In 2015, shocking data came to light that the population of marine mammals, bird, fish, and reptiles had nearly halved since 1970. Some species, such as tuna and mackerel, had dropped in numbers by nearly 74 per cent. Fast forward by only six years, and over one-third of marine mammals are now threatened with extinction.
Most of this decline for marine life has come from human activity; from unsustainable hunting to human-induced climate change. Of course, where one species begins to decline, the knock-on effect this has on the rest of the marine ecosystem is great. As mentioned in Coral Digest, ‘when coral reed ecosystems collapse, it causes disruption through trophic levels; if there are less fish, there are going to be less predators.’
And when the sea’s ecosystems begin to deplete, so do the ecosystems on land. Without a thriving ocean, the species on earth will also begin to die out. The ocean provides the Earth with 50 – 80 per cent of its oxygen. The majority of this comes from oceanic Plankton, drifting plants, algae, and bacteria. Of course, all things will be impacted by the rapid decline of marine wildlife. In short, when our ocean begins to die, everything on the Earth’s surface will also die.
What may feel like something from a dystopian novel is becoming closer to our reality and without change, we’re on track to destruction. Thankfully, groups, governments and world leaders are taking heed and investing in technologies, research, and data gathering to understand how we can slow down, and ideally reverse, the damage being done to our oceans. Here are a few ways in which the data industry is working to save our seas:
USING DATA TO UNDERSTAND THE OCEAN
First and foremost, scientists need to understand the evolution of the ocean, especially since its rapid decline in the 70s, to fully grasp what the ocean needs to survive.
Mission Atlantic, an EU-funded project which looks to identify the components of ecosystems, the risks posed to them and how human activity affects them, plans to release a report at the end of 2025 that showcases, through data, not only how oceans change over time but, how countries can treat the ocean in a sustainable way. Additionally, through this research, scientists hope to be able to understand how to restore the damage that has occurred over the past 50 years.
SATELLITES AND BIG DATA TO MONITOR LAW BREAKERS
Governance of the seas to help reduce the damage done to marine ecosystems is one of the top challenges faced by change makers. The sea is vast and keeping a track of activity occurring across any of the oceans at one time is no easy feat.
However, there are technologies and tools being created and perfected which aim to intelligently track aspects such as vessel activity, which will put a halt on issues such as illegal fishing or overfishing. Through satellite imagery and observation sensors, smart algorithms are learning about specific vessel behaviour, enabling leaders to act on those ships that break policy laws on marine preservation.
USING NUMERICAL DATA TO TRACK SPECIES
The Marine Conservation Society use the public’s sightings of marine species to keep an eye on the state of the ocean’s health. For example, between June 2021 and May 2022, there were 1,646 jellyfish sightings reported. From this data, the society will be able to record trends of either the decline or increase of the species and understand the overall status of our oceans. Similarly, they regular ask for support in ‘Seaweed Searches’, Microplastic surveys and turtle sightings – all data which can help with greater understandings of our marine ecosystem.
IMPLEMENTING AI TO REDUCE PLASTIC POLLUTION
Nearly 9 million tons of plastic enter our oceans each year, all of which is detrimental to the marine life within our seas. From the creation of microplastics which kill the animals that ingest them, to injury to larger animals that get stuck within plastic waste.
To combat this, Microsoft, through a hackathon, built an Artificial Intelligence (AI) solution that enabled teams to identify and label tens of thousands of images of plastic pollution that could effectively be cleaned up by solar-powered passive clean up systems.
We know less about our oceans than we do about outer space, but it’s crucial that this changes. The more we know about our oceans, the more we will be able to do to save it and reverse the damage that has ravaged marine wildlife in just 50 short years. Data will continue to play an integral part in our understanding and will ensure that our seas and our planet are preserved and looked after how they should be.
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