Nature and Biodiversity

4 challenges we need to solve to protect our ocean

The ocean absorbs about 30% of human-generated CO2 emissions. Image: Unsplash

Andrea Willige
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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This article is part of: Sustainable Development Impact Summit
  • The ‘ocean economy’ is worth around $2.5 trillion.
  • But the integrity of ocean ecosystems is threatened by climate change, pollution and overfishing.
  • A second UpLink Ocean Sprint is looking for innovative solutions to address some of the key challenges facing the ocean.

If it were a country, the ocean would be the seventh largest economy in the world.

The “ocean economy” is worth around $2.5 trillion, and 40% of the world’s population depend on the biodiversity and services it provides, including for food, fresh water, renewable energy, tourism and trade are just a few examples.

Our seas also absorb about 30% of human-generated CO2 emissions and more than 90% of the excess heat in our climate system.

But the integrity of the ocean ecosystem is under threat. The effects of climate change, such as ocean warming, acidification and oxygen loss; pollution from plastic, chemicals and other human waste; and the impact of overfishing are just a few of the existential risks.

In this context, the World Economic Forum’s UpLink platform, which aims to crowdsource innovative solutions to accelerate progress towards the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), is launching its second sprint to find solutions that will help protect the ocean, and everything that lives in it.

While global drives such as the reduction in single-use plastics and greenhouse gas emissions are critical for the future of the ocean, there is also an urgent need for action at all levels and for new solutions to break the downward cycle.

Aquaculture creates ‘blue food’ with valuable micronutrients.
Aquaculture creates ‘blue food’ with valuable micronutrients. Image: Reuters

A second sprint to save our ocean

Bringing together entrepreneurs and environmental action groups, UpLink’s Ocean Solutions Sprint 2 is calling for ideas to be submitted to its UpLink platform that can accelerate progress towards SDG 14: Life Below Water. The projects considered to have the highest potential will then be connected to organizations who can help the project owners develop and scale them. These include a mix of businesses, NGOs, investors and government representatives.

From UpLink’s first Ocean Sprint, announced at Davos 2020, three winning projects were chosen from more than 50 submissions. They included an Oman-based online platform for reselling empty shipping container space; a waste management company from Myanmar; and a seaweed farming company. UpLink has also formed an Ocean Cohort of 12 innovations tackling the biggest challenges facing our seas.

Have you read?

The Ocean Solutions Sprint 2 is looking for solutions related to four key challenges:

1. Restorative aquaculture

Aquaculture – the farming of fish, shellfish and seaweed – not only creates sustainable seafood and provides jobs for coastal communities, there is also growing evidence that it has much wider benefits.

Blue food” is an important source of protein and micronutrients as many people aim to move away from meat-heavy diets. It has also been linked to a reduced risk of diseases such as type-2 diabetes, and could play an important role in redressing malnutrition. Aquaculture can also be part of waste water treatment and be used to replenish fish stocks lost to overfishing.

Partnering with environmental organization The Nature Conservancy and aquaculture accelerator Hatch Blue, the new sprint will look for projects that maximize the benefits of aquaculture while addressing some of the biggest challenges, from habitat degradation to overfishing.

2. Protecting and restoring coral reefs

Coral Reefs could all but disappear by 2100 unless we can mitigate the impact of climate change, destructive fishing methods and pollution.

Reefs not only provide marine wildlife habitats, they also act as frontline defences against natural disasters such as ocean surges and floods – and are better and cheaper than man-made solutions, according to a new report from the United Nations Development Programme. A further depletion of coral reefs will affect livelihoods, income and food security around the globe.

However, funding for their restoration and maintenance is limited and often small scale in nature. With partners International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) and the Global Fund for Coral Reefs, UpLink is looking for ideas to help tackle these challenges.

Coral reefs offer wildlife habitats and more.
Coral reefs offer wildlife habitats and more. Image: Reuters

3. Investing in nature-based solutions to climate change

Similar to enlisting coral reefs as flood defences, UpLink is scouting for ideas that create long-term business opportunities built on conserving and restoring natural ecosystems.

This includes new business ideas that incorporate the preservation of coastal habitats, sustainable fisheries and aquaculture, carbon-aware tourism and ocean-based technology and infrastructure.

Impact partners searching for nature-based solutions are International Union for Conservation of Nature and Blue Natural Capital, who are looking to nurture projects that can demonstrate that profitability and climate impact are not mutually exclusive.

4. Technology supporting Marine Protected Areas

In Spring 2020, the government of the Seychelles designated more than 400,000 square kilometres of its ocean territory as marine protected areas (MPAs). Supported by a debt conversion deal structured by The Nature Conservancy, an area larger than Germany will be safeguarded to nurture sustainable development and counteract the impact of climate change.

The Seychelles Conservation and Climate Adaptation Trust is now working with UpLink to find technological solutions for monitoring the health of MPAs and compliance with marine protection rules, including identifying illegal fishing and marine pollution. It is important to note that while the Impact Partner for this challenge is geographically specific, it is looking to support solutions from across the globe.

The World Economic Forum's UpLink platform is searching for solutions that protect, restore and support the ocean and its blue economy. For more information, visit UpLink.

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