capable of protecting divers from the enormous pressures experienced at the bottom of the ocean, which can reach 1,000 bars or the “equivalent of 50 jumbo jets piled on top of a person,” according to the BBC. They go on to say that Vescovo “spent four hours exploring the bottom of the trench with the risk of his submersible imploding if anything were to go wrong.”

The underwater explorer made two important discoveries during multiple expeditions into the deep ocean trenches. First, even at immense pressure and with zero sunlight, life thrives. The BBC reports that Vescovo found sea creatures, including “four new species of prawn-like crustaceans called amphipods…a spoon worm…and a pink snailfish,” which have adapted to life in such an inhospitable environment. His second discovery is not as cheerful: human pollution has arrived at ocean seafloor depths. During his excursions, Vescovo and his team found plastic waste, including a “plastic bag and sweet wrappers.”

This week, we observe World Oceans Day (June 8) by exploring this contrast and highlighting some impactful organizations that are applying innovative technology to keep our oceans resilient and thriving.

Finding a way to coexist is not only possible; it is critical and urgent.

A Sea of Contrasts

The explorer, as the BBC put it, “has found plastic waste on the seafloor while breaking the record for the deepest ever dive.” They stress, “Humanity’s impact on the planet was evident with the discovery of plastic pollution. It’s something that other expeditions using landers have seen before.” This contrast between an incredible human feat and the reach of our waste illuminates both the resiliency of the life-giving power of our oceans and the urgent need to protect them from the artifacts of humanity’s progress.

The fact that we have only begun to explore the ocean’s depths underscores just how little we understand our planet’s most plentiful substance and the crucial role that oceans play on our planet’s weather system and natural ecosystem. Technology can help us better comprehend and preserve our planet by protecting this vast underworld of mystery and magic.

Below we explore some of the initiatives and actions helping to preserve our world’s oceans.

Thirteen Ocean Solutions for Climate Change

A warming planet is catastrophic news for marine life. Recently National Geographic wrote, “The world’s coral reefs, from the Great Barrier Reef off Australia to the Seychelles off East Africa, are in grave danger of dying out completely by mid-century unless carbon emissions are reduced enough to slow ocean warming.” The article, based on a new study by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), “is the first global examination of the vulnerability of the entire planet’s reef systems.”

The fact that a warmer ocean becomes more acidic, affecting shelled organisms and corals is not new. Fortunately, there are organizations working on creative solutions to this problem. For perspective, the Oceans Solutions Initiative, an international organization of scientists and governments, reported the following:

“Over a dozen international researchers from the Ocean Solutions Initiative―including scientists from the CNRS [Le Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique], IDDRI [Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations], and Sorbonne University―have evaluated the potential of thirteen ocean-based measures to counter climate change. Their findings are published in Frontiers in Marine Science…[in] hope their analysis will inform decision-makers.”

These thirteen solutions include innovations in the following areas:

  • Reduction of causes of climate change―for example, by developing renewable marine energy sources or restoring and conserving marine plant life to capture and store carbon;
  • Preservation of ecosystems―by creating marine-protected areas, reducing pollution, and prohibiting the overexploitation of resources;
  • Protection of oceans from solar radiation―by altering cloud or ocean reflectivity; and
  • Direct manipulation of the biological and ecological adaptability of species―by their relocation, for example.

Aided by the expert opinions of these scientists, governments and industry will be able to invest in solutions to help mitigate the effects of climate change on oceans and marine life.

Protecting the Reefs, One Bracelet at a Time

Another exciting initiative brings together science, fashion, and education to protect coral reefs from global warming and the effects of plastic pollution. This partnership was formed between 4Ocean, a for-profit organization, and The Great Barrier Reef Foundation, a nonprofit, to tackle the following challenge (as described by 4Ocean):

“Climate change creates several unique challenges that can impact the long-term future of the Great Barrier Reef, including more frequent severe weather events, rising ocean temperatures, ocean acidification, and rising sea levels. Ocean plastic and other marine debris pollute this already fragile ecosystem, endangering marine life and stressing corals. Plastic can abrade coral or tear its skin, allowing pathogens such as bacteria and other microorganisms to enter and a potentially deadly infection to start.”

The partnership applies new technologies to remove plastics from the oceans, manufacture bracelets out of it, and sell them to consumers who want to donate, become educated, and make a fashion statement. So far, 4.5 million pounds of plastic has been removed from the ocean and sold as bracelets.

A Top Ten Ocean Innovations List

Last year, Medium published their “Top Ten Innovations for the Oceans.” The article indicated, “It has never been more important for industry and environmental organizations to work together, and thankfully they are doing so in more and more innovative ways,” adding, “a new wave of organizations are strategizing towards a positive future for the planet’s waterways.”

Their list includes innovative initiatives across many industries that source their materials from the oceans, or whose products may end up there, such as fashion, beauty care, food production, packaging, and fisheries. The technologies that these ten innovations use range from artificial intelligence and nanotechnology to big data breakthroughs in manufacturing and recycling systems. All ten of these initiatives have the potential to positively impact the oceans on a large scale, which is exactly what we need.

Some highlights from Medium’s “Top Ten Innovations for the Oceans” include:

  • Parley has partnered with Adidas to create a 3D printed shoe made from plastic ocean waste in an effort to “rethink the use of materials and design to bring about lasting change to ocean health.”
  • Provenance, a platform that enables greater supply chain transparency, “has successfully trialed the use of mobile, blockchain technology and smart tagging to track tuna from the ocean in Indonesia to your plate.”
  • Waterless beauty brands “remove the need for plastic packaging when products as diverse as soap and tanning products can be delivered in the form of a bar.”

An Ocean of Difference

Alarming headlines about the degradation of oceans due to pollution and global warming appear alongside exciting discoveries of the world they contain and encouraging innovations that enable us to coexist with marine life more sustainably. Contrast seems to be at the heart of humanity’s relationship with the ocean, but together, we can protect and restore the world’s oceans.

This year’s World Oceans Day is focused on activating a global community to explore solutions for a healthy ocean, including tackling the problem of plastic pollution. These are problems that entrepreneurs, organizations, and citizens around the world are approaching with ingenuity to provide real and actionable solutions―and this is a great reason to celebrate. Happy World Oceans Day!

 

Photo courtesy of Christopher Michel.
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