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Most speakers had messages regarding the dire state of the ocean, but also offered cautious optimism.

The spotlight solutions presented mainly demonstrated innovation in a technological sense, while others showed social or structural innovation.

Speakers during the official UN World Oceans Day 2020 Virtual Event struck a serious note with regard to the urgent need to address ocean challenges, but the overall mood was hopeful. Participants showcased numerous solutions and innovations to improve the health of the ocean.

In their opening remarks to the day-long virtual event on 8 June 2020, which was presented by the UN and Oceanic Global, UN Secretary-General António Guterres, UN General Assembly (UNGA) President Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, and Ecoresolution founder Cara Delevigne emphasized the critical role the ocean plays in the planetary ecosystem and the importance of immediate action. On the Day’s theme, Delevigne was quick to assert that true innovation in the form of systemic change, not technology, will save the ocean. Most speakers had similar messages regarding the dire state of the ocean, but offered cautious optimism. “We are sea creatures every bit as much as the whales, the fish, coral reefs, and kelp forests,” marine biologist Sylvia Earle said, but “we have the power of taking action… we have a chance to get it right.”

After the opening remarks and a segment on the state of the ocean, the focus turned to organizations, companies, and individuals doing innovative work for the health of the ocean. Many of the solutions demonstrated innovation in a technological sense, while others showed social or structural innovation. On technological innovation, The Great Bubble Barrier project aims to decrease plastic pollution in the ocean by addressing the fact that two thirds of ocean plastic comes from rivers. The bubble barrier is a tube that lies at the bottom of a river and produces a “curtain” of air bubbles in order to divert plastic waste to the shore, where it can be collected. This solution can successfully divert 86% of plastic waste without affecting ships or fish.

Coralive and Resolute Marine are organizations whose work not only promotes the health of the ocean, but also brings economic and social benefits to coastal regions. Coralive works to restore coral reefs using Mineral Accretion Technology (MAT), helping to prevent shoreline erosion and protect biodiversity. MAT requires electrolysis via floating solar panels, which can also benefit small island developing States (SIDS) by acting as an emergency power source. Resolute Marine uses ocean waves to drive desalination instead of relying on diesel-electric plants, which makes water very expensive, releases high levels of CO2, and contributes to ocean acidification. 

Finless Foods‘ slogan is “sustainable seafood, without the catch.” Using cellular biology, the company grows fish meat in labs from fish muscle cells. This unconventional method of seafood production eliminates the issues of overfishing, bycatch, and contamination by mercury, microplastics, and/or antibiotics by only growing the part of the fish that is most commonly eaten.

With a focus on marine research, Marine Applied Research and Exploration (MARE) supplies reliable visual data for responsible ocean management. One Ocean Hub emphasizes the interconnectedness of ocean issues, and fosters communication between researchers from different fields and policymakers in order to improve the quality of ocean governance. Force Blue retrains former military dive operatives to work alongside researchers in conservation work.

After the spotlight on solutions, a presentation by OceanX emphasized the potential wealth of knowledge available through ocean exploration, and a panel of women discussed the innovative work they are doing in their communities. Speakers included Gayatri Reksodihardjo-Lilley, director and founder of the Indonesian Nature Foundation, Julia Kumari Drapkin, CEO and Founder of citizen science app ISeeChange, Asha de Vos, founder and executive director of Oceanswell, and Shanta Shamsunnahar, program coordinator for the Marine Protected Area (MPA) Program of the Wildlife Conservation Society, Bangladesh. Many of the panelists brought up the importance of citizen science in their work, which was a common thread throughout the event. The speakers emphasized that science is for everyone, and research can be conducted by anyone.

The Youth Driving Innovation panel further underlined this idea. Four young activists and scientists shared their experiences as a new generation of marine defenders, and offered their thoughts on bridging generational gaps when it comes to ocean action. Lilly Platt, founder of Lilly’s Plastic Pickup, emphasized the importance of listening to elders while also recognizing that everyone has their own wisdom to contribute. She reminded young people, “this is our future.”

The panel also gave advice to listeners wanting to take action. Forbi Perise Eyong Nyosai, speaking on behalf of Greening Forward, said “if you’re passionate about something, take action.” Dylan Vecchione, founder of the ReefQuest Foundation, suggested that a small step can lead to big results, saying “think global, act local… there are things you can do.”

Summing up the message of the entire virtual event, Callie Veelenturf, a marine conservation biologist and founder of The Leatherback Project and Rights for Nature, stated “we all need to be daring…to think big…don’t be afraid to act.” [UN World Oceans Day 2020 Virtual Event]

This article is the second of a two-part series. Read ‘On World Oceans Day, SDGs Remind Us of Ocean’s Role in Our Planetary Ecosystem’ here.

This article was authored by Lydia Grund, IISD Generation 2030 intern and biology and environmental science and policy major, The College of William & Mary.


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