The ocean, already the world’s seventh-largest economy, is in trouble—and now comes the part where we realize we have the technology to do something about it.
With an asset valuation of $25 trillion, including a $2.5 trillion annual gross domestic product (GDP), the ocean economy is accelerating as fast as the calls for its conservation. And no wonder: the ocean is a massive force for protecting us from climate change, absorbing 25 percent of the world’s climate emissions and 90 percent of the heat caused by those emissions. It generates 50 percent of the oxygen we breathe and is the largest biosphere on the planet, home to 80 percent of life on earth.
Fortunately, business leaders and companies around the world are beginning to understand and embrace strategies and practices that support a sustainable ocean economy. Technologies such as 3D, digital maps, and location intelligence are supporting the global challenge of preserving the ocean as its economic use increases and climate impacts intensify.
The ocean suffers from unchecked overfishing, habitat destruction, pollution, biodiversity loss, and climate change even as the ocean protects people from the unintended consequences of the robust economic activity it supports.
Yet, we need to think of the ocean today as a critical solution for, not just victim of, climate change. In addition to all its life-sustaining forces, it is a powerful source of renewable energy and sustainable seafood for our growing world.
“For the first time, our knowledge of the ocean can approach our knowledge of the land,” said Dawn Wright, geographer, oceanographer, and chief scientist at Esri. “We can turn the unknown deep into the known deep.”
The release of the world’s first complete 3D map of the ocean, a huge leap forward, has helped spur a revolution of innovation in ocean-related data and sustainability solutions.
“Seeing the ocean in its true depth and complexity is exactly what we need,” Wright said in a recent GreenBiz article. “It’s what we need if we hope to reduce the risk of critically damaging or exhausting marine resources, if we hope to preserve the world’s fisheries, or to anticipate when a warm current will turn into a devastating hurricane. It’s what we need if we hope to tackle the growing continents of plastic, wastes, and other pollutants threatening marine life.”
Ocean Economy and Innovation
The ocean teems with its own life, but its health impacts all human life. Recognizing this, a growing cohort of socially responsible companies have started building sustainability solutions to match business opportunities—achieving profit while preserving our ocean.
Their work often revolves around complex and real-time data, stored and processed with a modern geographic information system (GIS) and visualized on digital smart maps. This location intelligence helps answer key questions, especially for leaders in shipping, energy, logistics, and fishing industries:
· Where would offshore wind turbines have the least impact on commercial fishing?
· Where should a new transatlantic submarine communications cable go to avoid interference with scallop beds, rare deep-sea coral habitat, or sand mining areas needed for beach restoration?
· Where are appropriate areas for ships to transit in the Arctic (now that it’s no longer covered with ice year-round) to minimize the impact on sensitive ecosystems?
Companies that approach sustainable seafood by increasing supply chain traceability will help protect the ocean while meeting the growing consumer demand for ethical practices.
Taylor Shellfish Farms, for instance, maintains a sustainable system that begins in the hatcheries where shellfish are bred and the tidal beaches where they reach maturity—and extends through harvesting, processing, and distribution. Every link in that process must meet sustainability standards set by the company and industry regulators.
GIS-based data-rich maps and dashboards provide visibility into every aspect of the company. Taylor leaders use their GIS data and reporting to maintain responsible environmental stewardship. At the same time, the technology supports process improvements that make it a profitable business enterprise. The efficiency takes many forms, from mobile apps that let farmers update information in the field to smart maps that show where certain techniques or environmental conditions are bringing stronger yields.
Smart Shipping, Sustainable Shipping
Commercial ships produce an amount of carbon—800 million tons per year—that exceeds the output of most countries. Shipping companies are working to decrease greenhouse gas emissions by designing more efficient vessels, a move that furthers the sustainability cause while reducing business expense.
As with sustainable fisheries, location intelligence helps shipping companies add efficiency to the process.
This is true for individual ships where GIS can track operations, providing a view of how onboard systems are functioning. It is also true for the larger project of fleet management, with GIS helping operators track overall emissions using smart maps to report back to international regulatory agencies.
Taking a Circular Approach to Blue Economy
Even in non-oceancentric industries such as retail and manufacturing, socially responsible companies are looking to extend sustainable practices well beyond product construction and throughout its life cycle. Most commonly, this means putting steps in place to reclaim or recycle materials after the product has completed its original use. The growing cadre of companies adopting circular economy principles uses modern GIS to track products and supervise the reclamation process.
The circular economy is a way for companies that exist far afield from the blue economy to still support ocean sustainability. A circular approach to manufacturing lowers costs while decreasing the amount of plastics that reach the ocean. Likewise, precision agricultural techniques increase efficiency in food production while limiting the amount of pesticides, sediments, and organic matter that pollute the oceans.
Now Is the Moment
As the United Nations launches its “Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development” this year, the impetus grows toward achieving “a healthy and resilient, safe and productive ocean.” The UN is calling for strong international cooperation among all sectors and communities.
Leaders of businesses directly or indirectly supported by the ocean now have the motivation—increased climate risk, consumer demand, global pressure for corporate social responsibility—and the technology and tools to meet the opportunity.
“We need the capacity and competence of the business community to solve this challenge,” said Lise Kingo, executive director and CEO of the United Nations Global Compact. “Ensuring a healthy marine environment is not only necessary for many ocean companies to continue to operate in the long term—innovating and investing in new ocean solutions also provides a significant business opportunity.”
For more information on smart maps and location intelligence, visit esri.com/location-intelligence. To learn more about ocean sustainability and location intelligence technology, visit esri.com/en-us/about/science/initiatives/ocean-science.