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AI can help us restore the health of our oceans

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Stig Martin Fiskå, global head of ocean at Cognizant, explores how companies in ocean-based industries can use technology and harness innovation.

  • AI technology can help us in the fight to decarbonise our oceans and combat the effects of climate change.  
  • Innovative AI and perception technology can be used to optimise fishing practices to reduce wasted feed.  
  • Data analysis using machine learning models can streamline shipping procedures to minimise pollution.  

The oceans cover a vast 70% of the planet we call home, yet their health has been increasingly degraded by the impacts of over-exploitation and climate change. In turn, industries that rely on our oceans have found it more difficult to run their businesses predictably and profitably. With 3.3 billion of the world’s population having a livelihood or connection to the ocean, and the oceans predicted to provide a value of $4-6 trillion to the global economy by 2030, the restoration of their health is incontestably crucial.

While it’s no secret that technology itself is the cause of many of today’s environmental challenges, such as plastics and overfishing, it may also hold the key to overcoming them. With digital technology, ocean industries – from food production to renewable energy – can become not only more resilient and future-proof in the face of a more unpredictable and rapidly changing environment, but they can address one of humanity’s biggest challenges: improving the health of our oceans.

AI technology has a critical role to play, with the ability to help decarbonise the oceans and mitigate the impacts of climate change on their ecosystems. Businesses should look towards the numerous existing ways through which these digital tools can be applied to help the fight to restore our oceans.

Optimising fish farming practices

The world’s population is rapidly growing, with UN estimates suggesting we could reach a population of 8.5 billion by 2030. Whilst the aquaculture industry will provide a significant part of what we need to support the growing global population, current fishing practices are harming our sources of wild fish. Nearly a fifth of our current protein sources come from fish, yet almost 80% of the world’s fisheries are already depleted. Urgent action needs to be taken to reduce the pollution caused by the fishing sector.

Enter Artificial Intelligence. Through AI and perception technology, there is a growing opportunity to optimise fish farming practices to better understand what fish need and when. More specifically, farmers can use machine perception tools and AI to automate feeding time in accordance with the hunger levels of the fish to reduce wasted feed – a significant carbon emissions source – while improving growth metrics. With fish feed making up a majority of the industry’s environmental pressures and uneaten feed providing potential harm to the surrounding waters, these new technologies could help make a large impact in saving resources, and subsequently minimising ocean pollution.

Additionally, farmers will be able to use AI systems to better analyse data on fish populations, fishing patterns, and environmental conditions to optimise fishing strategies. Even the health of fish can be monitored, with AI solutions being able to detect and identify sea lice to improve fish health and hence improve fishing yields.

The crew at the helm 

Another huge contributor to ocean pollution is marine shipping. Approximately 90% of the goods transported globally are transported by sea at some point, transiting through at least two ports, and often many more, as part of their journey. Unexpected disruptions such as delayed vessels, maintenance issues, landslides, congestion at other ports, or inclement weather can contribute significantly to pollution.

Analysing large volumes of data from various sources, including satellite data, weather forecasts, and vessel data using an AI-powered platform, can generate the necessary insights to streamline operations and reduce congestion.

Specifically, transport companies can use machine learning models to analyse micro-weather systems, current speeds, and port data traffic to optimise shipping routes and port arrival times for lower fuel usage. Digital AI platforms can provide the opportunity to increase visibility, enabling informed decisions on mitigating congestion, minimising environmental impact, and recovering quickly from disruptions.  

Therefore, AI-powered digital platforms can not only positively impact the way individual companies are run, but if integrated and aligned across a business ecosystem, there is potential to reduce friction points in the industry on a macro-scale. 

No time to waste

Holistic change across the sector, from optimising fish farming practices to streamlining shipping operations, is now a necessity if we want to combat the rapidly increasing degradation of our oceans. Companies in ocean-based industries need to take an innovation-driven and collaborative approach with technology firms that can provide the relevant technical expertise to action this change.

Embracing new AI technologies with open arms will be essential to make a meaningful impact on ocean health, global decarbonisation and to be able to provide services that are vitally important to humanity more sustainably.

The opinions of guest authors are their own and do not necessarily represent those of SG Voice.

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