Digitalizing Our Oceans: New Roles For Tech Companies And Workers
Over the past number of years, we have seen several sectors become increasingly digital. It is in those segments of the economy that we interact with on a daily basis where this is most evident, such as media, financial services, manufacturing and medicine.
If you are like me, when you think about the ocean, you are more likely to think about the science aspect: biologists, divers, iceberg tracking, weather, whale and seabird migration. What does not likely come immediately to mind for most is ocean technology. The ocean economy is experiencing digitalization just like every other sector; however, with a lack of communications infrastructure and the challenges of an underwater environment, digital transformation of the ocean is complex.
The ocean covers about 70% of our planet and is a critical part of our journey toward achieving things like climate change goals, food security and improved health outcomes. Yet, there is much that remains unexplored. This is where some of the biggest opportunities for tech companies and tech workers exist.
Getting To Know Our Oceans
It is often said that we know less about our oceans than we do about space. That is quickly changing. New technologies are collecting data about our oceans and ocean assets like never before. For example, sensors, autonomous underwater vehicles and smart buoys are all collecting data in addition to, or as an alternative to, traditional research vessels and human activity, and often at a lower cost.
Collecting this information is one thing, but all of this data also needs to be analyzed. There is much work being done to maximize access and interoperability of this data to support decision-making throughout multiple ocean sectors. This data helps us better understand what occupies the ocean, where those things are and where they are going. This could be everything from marine life to fishing gear. Artificial intelligence and machine learning help analyze data to tackle important challenges like carbon monitoring, rising sea levels and rising water temperatures in the journey to net-zero as well as species’ migration to understand impacts on things like fishing and shipping lanes.
With the ocean economy expected to outpace the growth of the global economy more broadly, technology companies can consider applications in the ocean as part of both their growth strategies and their commitments to climate action.
Tech Opportunities In The Ocean Sector
While we often think of traditional roles in the ocean economy — an offshore oil worker, ship captain, a fisherperson, a plant worker — the increase in automation is creating new opportunities for non-traditional workers. Jobs that would have previously been done at sea are increasingly being replaced by roles on land, and there are new opportunities for workers to get engaged in the ocean economy.
We are seeing firsthand that oil platform workers are fewer with high-tech data rooms on land and cables to the platforms facilitating real-time data collection and monitoring. Workers at multiple sites can interface in virtual reality environments. Sensors flag issues for follow-up between offshore and onshore workers. Robots and drones can be controlled remotely to perform inspections in hard-to-reach places in and on the water, reducing safety risks.
Technology is being leveraged to track fish and seafood from sea to plate including sensors and blockchain, providing increased transparency and giving consumers additional information on where their food is coming from and the steps taken to get to their table. Fish processing plants are increasingly automated with fewer workers, and those workers are becoming more focused on robotics, information technology maintenance and cybersecurity to ensure smooth operations of the plant. Artificial intelligence is being leveraged to reduce waste and increase yields.
And finally, the ship captain. As ships become increasingly autonomous, there are fewer works at sea. Data scientists are relying on digital twins to establish predictive maintenance schedules and analyze data collected from multiple sensors to improve the performance of ships and reduce emissions. Ports are also using data to maximize ship traffic flow within their ports.
As we kick off the UN Decade of Ocean, while the digitalization of our oceans has a long way to go, things are starting to move quickly. More and more, we are understanding the ocean’s critical role in achieving the world’s climate change goals and how the data we collect will not only help us better understand our oceans but also help us make better-informed decisions. This creates new and exciting opportunities for all those in the tech sector with a passion for the ocean.