Over 40% of the global population lives within 100 km of coastline. And most of the adverse effects suffered by the marine waters reach people living within the vicinity.
It is not surprising that major cities with the highest number of industrial activities contribute to these adversities. Plastic wastes, industrial waste, sewage, farm runoff and other pollutants are a constant threat for the marine ecosystem.
As per Silicon Canals, the amount of marine plastic is estimated to outweigh all the fishes in the seas by 2050. This waste originates on land, gets dumped into rivers and canals and eventually gets carried out to sea. Further, this plastic waste finds its way into the middle of the ocean.
It is not unknown that the marine ecosystem accounts for 70% of the total life (or water) on Earth. From the perspective of quality life for a human, the marine environment supports our cultural, social and economical existence. Hence, it is imperative that smart cities residing by the coastlines adopt the ‘Smart Ocean City’ model.
What Are Smart Ocean Cities?
Smart cities across the globe are embracing a plethora of innovative solutions to improve the quality of life. Among all, the use of open data lies at the forefront. Data science integrated with technology such as sensors is showing positive results. Traffic congestion, waste collection, air quality and public space is witnessing an appealing transformation.
A similar approach used for remediating and restoring marine waters gives rise to the ‘Smart Ocean City’ concept. It involves a programme that applies data-gathering technology to monitor the seas and oceans.
By cleaning up the marine waters, smart ocean cities have the opportunity to obtain huge economic benefits. They can create a safer, healthier and greener environment near their coastlines.
Copenhagen, for instance, has practically demonstrated the benefits. The city initiated its harbour area restoration two decades ago. Today, the region enjoys the makeover from grubby dockland to a flourishing public space full of amenities. There are water parks, harbour pools, water taxis and much more that attracts residents and tourists alike.
It is these coastal cities that can have the biggest positive impact on marine ecosystems. Shifting the focus to the technical side, here are some measures that smart ocean cities can implement:
- Restricting the growth of algal blooms and restoring oxygen to coastal dead zones through waste-water treatment
- Use of microbes to convert nitrates and phosphates from farm runoff into fertilizer and fish food
- Legislating plastic ban and investing in an efficient waste management system.
- Preventing the dumping of waste in landfills and exporting it to third world countries.
- Promote ocean innovation incubators to accelerate the restoration of marine natural resources. These include coral reefs, shellfish beds, sea-plant farms, fisheries, etc.
- Making provisions of funding for local seafront/oceanfront improvements.
What comes ahead will take you into current real-world efforts by smart ocean cities.
The Clean Mission Of Baltic Sea
A team of 270 organisations from Finland and other countries around the Baltic Sea have entered ‘The Baltic Sea Challenge.’ In simple words, the initiative is committed to conserving the ecosystem of the sea.
Mayors of Helsinki and Turku with other Finnish cities introduced a joint action plan in 2019. A donation of €50,000 has been provided by the city of Helsinki towards Baltic Sea protection. The funds will help the campaign in “speedy experiments” that will continue from one to six months. The goal is to discover innovative ideas and test their functionality in the early development phases. Selected experiments for between €1,000 and €8,000 will be purchased. But the condition would be that the experiment can be implemented within a period of six months.
Approximately 70% of the waste that lands up in the Baltic Sea is plastic. Discarded packaging from rivers and drainage systems gets carried out to sea. Plastic waste is the most damaging to the environment as it takes years to break down. In the meantime, it may also release noxious chemicals through activities like the food chain to fish.
Hence, The Baltic Sea Challenge is chiefly focused on preventing and cleaning plastic waste. It will explore solutions and services that prevent or reduce the amount of plastic on shores and in the sea. Furthermore, it also intends to promote the reuse of plastic waste collected from the sea. The plan is to raise awareness about the marine litter problem and encourage concrete action to protect the Baltic Sea.
The Baltic Sea Challenge campaign invited associations, companies, startups, and research groups to submit experiment ideas. However, the application was available only to the members of the Finnish Register of Associations or The Finnish Trade Register. The application period to submit experiments ended on 22 March 2020.
Indirect Waste Prevention Strategy
The city of Amsterdam and regional water boards have come up with a new solution to address waste in marine waters. Both in collaboration with an innovative startup ‘The Great Bubble Barrier’ have launched a barrier device. This device is introduced to remove plastic from canals and rivers while also making way for fishes to swim through easily.
The initiative has begun at the Westerdok Canal, the city’s important canal belt. It is chosen as the starting point as it flows into the IJ river which further joins the North Sea Canal. And this canal later fills into the North Sea.
This is the first project that is going to prevent plastic from entering the sea. This is as per the statement by Francis Zoet, co-founder of The Great Bubble Barrier startup.
The Working Of The Device
The barrier device comprises a 200-feet long pipe perforated with holes. This pipe is placed at the bed of the canal on an inclining line. When compressed air is pumped into the pipe, it leaves by forming bubbles. Because it is laid in a diagonal position, the bubbles push the plastic waste towards the side of the canal. Going ahead, a floating platform captures the litter.
This project underwent preliminary tests for a period of three years. These trials proved that the device has the potential of pushing 80% of the canal’s waste to its shores. Moreover, the device is capable of working 24 hours a day without impeding wildlife or shipping. The details are as per The Great Bubble Barrier.
Introducing this barrier device in canals and rivers is a highly effective and comprehensive way of eliminating plastic waste. Two-thirds of plastics in the oceans come from rivers and canals. Hence, if rivers and canals are cleaned up, it indirectly looks after the waste entering marine waters. Apparently, it’s a win-win both for fresh and marine waters.
Every year, a team of five garbage boats remove about 92,600 pounds of waste from Amsterdam’s waterways. However, tiny pieces of plastic and waste at the bed of canals are not stoppable by nets. Therefore, the barrier device will support the current efforts of cleaning up the canals. The Great Bubble Barrier will collect waste separately from what the garbage boats collect. Later, Schone Rivieren, the plastics action group will analyse the waste. Smart cities living by the shores can imitate such techniques to remove and prevent waste from entering the oceans. It is an urgent need to bar the impact of climate change.