Smart technology contributing to ocean protection

Climate change is an issue, and we often discussed how digital technologies can support governments, cities, and companies to reduce their overall environmental footprint and achieve ambitious sustainability targets.

Smart technologies are becoming a game-changing resource in ocean protection too. The world’s oceans – their temperature, chemistry, and wildlife – contribute to making the Earth habitable for humankind, as they absorb about 30 percent of the carbon dioxide produced globally. Also, over three billion people depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods.

Since as much as 40 percent of the ocean is heavily affected by pollution, depleted fisheries, loss of coastal habitats, and other human activities, the United Nations included ‘Life below water’ among the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be hit by 2030.

Through the Convention on Biological Diversity, a number of governments and countries committed to achieve 30 percent protection and conservation of oceans – both coastal and high seas – by 2030. This means taking action in a 109 million square Km area, which is more than 11 times the size of the entire United States.

Covering such a vast area requires smart, cutting-edge technology. As Dr. Simon Cripps, executive director of the Global Marine Program at Wildlife Conservation Society, points out in a recent article, this field has been developing fast in the last few years. Ocean protection can nowadays take advantage of advanced maritime surveillance systems to monitor animal and boat movements, track possible illegal activities, measure air and water pollution.

Effective decision making and intervention is based on data, which are collected through a variety of sensors and field devices. Multiple data sources such as vessel monitoring systems, real time on-board Automatic Identification System (AIS), direct observations from maritime operators, synthetic aperture radar, LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), infra-red, and acoustics need to be combined and correlated to get a broad view of any activity by humans or wildlife species.

First, immediate data-driven application is law enforcement: a closer and smarter monitoring is pivotal to make Coast Guard officials and maritime authorities intervene where and when necessary, preventing or sanctioning illegal acts (piracy, unauthorized fishing, littering, etc.), or supporting emergency aid.

But the use of surveillance technology is also about monitoring the movements of marine fauna (think of the acoustic monitoring of whales) and measuring ongoing changes in habitats to endorse wildlife conservation programs or increase the sustainability of coastline businesses.

“As we work to achieve sustainable seas, protect nature, reverse biodiversity loss, and reduce the threat of climate change, we must up our game using all the tools available to us. Those tools will include new, advanced technology,” writes Dr. Cripps.

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