The 2022 Earthshot solutions to revive our oceans

As the planet’s greatest carbon sink, our oceans have taken the brunt of climate change.

Since 1995, 90% of the world’s carbon has been stored in the ocean. Without the ocean, global temperatures could exceed 100oC, resulting in an inhabitable environment.

Ocean temperature changes have a profound effect on marine environments, resulting in ocean acidification, icecaps melting, and sea-level rising. Ultimately the most devastating effect is that on marine biodiversity and coastal communities. Around 680 million people are living in low-lying coastal areas that rely on fish for food, and 60 million people are employed in aquaculture and the fishing industry. In turn, protecting our oceans has become a priority – reflected in– and is essential to mitigating the effect of global warming on the people and the planet. Here are 3 ingenious ocean initiatives, that were awarded The Earth Shot Prize in 2022 for outstanding innovation, urgent optimism and action to repair our planet by 2030.

1) Queensland Indigenous Women Rangers Network transforming the Great Barrier Reef (Winner)

The Great Barrier Reef is under immense threat. Rising sea level temperatures from the continued burning of fossil fuels are causing mass-scale coral bleaching. Coral bleaching is caused when sea temperatures rise significantly causing the corals to expel microscopic algae (zooxanthellae) that live in their tissue. Without the algae, corals become transparent, the white skeleton is exposed, and the coral becomes at higher risk of starvation and disease. If the water temperate persists for more than a few weeks, the coral becomes deprived of food and eventually dies, which alters the entire food-chain cycle and biodiversity of the surrounding ocean.

There have been several widespread mass bleaching in the past few decades across the Great Barrier Reef, with the most in the last two years, reflecting the ever-increasing global temperature. The Indigenous women of the Great Barrier Reef have taken matters into their own hands, empowering each other to protect the surrounding reefs, but moreover, encouraging others to take initiative and responsibility to protect other critical ecosystems globally.

Prior to the Queensland Indigenous Women Rangers Network, the ranger network was only

only 20% female. Over the past few years, the network has helped build the next generation of women rangers. The program has trained over 60 women in the art of conservation, passing down techniques from previous generations, and collecting data that has given us a critical insight into one of the world’s most important and biodiverse ecosystems. With greater support, this model that combines indigenous knowledge, conservation education and data collection with female empowerment, could span across the globe facilitating the preservation of our most valued environments.

2) Sea Forester transforming ocean and planetary health through seaweed (Shortlisted).

Similarly, the Sea Forester initiative is working to plant seaweed forests around the world to bring life back to the ‘blue font yard’. Seaweed forests are disappearing across the world, compared to coral reefs, due to rising sea temperatures, pollution, coastal developments and overgrazing. They used to cover most coastlines, however, rising temperatures are catapulting us towards environmental degradation. Seaweed is a major food source for a diversity of aquatic life however, the largest long-term consequence of seaweed decline is carbon sequestration and poor water quality. Every ton of seaweed has absorbed 120 kg of CO2, 2 kg of nitrogen and 0.2 kg of phosphorus, which is roughly around 173 million metric tons annually. Like plants, schedule uses photosynthesis to absorb CO2 and grow biomass. Coastal marine systems can absorb carbon at rates up to 50 times greater than forests on land.

In turn, seaweed can reverse ocean acidification, build up depleted fish stocks and capture at least 5 times more carbon than a typical forest. Seaweeds are some of the fastest-growing plants in the world (kelp grows 2ft a day) and don’t require planting, soil or fertilizer. Sea Forester has developed a ‘green gravel’. Seaweed spores are seeded onto small stones and scattered into the ocean, the stone latch onto the underlying reef, spreading across the ocean floor. The process is efficient and doesn’t require technical divers or equipment, providing a lost-cost and scalable sea forestation solution. Given that, seaweed accounts for 54% of the world’s oxygen, and can sequester carbon more efficiently than land forests, Sea Forester’s innovation presents a unique opportunity to expand seaweed farms holistically and globally to mitigate climate impacts.

3) The Great Bubble Barrier’s solution to 8 million tons of plastic (Shortlisted).

8 million pieces of plastic pollution enter the ocean every day, which equates to 12 million tons a year. Once the plastic has entered the ocean, it is nearly impossible to capture and remove. The most visible impact of plastic debris in the ocean is the ingestion and entanglement of marine species. 100 million marine animals die each year from plastic waste, which is an average of 1-3 marine mammals, and this is only the number that is found and reported. 

The Great Bubble Barrier is an innovative mechanism to capture and remove plastic from waterways before it enters the ocean. Air is pumped through a perforated tube placed diagonally on the riverbed to create a “curtain” of bubbles, which directs plastic up to the surface and into a waste collection system, all without obstructing wildlife or boats. This technique has been used in the past to clean up oil spills. It has proved to catch an average of 86% of plastic waste; testing has taken place in Amsterdam canals preventing plastic from entering the North Sea. Many countries lack the infrastructure to prevent plastic pollution, including recycling capacity, circular economy framework, waste disposals and adequate landfills. This lack of infrastructure can be addressed by The Barrier Bubble technology as it is transferable, highly scalable and subsequently, can be used as a tool to reach polluted rivers worldwide to stop plastic from entering the ocean and damaging precious biodiversity and ecosystems.

The above initiatives are only a few examples of projects and innovations to help protect our oceans, a key action that is required to combat climate change and build a more sustainable future. Itriom encourages you to identify sustainability challenges of interest linked to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, such as ocean protection, and either support existing initiatives or start your own to contribute to solving these goals. 

To learn more about how you can do your part to protect and restore our oceans by supporting initiatives like the above, head to Itriom’s Initiatives page to support existing verified projects or start your own.

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