An Ocean of Opportunity - Tech, Drones, Machine Learning and You!

It is hard to picture the vastness of our oceans, and it is even harder to imagine that we could inflict serious damage on it.  But what was once thought to be a limitless resource for humanity is showing serious signs strain. Overfishing, loss of coral reefs, acidification, an increasing tide of plastic pollution all being increased by 7 billion people and growing!This has serious consequences for humanity,  

We are only just beginning to understand the vital role that oceans play in regulating climate. A third of coastal habitats that play a key role in absorbing carbon has been lost (Nellemann et al, 2009, World Bank Infographic, 2013). The 8 million tonnes of plastic entering our ocean each year is causing entanglement and death to marine life, and being absorbed as microplastics into foodchains and ultimately ending up on our dinner plates.Oceans play a critical role in balancing the global economy too. The UNDP estimates global coastal industries contribute USD$3 Trillion a year of 5% global GDP.  

But this ocean of untapped treasures is inextricably linked to its sustainable use. In the OECD’s report on The Trillion Dollar Ocean, it said: “Unsustainable use of the ocean and its resources threatens the very basis on which much of the world’s welfare and prosperity depend.”  

Simply put, if we don’t change humanity’s parasitic relationship with the ocean to a symbiotic one, its treasures will sink into oblivion, forever out our reach.  

These challenges seem almost as impossibly vast as the Oceans that face them. But, not so! UNCLOS, often called the ‘constitution’ for the sea and UN Sustainable Development Goals have kick-started growing momentum for positive change. In fact, the UK Government strategies behind this week’s ‘Green GB Week’ are much underpinned by the UN SDGs. 

Goal #14 addresses the challenges facing ‘life underwater’, it recognises along with the World Bank, OECD, World Economic Forum, the key role that technology plays in catalysing a positive change in our relationship with the ocean. A potential that techUK’s first Green Week seeks to highlight today. 

Perhaps where technology shows the greatest promise, alongside fundamental behaviour change, is the plastic pollution scourge. Technological solutions like Ooho’s edible water bottles and Boyan Slat’s Ocean Cleanup group, show great potential.  

But fundamentally there is a lack of a consistent scientific global data that can show the effect of our technological, and indeed political, solutions. Nor do we know the true environmental, economic and social cost of plastic pollution in our oceans . Our best estimate is USD13$ billion a year to marine ecosystems, but that does not measure the loss of productivity, damage to tourism etc. 

The Plastic Tide is a nonprofit that aims provide this knowledge by using drones, machine learning, and citizen science, to build a disruptive, cost-efficient, scalable solution to monitor plastic pollution. 

Machine learning algorithms trained by you, in your armchair at home, are used to hunt for plastics captured by drones to create a global map of plastics on our coastlines.  

The Plastic Tide is extending this vision to the seafloor and sea surface to realise its goal of a global map of the movements of plastics around the planet. This global scientific dataset will help coordinate ocean cleans, inform campaigns, government policies and provide the evidence to enforce laws and regulations.  

I do not want my children to tell their grandchildren legends about the ocean's bounty, I want them to experience its benefit firsthand! 

Start training our algorithm 

Join the discussion on #techUKgreenweek and #GreenGB. To see more blogs like this, please visit the website here.

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