“Solving climate change and saving the oceans is in fact the challenge of our time,” John Kerry, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, Ocean-climate Ambition Summit, January 26, 2021
But how do you sustainably manage 70% of the Earth’s surface? How do we as a generation of decision-makers, take responsibility for the environmental and economic stewardship of our seas, oceans, waterways, mangroves, and other critical areas of marine diversity?
Sustainably managing 70% of the Earth’s surface
On an implementation level, we need to address how we monitor and protect millions of square miles of ocean, not just within EEZ’s but out on the open seas.
To date, the answer has been the catch-all term “sustainability” - but as the cynicism of unmonitored “sustainability” grows, we need to embrace policies and new technologies that will enable a greener and cleaner ocean management.
The Blue Economy has the potential to unlock trillions of dollars in untapped economic value, but this cannot be about giving with one hand and taking with the other. Maritime trade is the artery of the global economy, but it is also a major source of CO2 emissions, higher than aviation, and if left unchecked these emissions could increase by up to 50% by 2050.
Offshore wind farms are transforming clean energy production, but how do we safely and securely manage our offshore infrastructure? How do we access the ocean’s untapped mineral resources whilst not only preventing environmental damage but with a clear charter to reverse the damage done by decades of unchecked exploration?
Actions to be taken
Our future ocean strategies need to be both bold but also look beyond the tribal debates of conservation vs capitalism.
It needs to reject the notion that unfettered mass-scale commercial fishing is sustainable just because the company has a blue tick next to its name. It needs to reject harmful practices such as bottom trawling, and unsustainable bycatch and commit to strictly regulate, monitor, police, and prosecute offenders.
At the same time, we need to reframe recent attempts to villainise the fishing industry and instead acknowledge that fishing plays a vital economic, cultural and nutritional role in our society, particularly in emerging economies. Fish is, and will always be, a critical source of food and income for many of the world’s poorest, and that we risk oversimplifying the importance our oceans play in our economies.
To truly sustainably manage our oceans, we need leadership and stewardship focussed on rebalancing economic and environmental responsibility. Some of the key focuses need to be:
To fully and truly protect 30% of our oceans and 30% of all EEZ’s from any form of commercial exploitation by 2030, and to progress to 45% by 2045
To increase investment in the regeneration of global coastal communities - promoting education, ecotourism, and sustainable local fisheries
To map the gap in our knowledge of the oceans - fulfilling a commitment to mapping our oceans by 2030
Move the maritime sector from archaic shipbuilding to embracing the circular economy, enabling net-zero production of vessels at scale
To prohibit the production of new diesel marine propulsion systems by 2025, and the operation of any diesel engines by 2040; transitioning the maritime sector to clean energy systems such as green-hydrogen, solar, wind, wave, or ammonia.
To commit to the transformation of our ports and inland waterways to green clean ports by 2030
Invest in new technologies around autonomy and data management to develop a safety net to track, manage and police our oceans
Commitment to rigorously tackle those exploiting our oceans for criminal wrongdoing, from human trafficking to drug smuggling, piracy, illegal fishing, and illegal dumping
Protecting our offshore infrastructure from harm, establishing measures to monitor and protect critical economic infrastructure from both intentional and unintentional harm but also to proactively manage degradation and maintenance cycles
Proactively managing the legacy of man’s impact on the oceans, including upstream policies to remove plastic and pollution from our waterways and to monitor and prosecute at source
But to achieve these ambitious goals, we need a system in place to monitor, track and enforce ocean management.
Implementing technology for results
New satellite technologies offer the opportunity to reach over the horizon into the vast expanses of our oceans. But monitoring from space is simply not enough when the vessels sent to patrol and protect our oceans are several days away and are themselves a major source of CO2 emissions.
That’s why our next generation USV, the AO Guard, enables true long-endurance monitoring capabilities.
We are entering a new era of collaboration, of data consolidation but most importantly an era of action. Because simply having data - simply being aware of the problem is not enough. Insights without action are futile.
When we began designing our first class of autonomous uncrewed surface vessels, the AO Guard, we knew that this wasn’t just about surveillance - it was about a connected IoT infrastructure at sea. A physical presence to act as both a deterrent but also to track, monitor, and engage with intrusions.
If we are going to sustainably manage our oceans and waterways, we need a physical presence wherever threats may exist. Regulation without enforcement is nothing more than appeasement.
Designating Marine Protection Areas and then allowing bottom trawling in 97% of them, while banning sea kayaking is not protection, it’s bare-faced deception. If we’re going truly be sustainable we need to invest in transparency and action.