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Ocean Health App Crowdsources Scientific Observations

October 27, 2020

Washington Maritime Blue, the Port of Seattle, and WeWork Labs have partnered to launch Washington’s first maritime accelerator to help maritime companies innovate and grow. New ideas in one of the most traditional sectors in Washington are critical for a thriving economy and to protect our planet, precious natural resources, and ocean life.  
Washington Maritime Blue and the Port are partnering again to launch the next cohort of the Maritime Blue Innovation Accelerator. Applications for the new cohort are open through Nov. 20.
This series showcases the 11 companies participating in the inaugural cohort. These companies worked for four months out of WeWork Labs’ Seattle location with mentors and advisers to help navigate challenges. In April, the startups shared their innovative solutions in a Virtual Showcase.

The ocean economy is valued at $1.5 trillion per year, providing essential products and services to more than one billion people. The ocean has faced many threats like plastic pollution, ship collisions, and overfishing, but at the same time progress has been made with conservation efforts and species have come back from the brink of extinction. Marine researchers have worked hard to track these changes, but the manual nature of scientific data collection means their discoveries often lag years behind ocean change.

Despite advancements in business and society, science has remained manual, siloed, and slow, not keeping pace with ocean change. Observations have been recorded by using a pencil and a paper, logging latitude, longitude, data, time, and observation, then re-entering the information into a spreadsheet.

Real time data collection

When Dr. Christine Ward-Paige was recruited by the tourism industry to lead an investigation into the disappearance of manta rays by crowdsourcing observations, she saw firsthand the shortcomings of current data collection methods. Her investigation took eight months, one observation at a time, with 500,000 records in 90 regions of the world.

So Ward-Paige, who earned her Ph.D. in crowdsourcing ocean science, started to develop a way to make science real time and accessible to all. The result was a mobile app and dashboard, called eOceans, built for scientists and citizen scientists and teams to log and track the issues that matter to them.

eoceans app

The mission of eOceans is to help communities and researchers make real time discoveries to celebrate success or to mitigate and adapt to change on timescales that keep pace with business, society, and ocean change.

You can use the app two ways — report what you are seeing in the moment or auto track your journey from start to finish — whether you’re sailing, taking a ferry, or walking on a beach. Afterwards you can generate a report and have the data standardized across teams around the world.

Once you download the app, you can join or follow teams; create teams on your chosen subject; and stay in touch with teams, communities, organizations, species, and topics you support.

Fishing boat in the ocean

Collaborate for a better world

The eOceans app allows users to create teams around specific subjects like endangered species or cleanup efforts. For example, you can join one team or hundreds of teams to share your turtle observations with researchers around the world. The analytics tools in eOceans provide real time insights to monitor oceans by species, areas, and issues. Scientists, nongovernment organizations (NGOs), and government entities can work together to combine data and evolve a global project that works on a local scale.

Ward-Paige is currently using eOceans to gather data on the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on coastal communities, recording the widespread and long-term impacts on humans and nature. Through this project, Ward-Paige and her team of scientists and citizen scientists are working together in real time to track these patterns along coastlines and across the ocean around the world.

“All over the world, human confinement has impacted our oceans in a way we have never seen before,” she said.  “We are able to share information with our ocean partners, the tourism industry, and those based in business. Scientists and citizen scientists go out on the water everyday and report what we are seeing and how the pandemic has impacted the ocean.”

eOceans launched at the beginning of April 2020 and currently has 900 downloads. Ward-Paige has a future mission to gather one billion observations a day and to get two billion people participating in ocean science through the app.

“People are so happy it exists, and they are working with us to help it evolve to help get what they need out of it,” she said.

Heatmap of effort contributed to eOceans
Heatmap of effort currently contributed to eOceans: ​​​90 regions, 38 countries, with some research published in peer-reviewed science publications, leading to policy decisions and conservation outcomes.

Maritime Accelerator

At the Oceans 2019 conference in Seattle, Ward-Paige was approached about joining the Maritime Accelerator program.

“It was unlike anything I had heard before,” she said. “The Accelerator really focused on blue economy. This vision was much different, innovative, and future thinking than I had seen in the past.”

She found she had a common goal with many of the startups in the program — addressing the environmental challenges facing oceans and the maritime industry.

“Oceans are very complex; people underestimate the complexities of oceans and the animals inside of it that call it home and the human interactions with ocean. Humans depend on oceans, but they are changing quite quickly. There was a synergy between myself and other founders as we looked at how we could solve big problems like keeping more fish inside of the ocean, reducing noise, and ocean acidification.”

Dr. Christine Ward-Paige
Dr. Christine Ward-Paige

Next steps

Ward-Paige’s future goal is to look at ways to improve the user experience for app users. And to continue to focus on the “Our Ocean in COVID-19” project.

“We understood right away how quickly the atmosphere changed with human confinement and the economy and human health, but we couldn’t get data on oceans,” she said. “The impact of anthropause (global slowing down of human activities) on the ocean is really important, and I want to see how we can use the app to get transparent real-time information and collect big data on our oceans.”

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