Ocean and water restoration

Oceans cover more than 70% of the Earth’s surface.  Ocean and aquatic ecosystems are vitally important to the healthy functioning of the Earth system, to national economic activity in many States, and to the wellbeing of local communities. They are also under unprecedented strain. Demands for marine resources, marine pollution, and climate change are affecting species, ecosystems, and services, with implications for the environment and human wellbeing.

In response, the goal of the Oceans Mission is to “restore our ocean and waters by 2030”.  Connecting across policy agendas on oceans, biodiversity, climate, and pollution, the Mission’s three core objectives are to:

Protect and restore marine and freshwater ecosystems and biodiversity, in line with the EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030
With interventions to deliver basin-scale restoration projects in the Danube River basin and on the Atlantic and Arctic coast, create a network of protected areas, and develop a ‘Blue Parks’ platform that promotes innovative ecosystem-based management practices to boost ocean health.

Prevent and eliminate pollution of our ocean, seas and waters, in line with the EU Action Plan Towards Zero Pollution for Air, Water and Soil
Setting up a demonstrator project in the Mediterranean Sea that scales up effective interventions, and reducing plastic litter at sea by 50%, microplastic releases into the environment by 30%, and nutrient loses by 50% (including the use of chemical pesticides).

Make the sustainable blue economy carbon-neutral and circular, in line with the proposed European Climate Law and the holistic vision enshrined in the Sustainable Blue Economy Strategy
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from maritime economic activities, including shipping and aquaculture, and launching an emission-reduction demonstrator in the Baltic and North Sea that acts as a flagship project for sustainable use of maritime resources.

AI offers a tool to accelerate marine conservation and restoration efforts by:

Analysing marine ecosystems
By enabling data collection from new sources and enhancing data analysis, AI can help researchers better understand the structure and biodiversity of marine ecosystems. AI can support the deployment of autonomous submarine monitoring systems, helping to manoeuvre and target these systems to study areas of interest. It can also help characterise marine ecosystems, analysing data from sensors and images to determine their physical and chemical properties, and the presence or absence of different species, from identifying plankton  to tracking whales.  These analytical tools can therefore contribute to more effective monitoring, modelling, and managing of marine resources.

Monitoring marine wildlife
Building on these capabilities, AI can help monitor the movements of marine wildlife, tracking the population dynamics of species of interest. For example, in the Southeast Atlantic, Humpback and Southern Right whales are slowly recovering from whaling activities. To monitor this recovery, researchers can use data collected from existing monitoring activities – tracking devices, for example – alongside acoustic data that indicates the presence or absence of whales in an area. Dynamic marine biodiversity maps have also been created to track the movement of fish populations.

Tracking carbon flows
Leveraging the data collected through ocean monitoring activities, AI can help analyse the amount of carbon dioxide absorbed by the oceans and how this relates to carbon flows across the Earth’s biospheres. By analysing stores of ‘blue carbon’, AI can identify pathways to enhancing the carbon storage capacity of the oceans.

Supporting efforts to reduce plastic litter
By analysing images of plastic waste and geospatial data about its location, AI can track how plastic is entering the oceans and the points of intervention that can support clean-up activities.

Enhancing supply chain sustainability
Increasing compliance with environmental and fisheries regulations is an important component of the legislative agendas associated with the Oceans Mission. AI can support compliance and enforcement activities through enhanced data analysis. By analysing the movement of ships using satellite data, for example, AI can help regulators track which vessels are operating in different areas using different fishing methods. This can contribute to increased transparency in seafood supply chains.