“If 2017 was the year of big promises, 2018 must be about delivery. How can government and industry turn pledges into reality?” – The Economist World Ocean Summit
I recently had the honor to attend The Economist’s World Ocean Summit and participate on The Science of Being Understood panel. This is a unique Summit that brings together conservationists, political leaders, policymakers, NGOs, scientific research institutes, and private sector technology innovators to address the most pressing challenges facing our ocean. It’s one of the most diverse ocean gathering of the year, committed to a healthy ocean and a sustainable ocean economy.
On the panel, we had an interesting discussion about data. On one hand, we’ve never before had this much data about the ocean, which is exciting. But on the other hand, we still know only about 5% of the ocean. In that way it remains the biggest untapped data set on the planet.
Throughout the event, I was very encouraged to see the dialog transitioning from ideas and commitments to action and investment. In past World Ocean Summits, a record number of new ocean commitments were announced to address the daunting issues of climate change, MPA protection, illegal fishing, and marine pollution. Unfortunately, these commitments have not yet been matched by the sustained financial investment required to seriously fund innovative technologies and programs to solve these global problems.
We have an opportunity before us to make a difference for future generations. Two areas that will have broad benefits if we act are:
Science & Commercial Symbiosis
Conservation for the sake of conservation is hard. Scientists around the globe are working tirelessly to help address the challenges endangering the health of our ocean. However, when it comes time for large scale, scientific deployments that require multi-year investment, the dollars become scarce. To scale globally and attract long term financial backing, a scientific/commercial symbiosis is required.
So how do we achieve this? One viable path is to help scientists partner with commercial projects, where scientific data collected during environmental assessment projects can be a byproduct that feeds into conservation efforts. We need to get creative about identifying these partnership opportunities and bringing the scientific and commercial communities together. Instead of funding research projects as discrete and small efforts, why not combine these investments into larger commercial projects so that not only can the problem be understood, but the solutions can be implemented as a natural byproduct of commercial blue economy projects.
Marine Protected Area Enforcement
We’ve seen increased ocean commitments globally, from the expansion of the United States’ Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in Hawaii, to Australia’s Cook Islands dedicating its entire Exclusive Economic Zone (1.9 million square kilometers) to protection, conservation and integrated management. These commitments are positive and a first step, yet do not really address the problem without enforcement.
It’s time to take the next step and challenge governments to allocate the funding to enforce protection of these MPAs. We need to identify the economic incentives—overfishing costs us roughly $80 billion annually—and align funding with initiatives that drive accountability. This theme of moving from commitment to accountability was echoed in many of the panels at the Summit and in conversations I had throughout the week. I’m encouraged we’re on the cusp of making progress.
As a CEO of an autonomous ocean robot company, I’m optimistic about the role autonomous technologies will play to help provide the data and insight required to make meaningful progress towards a sustainable ocean economy. Together, we can build on the ideas and energy from the World Ocean Summit and continue the momentum of moving from commitment to action and investment.