The ocean has always been vital to the global economy. Hundreds of years ago, ships would set out to trade with other countries halfway around the world, and today is no different. Around 90% of all world trade is done via the sea, so there’s plenty of business to be done.
Commercial use of the ocean is accelerating. The 100 largest companies in the ocean economy make up 60% of all its profits, but this isn’t discouraging new challenger brands from getting in on the action.
Sadly, however, while the marine business is growing, sustainability in the marine sector is not growing as fast as it could, especially considering the economic growth it provides. While great strides in sustainability have been made in recent years, more needs to be done to preserve our oceans, which are a vital part of our environment, not just our economy.
The ocean also plays a big part in mitigating climate change, absorbing around a quarter of the world’s total carbon emissions. If its fundamental chemistry changes, it won’t be as effective, and things on land will get considerably worse for us in the future.
Luckily, scientists, marine companies, and governments are pioneering new techniques to help keep the ocean clean.
More than 100 countries have pledged to protect at least 30% of the ocean by 2030. Marine Protected Areas are one way of achieving this. These are stretches of ocean that prohibit fishing, to protect the local marine life. These have been trialled and found to be effective and are increasing in number: Panama, Ecuador, Colombia and Costa Rica plan to align their marine-protected areas to form a fishing-free area of ocean covering 200,000 square miles.
Beyond these kinds of international initiatives, new designs, technologies, and ideas are developing to fight pollution, clean up the ocean, and protect marine life.
Sustainability techniques in the marine sector
Similar to the concept of ‘rewilding’ on land, where areas are given over to the natural plants and animals that are typically found there, sea welding is a process of restoring the natural seabed. This is the foundation of the marine ecosystem.
It may not sound important, but seaweed absorbs carbon dioxide 35 times faster than trees, meaning seawilding could play a massive role in the fight against climate change.
Coral is also a part of the marine ecosystem but is very delicate and sensitive to changes in water temperature. Scientists are developing a heat-resistant coral to establish coral fields that have been damaged or destroyed due to climate change. This new type of coral is currently being tested and will hopefully help to stabilize marine environments under threat.
It’s not just the coral itself that’s getting an upgrade. 3D-printed reef tiles provide anchor points for coral polyps to colonize and grow on, helping create new homes for marine life that rely on coral for protection.
Microplastic clean up barriers
Around 40 million tonnes of microplastics are found around the world’s shorelines, and many more are trapped in the ocean. Microplastics are suspected to be killing some species of fish before they can reproduce, meaning we’re in a race against time to do something before they’re gone forever.
To make things worse, these plastics break down, releasing harmful chemicals into the ocean, doing further damage to marine life, and the water they live in.
To combat this, massive barriers are being deployed to catch and remove plastic from the ocean. An 800-metre barrier is currently working to clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It’s carried between two ships, acting as a net to catch plastic.
If this method is deemed to be efficient, more barriers will be dispatched to clean plastic from the ocean around the clock.
Ocean-based energy generators
While we have had wind turbines at sea for years, more radical designs are being developed to help create more power be generated at sea, away from our homes.
One new solution is floating solar farms. Vast regions of the ocean will be home to solar panels designed to catch as much sun as possible. Being situated in the ocean, they have access to strong sunlight for most of the day This allows for more energy to be generated and sent to land.
Denmark is building the world’s first energy island, a 30-acre artificial island in the North Sea that will allow for a huge expansion in wind energy production. The island is designed to hold enough wind turbines to produce power for three million homes. It’s stated to be finished in 2033 and will be a significant step towards a more sustainable future, as well as providing a blueprint that other countries can use as a starting point for their energy islands.
These innovations in marine sustainability will make a big difference in the fight against climate change.
Read more about creating a sustainable workforce for the marine industry, or learn about the future of green energy.