Image os a fish swimming among ocean plastic pollution

Technologies for Tackling Ocean Plastic Pollution

Every year, 8 to 10 million metric tons of plastic wind up in the ocean. Research suggests that by 2050, plastic in the sea will actually outweigh all the fish. This massive problem is ever-growing as plastic production continues to increase, while these items never degrade. Even plastic that has slowly broken down becomes microplastics that are ingested by animals and brought into the food cycle. How can we use technology to address this ocean plastic pollution?

The Dutch charitable foundation The Ocean Movement (formerly called By the Ocean We Unite) is an example of an organization that’s used modern technologies to identify and reduce plastic pollution in the ocean. On each research expedition, the crew trawls the sea for plastics and analyzes its findings. They find some form of plastics in every water sample they gather. With IoT and cloud computing, this data is immediately made available to onshore teammates as well as public followers. Those who utilize the information include universities, research institutes, nonprofit organizations, journalists and filmmakers, including National Geographic. “The key aspect of our research expeditions is to present our findings to as many people as possible,” said scientific research coordinator Dr. Nanne van Hoytema.

What Modern Sea Expeditions Look Like

The quick transfers of The Ocean Movement’s expedition data are made possible by ABB Ability’s Marine Advisory System, OCTOPUS. This system is designed to help a variety of ship types operate more safely and efficiently by monitoring vessel information, forecasting conditions, and analyzing data in real time. It aids crews in optimizing routes and maximizing fuel efficiency. Depending on the boat’s purpose, a crew can gather specific types of data through onboard sensors and have it analyzed through algorithmic models custom-made for that vessel. Quick detection of ship concerns allows crew members to address these issues right away, preventing larger problems. Meanwhile, any information that is valuable to connected teams on land is made available in real time.

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OCTOPUS itself is built on Microsoft Azure, using the platform’s cloud functionalities for secure data storage and transfer. Since ships on the ocean are mobile and disconnected physically, cloud computing brings connective capabilities to marine teams that have otherwise traditionally been very isolated. Even accessing email onboard a ship is a recent novelty—so the kind of connectedness and data sharing that this system allows is very impressive to the crews that use it.

ABB also uses Azure to share data among six Collaborative Operations Centers that serve the marine industry worldwide. With this unified data, they can troubleshoot about 90% of the issues their customers have on their ships straight from one of the operation centers. In addition to Azure, ABB leverages Power BI to create comprehensive yet easy-to-use dashboards where crews and teams can access information.

Targeting Ocean Plastic Pollution with IoT and Cloud Computing

Image of ocean plastic pollution: water bottles

For The Ocean Movement specifically, the OCTOPUS system plans and navigates the best routes for research expeditions. Crews use IoT devices to enter their findings, and through the Azure cloud this data is immediately published to the expedition website and their social media accounts. Thomas van Thiel, The Ocean Movement’s founder, said, “It’s much more exciting when people can see what we are doing and what we are finding in real time. I think the message is a lot stronger when they see directly what’s happening on the ship. It’s like they are right there with us.” The ability for viewers to experience the crew’s expedition along with them helps make the plastic problem more real and visible, and it provides researchers with live, current information.

The Ocean Movement’s expedition results are used at events like the World Ocean Summit to provide data and to work on solutions for stopping plastics from entering the water. Part of this effort involves trying to lower plastic production in the first place, encouraging manufacturers, sellers and consumers to opt for alternatives like paper, glass, metal, or bamboo instead. The next part is to keep plastics out of the water by improving recycling practices and combating waterside littering. The hope is that quickly and widely sharing their alarming findings will raise awareness and public concern, prompting people and organizations to change their habits.

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Make a Difference with Digital Tools

Like ABB, Infused Innovations utilizes state-of-the-art digital and computing tools to provide new possibilities to clients. The areas of ocean health and sustainable energy are in urgent need of powerful solutions. If you’re involved in these industries, we want to work with you. Read about some of our client stories in green energy and ocean science—and if your organization has a project in mind or a problem to solve, find out how we can help you make it happen.

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