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Oceans and Tech "Blue Paper" Explores a Digital Ocean

January 23, 2020

The ocean contains 99 percent of the living space on Earth, yet only five percent of the ocean has been fully explored. New data and technology have the potential to shift our understanding of the ocean.

A report commissioned by the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy and writtten by authors including Co-Director Jim Leape, André Hoffman Fellow Annie Brett, and Early Career Law and Policy Fellow Kevin Chand highlights the potential for a data revolution and more sustainable ocean resource management. The "Blue Paper" identifies opportunities to build on the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science and technological advances in the future.

According to the paper, new scientific data collection techniques can expand our ability to observe the ocean, model environmental changes, and manage complex ecosystems. Using microelectronics, researchers can analyze environmental DNA, a noninvasive strategy for identifying marine species. Groups like Global Fishing Watch use satellite technology to visualize, track and share data about fishing activity around the world. This information can be leveraged to inform fisheries management decisions and help nations curb illegal fishing activity. These types of data act as pathways towards understanding marine ecosystems and the impact of human activity on the ocean.

"For all of human history, we’ve had very little idea what was happening in the ocean or even on the surface," said Leape at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos. "Suddenly we have an explosion of information about the health of ocean resources, our activities on the ocean, and the effect that those activities are having."

Advancements in technology must combine with other breakthroughs to solve complex ocean challenges, the paper argues. One key priority is working towards open and automated data access around the world. Together, government agencies, businesses, and researchers can create an equitable "digital ecosystem" with broadly available data for all those who have a role in shaping a sustainable future for the ocean. 

"New data sources put us in a position to be much better stewards of ocean resources and manage resources in a much more robust way," continues Leape.

The paper is one of 16 Blue Papers commissioned by the High Level Panel in an ongoing effort to explore challenges at the nexus of the ocean and the economy. Over 200 authors from nearly 50 countries have provided science, technology, policy, governance and finance expertise to the series. Together, the papers bring together the latest science and thinking to help catalyze a more sustainable and prosperous relationship with the ocean.


Read the full paper here >

Read a World Resources Institute Insider post on the paper >



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