EMERGING OCEAN TECHNOLOGIES
New opportunities for ocean-based industries are emerging, and so are challenges.
Technology is changing the ways that we harvest food, energy, minerals, and data from the ocean. Innovation in marine robotics, artificial intelligence, low-cost sensors, satellite systems, and the collection and analysis of data may yet create a cleaner and safer future - but can also undermine ocean health.
New technologies are being developed to plug into the ocean’s enormous stores of green energy (possibilities include wave energy, tidal energy, thermal energy, and offshore wind). The global offshore wind market grew by nearly 30% per year between 2010 and 2018, and the International Energy Agency estimates that global offshore wind will become a $1 trillion industry by 2040. While remaining hurdles to harvesting ocean, energy include cost efficiency and the potential impact of new ocean power plants on ocean life, other exciting innovations are on the way: a robot that swims like a tuna, underwater data centers, autonomous self-driving ships, and geodesic spheres that can serve as offshore fish farms, for example. Properly embraced, disruptive technologies can help us take more from the oceans while damaging them less.
In addition, ocean mining is one example; portions of the seafloor are rich in gold, platinum, cobalt, and rare-earth elements that have up until now been out of reach.
It remains unclear if and how sediment plumes from seabed mining will affect the health of oceans generally, and fisheries specifically.
Finding a way to balance mining interests with the health of ocean ecosystems and marine industries remains a challenge. New 300-ton mining machines have been developed that can harvest minerals in some of the deepest parts of the sea. Japan has completed its first large-scale mineral extraction from the seabed and plans to begin commercial mining in its national waters in the next decade. Meanwhile on the high seas, the Jamaica-based International Seabed Authority has issued more than 1 million square kilometres of mining exploration claims to 20 different countries. However, much of the seabed within these claims remains unexplored, and new species are frequently being discovered in the vicinity.
Revolutionary progress in our ability to collect and process ocean data has now enabled the detection of illegal fishing from space, empowered sustainability-focused companies to more efficiently connect with people, and helped build intelligent zoning plans that better balance the needs of fishermen, marine transportation, and ocean conservation.