Smart monitoring and observations by utilizing existing activities in the ocean to collect and systematize data can close the knowledge gap we have about the ocean and the opportunities the ocean provides.

Until now, our window into the world’s oceans has been very small. We have some scattered data and historical knowledge but a comprehensive picture of life in the oceans is still to come. It is the last undiscovered frontier, which is slowly opening up to become smart oceans. It is a paradigm shift in ocean monitoring; from isolated information from research projects to systemic monitoring of the vast oceans.

Everybody has a Role to Play

Currently there is a mismatch between the rising demand and capability to exploit marine resources and the lack of scientific knowledge and regulatory frameworks to effectively manage this vast area,. In order to choose the right and sustainable course of action for blue economic development it is crucial to understand the ocean and how it changes. Smart oceans will enable us to make the right choices for sustainable development in the ocean space.

As the oceans are getting more crowded by for instance increased aquaculture, more renewable energy production, expanding fisheries and hydrocarbon exploitations to remote regions and developing seabed mining, the need for more information on safe levels of human activity is acute.

Companies will create systems to scale up and coordinate industry collecting data. New markets are opening up for innovative ocean technology to aid the scaling up of smart oceans. This includes technologies for ordinary citizens to help collect data as ‘citizen scientists’. Many people use the oceans and can crowd source information by the use of simple technology.

Use What we Already Have

The first step to develop smarter oceans is to use existing networks of vessels and other structures in the ocean such as wind farms, oil platforms, and fish farms, for data collection. As well as developing new networks and new technologies for data collection. The amounts of data we need to collect are immense.

In the oceans today we have already placed a range of different structures to create economic development, e.g. bridges, commercial ships, fishing vessels, oil rigs, subsea installations, offshore windmills, weather buoys, and fish farms. A ship sailing from for example Rotterdam to Hong Kong can gather enormous amounts of data on its way, and likewise for fishing vessels moving between fishing grounds or ferries covering specific routes regularly. Such smart use of existing ocean actors can significantly increase our understanding of the oceans. It is a way to map the ocean. The challenge, however, is to make streamlined data and make it trustworthy. In addition, the rise of autonomous systems can make data gathering even more efficient and promote longterm monitoring and observations.

This immense gathering of data will help understand ocean functioning at large scales, which can help establish rules and regulation for exploitation of ocean resources. But, if made publicly available, large-scale and long-term data gathering can also foster new innovations and markets as data are utilized in new ways mimicking the development in for example meteorological data availability.

The opportunity to make the ocean smart is an innovation space for responsible companies, science, big data, robotics, environmental management, and governments. A collaborative effort to monitor and better understand the ocean can benefit a broad range of stakeholders and the promotion of transparency through access to open data will ensure transfer of knowledge between all involved parties. Smarter ocean is a first step on the journey to unlock the potential of the blue economy in a sustainable way.

Survey Findings

The world does not seem to be eager to make the oceans smart. It is a market opportunity which has been assessed with limited optimism in our 2015 global survey.

The opportunity to make the oceans smart in order to address the risk of ocean biodiversity loss is very positively received in China. While in most other regions the opportunity is rated with less optimism. Globally the capacity to pursue this opportunity is perceived to be rather limited. The MENA region and Europe also sees this opportunity to be of limited benefit to society. Sub Saharan Africa is the region with the lowest perceived ability to pursue this, but the region does, however, perceive it to be beneficial to society.

The finance sector believes that this opportunity will bring most positive impacts to society. However, the financial sector does not seem to be more likely to be either affected by this opportunity or to pursue it. The governmental sector is the least likely to pursue this opportunity. However, the governmental engagement is important because ocean planning is by nature a state and inter-state task to manage. Across the five sectors, the trend is that smart oceans are not affecting them to a great extent.

It is not a high advocacy priority in Europe among the four surveyed stakeholder groups of politics, civil society, business and finance. In South America, South East Asia & Australia and in China, business and civil society can be expected to advocate for this opportunity, which could point to a great potential for joint action. High HDI countries rate this opportunity more positively than the medium and very high HDI countries.

This market was surveyed globally in 2015 by more than 5500 leaders from both the public and private sectors. The survey was conducted in collaboration with the research company YouGov. The survey results were originally published in the Global Opportunity Report 2016.

Global Goals addressed