Digital innovations for a thriving blue economy

Digital and mobile technologies are transforming how we monitor, manage and interact with ocean resources, making them crucial tools in the efforts to restore ocean health. On World Ocean Day 2024, the GSMA ClimateTech programme reflects on how these solutions can drive action to protect our oceans and climate.

The importance of ocean-based solutions

Ocean action is climate action, and vice versa! The health of the ocean and the climate crisis are inextricably linked. Oceans play a substantial role in regulating global climate by absorbing excess heat and carbon dioxide. On the other hand, climate change impedes the ability of oceans to deliver these valuable ecosystem services and other functions, including supporting biodiversity and sustaining livelihoods. Hence, a healthy and biodiverse ocean is a vital component of climate action and safeguarding coastal communities.

The blue economy is an approach towards managing ocean resources sustainably and equitably, coupled with responsible stewardship of marine ecosystems. With an estimated three billion people globally reliant on the ocean for their livelihoods, investment in the blue economy could help restore ocean productivity and create benefits for communities in low and middle-income countries (LMICs). Some key areas of blue economy interventions include improved fisheries management, sustainable aquaculture, improving sustainability of other key oceanic sectors, habitat protection, and preventing pollution.

Pursuing a blue economy can provide solutions targeting both ocean and climate action. For example: 

  • Expanding existing, ready-to-implement ocean-based mitigation solutions like offshore renewable tech or marine conservation and restoration activities alone have the potential to reduce emissions by 33%
  • Coastal ecosystem restoration activities, including restoration of mangroves or coral reefs, can not only lead to the improvement of ocean health but also increase local communities’ resilience against the impact of extreme weather events, sea-level rise or storms.

Image source: Ocean and climate change dialogue 2022, UNFCCC

Tech to unlock blue economy goals

The World Bank’s Blue Economy Development Framework identifies three key components that are crucial for developing a blue economy. Digital and mobile technology can play a significant role in supporting and scaling each of these components as illustrated below:

1. Data, analysis, and dissemination: Data and research enhance our understanding of the impact of ocean stressors, improving ocean management and decision-making processes. For instance,  technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and sensor networks can provide data-driven insights needed to understand and model the dynamics of marine ecosystems. One example is WWF-Vodacom’s project to reduce whale entanglement in mussel farming ropes in South Africa. The solution utilises an AI-powered warning system that uses Internet of Things (IoT) sensors in infrared cameras connected to hydrophones. This system provides alerts directly to mussel farmers and South Africa’s National Sea Rescue Institute to help free any whales in distress.

2. Policy, institutional and fiscal reforms: The transboundary nature of oceans along with the presence of divergent stakeholder interests makes ocean governance challenging.Overcoming the fragmentation and inefficiencies within the governance structure is essential for fostering a thriving blue economy. The SMART Subsea Cables initiative, led by a Joint Task Force of  three United Nations (UN) organisations, seeks to equip transoceanic telecommunications cables with sensors to expand our deep ocean observation capabilities. This initiative demonstrates innovative global partnership models between UN bodies, government agencies, non-profits and telecom companies to share  real-time publicly accessible marine environment data.   Prima, a telecommunications and data infrastructure firm, is partnering with Alcatel Submarine Networks (ASN) and OMS, to install the world’s first  SMART cable.

3. Fostering investment: Innovative financing mechanisms and adoption of robust blue investment principles are needed to facilitate an equitable and sustainable blue economy. Mobile and digital technologies can enable financial institutions to create tailored products and to invest in the development of the blue economy. For example, the fin tech platform VUA has developed several products to cover the unpredictability in income of small-scale fishers. This includes an instant payment solution that lets fish dealers make mobile money payments to the small-scale fishers in Kenya.

The GSMA in tech for the blue economy

Recognising the vast potential for digital and mobile tech to facilitate and manage the sustainable development of the blue economy, the GSMA has explored solutions in this space across Africa and Asia.

For example, the GSMA Innovation Fund for Climate Resilience and Adaptation, has supported Kommunidad, a company that offers Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions and AI-powered mobile apps that helps governments and coastal communities in the Philippines manage climate risks and improve their resilience against disasters.

In addition, in 2023, Indosat Ooredoo Hutchison (IOH) partnered with the GSMA’s Mobile Innovation Hub and Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH on a pilot project trialing innovative digital solutions to reduce the destruction of mangroves in collaboration with the North Kalimantan communities in Indonesia.

As we explore innovations for developing a thriving blue economy, there are also opportunities to adapt proven freshwater interventions for similar marine-based challenges.

For example, e-Fisheries, a past grantee of the GSMA Innovation Fund, is an IOT and mobile based solution that supports precision aquaculture. This could potentially be adapted to marine contexts like sustainable offshore fisheries to assess fish stocks, monitor fishing activity and identify overfished areas.

Two men stand on a concrete pathway next to a pond. The man on the right, wearing a white shirt, holds a phone or device, and both appear to be looking at it. The background shows two large blue containers resembling the hues of the Blue Ocean and lush green landscapes.

A call for collaborators

Over the next year, the GSMA ClimateTech programme will be exploring how to harness digital and mobile technologies in the blue economy space through research, market engagement, advocacy, and partnerships. These explorations will inform future strategies and interventions on how digital innovations can catalyse blue economy solutions to drive sustainable practices, improve resilience in coastal communities and protect marine ecosystems and biodiversity.

We are looking to collaborate with researchers, organisations and initiatives that share our vision of leveraging tech to drive sustainable blue economy solutions. This includes:

  • Research partners for our upcoming study on Digital Innovations for the Blue Economy. We invite you to submit a short proposal by 10th June 2024. You can find the statement of work here.
  • Private and government partners who are interested in co-creating research in this space.
  • Start-ups and innovators creating tech solutions for the blue economy to grow the evidence base on high impact use cases.

Reach out to us by email if your work has strong synergies with our objectives.

The ClimateTech programme is funded by UK International Development from the UK Government and The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), and is supported by the GSMA and its members.