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How Technology Can Help Us Fight Ocean Pollution

Posted July 25, 2019

Our oceans have undergone a dramatic transformation over the past several decades. The pressures of industrial production, unchecked expansion and a growing population have affected our aquatic ecosystems in alarming ways. Images of plastic waste washing up on shore are increasingly common, though they offer only a partial view of a much bigger picture.

Free image via Pixabay

In recent years we’ve seen a depletion in fish stock, a dramatic rise in coral bleaching events and similar issues. The phenomena of “ghost gear” and “ghost fishing” have also harmed natural habitats, killing marine life through long-discarded fishing nets. All things considered, researchers aren’t optimistic about the future of the oceans.

That said, it’s possible to reverse the damage we’ve done to planet and rehabilitate our oceans through new and novel technologies. With the application of crowdsourced data, artificial intelligence, dredging and the launch of the Global Ghost Gear Initiative, we’re making steady progress in the fight against ocean pollution.

So how do these technologies function, and what role does the GGGI play? These questions have fascinating answers, and we’ll examine them in the sections below.

Technologies to Combat Ocean Pollution

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration partnered with the University of Georgia to develop the Marine Debris Tracker. It’s a free app that enables people to report instances of litter in waterways or along coastlines. The system then plots that data on a map to show areas in need of clean up.

Other organizations are taking a proactive approach to the problem, addressing the issue of ocean pollution before it occurs. The biotechnology company MSG uses canola oil and microbial bacteria to make biodegradable products like fishing line, bottles and food containers. These alternative materials will prove indispensable.

Beyond the work of MSG, other companies are helping consumers reduce their waste. The cosmetics company Lush has developed an app called Lush Lens to bypass the need for packaging. The customer can simply scan a product, and through AI and product recognition, they receive any relevant information.

Of course, preparing for ocean pollution is only half the battle, and organizations need strategies for remediation. Among other methods, the process of dredging is often effective. An organization can use it for trash removal, wildlife and ecosystem preservation and shoreline replenishment.

Launch of the Global Ghost Gear Initiative

Industry leaders, NGOs and intergovernmental organizations came together to launch the Global Ghost Gear Initiative, or GGGI. Its mission is simple: to protect marine mammals by collecting any leftover nets, traps, pots and other discarded fishing gear. Since an estimated 640,000 tons of fishing gear enters the ocean each year, the GGGI is vital to environmental preservation.

However, the situation isn’t as straightforward as it may seem. The complicated issue of “ghost gear” isn’t easy to manage, partially due to a lack of cooperation. Businesses and government officials want more information before they commit their resources, and they’re hesitant to participate in conservation efforts without concrete evidence that ghost gear is an issue.

Unfortunately, many estimates of ghost gear in the ocean are the product of just a few samples. It isn’t enough data to satisfy decision-makers. The solution to the problem is also somewhat speculative, as the GGGI will have to hold fishermen accountable for their actions and conduct outreach — a massive task.

Concerning the technology involved in GGGI’s work, they’ve pursued GPS mapping for improved visibility of the ocean floor. The ability to locate ghost gear is the first step toward removing it from the ocean, and, by extension, reducing instances of “ghost fishing.” In time, GGGI can make an enormous difference.

A Positive Outlook

Though our oceans have undergone a dramatic transformation, these changes aren’t permanent. It’s possible to contain the damage, to implement new technologies and restore our aquatic ecosystems. It may take time, and it will almost certainly take a substantial investment, but we can’t afford to dismiss this important responsibility.

Author’s Bio:

Emily covers topics in manufacturing and environmental technology. You can follow her blog, Conservation Folks, or her Twitter to get the latest updates.

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