Ocean pollution… what can you do?

Eyesea welcomes seafarers with a desire to help tackle at-sea debris

By Graeme Somerville-Ryan, Eyesea

Environmental compliance, regulation, and oversight. Fun topics that get the average seafarer and shipping company excited and motivated to get out there and make a difference! And this is what, as an industry, we have focused on – what we have been made to focus on. But what can you do if you want to do more?

It’s a topical question to ask as more public attention is focused on ocean health and environment care. It was also one of the key questions we hoped to answer in the development of Eyesea, a pollution mapping app designed for seafarers and recreational boat users to record and chart pollution they may observe on the water.

What’s missing? Data. Eyesea’s mission is to use the reach and resources of the maritime industry to gather observational data on ocean bound and coastal pollution. Although there is a great deal of noise and commentary on marine pollution, there is actually very little data on the extent, location, and make up of ocean pollution. This lack of data affects recovery efforts, the allocation of resources to address the problem, research, and even the way the public perceive ships and seafarers.

With around 1.6m seafarers on 80,000 commercial ships, as a community, seafarers can play a critically important role in ocean care. The Eyesea pollution reporting app has been designed for use on ships. It’s simple to use – take a picture of what you see through the app, add an optional tag, and hit send. The image should be all we need (and it’s not like seafarers don’t carry phones!) The image is uploaded anonymously to our charts with an embedded GPS location. The app is designed to upload data only when a user has access to Wi-Fi – so taking pictures on a voyage and uploading them later is perfectly acceptable.

The more pictures/data points we get, the more information we can provide to clean up groups, researchers, and people who want to do good with the information.

Working collectively

I’m not surprised, but since Eyesea kicked-off last December we have seen fantastic support from seafarers and maritime companies. There is consistently the same feedback: “We sail in other people’s rubbish, it is getting worse, and we want to do something to protect our home and workplace.” This message comes from seafarers of all ranks and nationalities, and it comes from onshore ops teams and executives at shipping companies.

In a short time, we have had around 25 maritime companies sign up to the Eyesea non-profit. The industry wants to help – we just haven’t known what our role can be.

Eyesea is also trying to be different (not hard as none of us have done this before). We are offering seafarers the opportunity to be a central part of our organisation as At Sea Ambassadors – because you and your ability to collect data are the most important part of this project. And we want you to get the credit for your work. So far, we have appointed around a dozen At Sea Ambassadors. It doesn’t matter what rank you are or where you are from, you can and should be able to play a leadership role if this is a topic that interests you. We want our At Sea Ambassadors to drive this idea among your peers, shipmates, and in your community. Both at sea, and back home.

You’ve got data, what next?

As we’ve got deeper into the Eyesea initiative, it is becoming increasingly apparent that our role is likely to be more than just data collection. We recognise that once we have collected this information we have a responsibility to try and take action where we can. As examples, we have provided our early data sets to a company developing AI around pollution recognition, we are scoping out a project to map pollution in Manila Bay, and we have provided a small amount of funding for a clean-up non-profit in India.

This is developing on a daily basis, and it has been incredible to see seafarers, executives, tech companies, and environmental groups come together to work on this. Because we all want the same thing – and we all need your help to achieve it.

If you would like to be involved in any capacity, please feel free to drop me a note at [email protected].

Graeme Somerville-Ryan is founder of Eyesea, www.eyesea.org. The Eyesea app is free to download from the Google Play store for Android and the App store for Apple.