Hidden Ocean Treasures on Your Phone

Hidden Ocean Treasures on Your Phone

Shipwrecks are cool, but there is hidden treasure in ocean data.

Today we’re launching the Big Ocean Button Challenge a $100,000 app development competition to turn ocean data into products and services we need.

With over 20 terabytes (that’s 20 million megabytes) of data collected each day by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the possibilities for creative ocean-related apps are endless. Many website repositories and much of the data remain untouched by app developers.

There are many explanations why easy access to this data doesn’t exist yet, from the insulated culture of ocean research labs, to lack of data ‘interoperability’ (ability for the data and systems to communicate), to low awareness from entrepreneurs outside the ocean field. But now, using exponential technologies and a growing cognizance of ocean issues we can turn these challenges into huge opportunities.

The “Big Ocean Button” is a vision for the future. In this vision we have all the world’s ocean data available at the press of a button, presented in a user-friendly and consumable way. Unfortunately, we aren’t there yet; we need to inspire market development, competition and investment in ocean data products to prove what’s possible.

Some great applications of ocean data have already been created, like Surfline, a mobile app that predicts wave conditions for surfers and beach goers, the Whale Alert App, which warns mariners of whale presence to avoid lethal ship strikes of whales, and the Seafood Watch App, that recommends more sustainable seafood options. But we’re just getting started, and the field of ocean apps and services can become exponentially larger. Apps are the next required wave in growing the new ‘blue economy’, creating services potentially worth billions of dollars, similar to the commercial weather industry.

Decision making regarding ocean resources and activities are often based on limited information. As billions of people depend on the ocean for their livelihoods, access to digestible, instant ocean data can help solve some of the world’s grand challenges and push the blue economy forward. Using open access cloud-based platforms, data visualization and mobile design, we are looking at an explosion of potential uses for ocean data.  

For the Big Ocean Button Challenge we’re looking for teams of app developers to create mobile apps using data in the following five areas (but not limited to):

1. Fishing — focused on sustainable use and management of fishing, seafood traceability, species identification, combating illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing, or enforcement of marine protected areas.

2. Shipping & Trade — focused on ship tracking, efficiency of trade routes, port information, available docks, citizen science, and uses for empty shipping containers.

3. Ocean Acidification — related to an early warning system about changing pH levels and the potential impacts to local biology and marine resources. This is a follow up to the Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health XPRIZE awarded in 2015 to develop breakthrough ocean pH sensors.

4. Public Safety— related to public health, safety, and recreation, water quality, tsunami and tide warnings, jellyfish or harmful algal blooms, and beach closures.

5. Exploration — related to bathymetry (seafloor maps), bio-prospecting for medicines, species discovery, education, and biodiversity.

The Big Ocean Button Challenge is part of our vision for the XPRIZE Ocean Initiative to make our ocean healthy, valued and understood. Please join us in this challenge!

Visit HeroX.com and register by March 31st 2017, create your best ocean app and win your share of $100,000!


Matthew Mulrennan is the lead of the Ocean Initiative at XPRIZE - a commitment to conduct five ocean XPRIZE competitions, and put us on a path to making the ocean healthy, valued and understood.

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