How Technology Can Save the Oceans… with a little bit of help

Snapchat, instagram, remote-controlled drones. Technology is speeding along faster than we can install the latest iPhone update. And with so much time, energy, and money pouring into tech, we’re excited to see new innovations that can help our oceans as well.

Historically, technology applied to oceans has driven decline. Now there’s a new opportunity for technology to take a role in responsible management: Tech-savvy environmentalists and entrepreneurs are harnessing the power of technology to help enforce regulations, to trace and track fish, to identify illegal product, and more.

Over the next month we’ll be featuring a 4-part series on how technology can help save the seas—as long as there’s some smart human-centered design to go along with it. We’ll dive into the murky waters of identification, tackle the challenge of enforcement, examine new fishing gear innovations, and culminate with a look at the Future of Fish Traceability Pod. Read on for our thoughts about how to move from tech to impact:

Technology to ID Fish

  • Facebook for Whales?!  You know that facial recognition function that can tell you and your identical twin sister apart? A group of data scientists created that same tool for North Atlantic right whales. With only around 500 of them left in the world, researchers observe and track as many individual whales as they can, a method that takes up most of their time. By quickly and accurately identifying whales by their mugs, researchers will be better able to count and track each whale, and they’ll free up time for more research.
  • If the Shazam App is keeping you cool in the eyes of your music-loving niece, what if there were an equivalent to win over your fishmonger? With over 20,000 fish species in the ocean, and 200 more added each year, you can’t expect to recognize them all. The creators of Fishazam are developing an app that uses infrared spectroscopy to identify the top 100 fish species with a simple scan.
  • Is that white fish on your plate $20/pound grouper, less expensive farmed tilapia, or a cheap Asian catfish in disguise? It’s tricky to identify fish without skin, a fact that those who commit seafood fraud use to their advantage. That’s why a team of scientists invented Grouperchek, a handheld sensor that detects grouper DNA markers. The scan works on fish in any form, whether freshly caught, on ice, or cooked and sauce-covered on your plate.
  • From 36 to 120. That’s the increase in the number of recognized species caught by a deepwater snapper fishery off the south coast Timor, Indonesia, thanks to new barcodes and smart scales introduced by a forward-thinking processer on Bali, Primo Indo Ikan (PII). PII teamed up with Peter Mous at The Nature Conservancy and Tom Kraft of Insite Solutions to develop a barcoding system that allows for more efficient and effective species identifications on the plant floor. Giant wall charts display detailed pictures with associated barcodes; trained staff simply point and click the barcode associated with the fish in their container, and the species name uploads directly into an electronic database. Smart scales measure the weight and length and link to the species ID. Not only is this good for fisheries management, it's good for seafood lovers. By providing better species information to chefs they can tailor their recipes to each type, and help consumers appreciate the diversity of fish in the sea.

Technology matters—especially in an ocean environment. It gives us eyes where we don’t have them, and when designed and implemented smartly, can lead to sweeping changes that benefit industry, society, and the planet.  But technology is just the starting point—real change requires effective design of products and thoughtful engagement strategies.

So what? Let us know how you have seen technology move forward. Do you have a positive story from successful implementation? Where are you stuck? Send us a note at and look out for next week’s post to learn how technology can help enforce regulations on land and sea.

Want more? Read Part 2 and Part 3 of our blog series for more innovations and technology solutions.