Celebrating World Oceans Day: Revitalizing the marine ecosystem with technology-driven engineered reefs to accelerate CO2 capture

Every year on June 8th, World Oceans Day provides a global platform to raise awareness about the value of our oceans and the critical need for their protection. One thing is for certain: oceans are vital to our existence.

The importance of our oceans and coral reefs

Oceans cover 70% of the Earth’s surface and is home to up to 80% of all life in the world. Oceans also generate 50% of the oxygen we need, absorb 25% of all carbon dioxide emissions, and capture 90% of the excess heat generated by these emissions. However, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, increasing greenhouse gas emissions are affecting the health of the ocean (e.g. warming and acidifying seawater), so reducing the ocean’s ability to absorb carbon dioxide and safeguard life on the planet.

This year, we are focusing our attention on one of nature’s most amazing marvels: coral reefs. These ecosystems play a vital role in sustaining marine life, capturing CO2 and mitigating the effects of global warming, presenting an opportunity to form part of an enterprise’s overall plan to address its sustainability goals and reduce its impact on the environment.

Why is preserving current coral reefs and building engineered reefs important? Almost one billion people depend entirely on healthy coral reefs for their livelihoods. More than 60% of the global population depends entirely on seafood for all protein intake and more than 25% of all life in the planet’s oceans starts as a direct result of healthy coral reefs.

Nowadays, human activities and climate change are pushing these delicate ecosystems to the brink of collapse. If no significant action is taken, 90% of all coral reefs are predicted to be extinct by 2050.

The responsibility of businesses to reduce global emissions

To make the greatest impact, we all need to work together, including businesses. Businesses today have greater responsibility than providing a return to investors; they have a role to play in helping reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.

According to a recent IBM Institute for Business Value survey, 95% of surveyed global executives say their organizations have developed ESG propositions. However, many of these organizations lack a clear pathway to realizing their goals and 41% of surveyed executives cite inadequate data as their biggest obstacle to ESG progress. 

While the numerous environmental challenges we face are daunting, we have reason to be optimistic. Technology, when harnessed effectively, can provide innovative solutions such as those that help to protect and restore reefs. We also know that building a more sustainable world will require strong partnerships. One such collaboration exists between IBM and The Reef Company.

Collaborating for coral reef restoration

IBM and The Reef Company have recently joined forces signing a joint initiative agreement aimed at bolstering their ocean conservation endeavors. The Reef Company is on a mission to build 2.500 engineered reefs, covering an average area of 50Km2 each, with a total investment of USD 500 Billion. The primary objective of this grand project is to restore and revitalize the marine ecosystem, sustaining the invaluable ecosystem of services nature offers, including carbon capture. Together with IBM’s support, the aim is leveraging data from the ocean and technology, and taking the project to the next level.  

The Reef Company designs reef modules, which are engineered with low-carbon impact materials and are manufactured locally. These building blocks create the foundation for new underwater habitats, and enable marine life (flora and fauna) to thrive whilst serving as a hotspot for marine biodiversity. The reefs are also equipped with the BluBoxx™ ocean data platform, and can be adapted to different environments to monitor and collect a wide range of ocean data.

The BluBoxx™ solution works with various sensors and cameras, which are fed via surface solar panels, used to measure salinity, temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen, pressure, and carbon dioxide. BluBoxx™ also enables data transmission from the subsea sensor collection devices to the surface. The data is then uploaded into the cloud platform which extracts valuable insights that are used to support ocean research as well as to serve a broad range of industries.

IBM Consulting, with its industrial experience and IBM’s cutting-edge technologies, will play a crucial role in supporting The Reef Company reef restoration efforts.

Having a well-designed data architecture and fact-based data can help with understanding performance and measuring progress against broad-based operational and ESG goals. Insights generated from this data can help organizations further their ESG programs as well as drive operational efficiency. Moreover, credible environmental reporting is supported by factual data. These elements support business intelligence and analysis, automation, and AI—all of which can help organizations to quickly seize market opportunities, build customer value, achieve greater efficiencies and respond to risks.

This collaboration creates new opportunities for the two companies to potentially explore leveraging IBM’s AI and data platform  and data analytics capabilities, such as watsonx or Sustainability Software solutions like IBM Environmental Intelligence Suite, which could assist in the monitoring, reporting and management of these artificial coral reefs.

By harnessing the power of watsonx generative AI capabilities and pre-trained foundation models, IBM could potentially analyze large volumes of data collected from various sources, such as satellite imagery, BluBoxxTM underwater sensors, and historical records, to identify patterns and predict potential threats to coral reefs. This proactive approach could help conservationists take timely action, implement mitigation strategies, and allocate resources more effectively.

The IBM Environmental Intelligence Suite, an AI-powered SaaS solution, provides timely and fact-based actionable intelligence that can help organizations and users proactively plan for and manage the impact from severe weather events and climate change events.

IBM’s collaboration with scientists, conservation organizations, and local communities can help drive innovation in coral reef restoration, offering technological solutions that support informed decision-making, efficient resource management, and long-term sustainability of these fragile ecosystems.

This new agreement has the potential to create powerful positive environmental impact, knowledge, employment, academic research, and economic benefits for multiple industries and local communities.

As we celebrate World Oceans Day this month, we are reminded that addressing climate change will take more than any one organization. It will requires companies, governments, nongovernmental organizations and communities, all working together, with the aid of technology, to improve the efficiencies of our activities and operations and to reduce costs, waste and emissions.

By embracing the power of technology, we can gather critical data, accelerate restoration efforts, and promote awareness at an unprecedented scale. However, technology alone is not the solution. We must also address the root causes of reef decline, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, curbing pollution, and promoting sustainable fishing practices.

By combining our collective efforts and leveraging technology, we can help preserve and protect the beauty and biodiversity of healthy oceans for future generations to come.

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*Statements regarding IBM’s future direction and intent are subject to change or withdrawal without notice, and represent goals and objectives only.

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