Big data, big ideas and the big blue ocean

The problems facing the world’s oceans can seem overwhelming. But advances in technology and new partnerships with other sectors are not only revealing the need for change but leading to innovative solutions with real potential for scaling-up.

Want to hear more from Mark? He joined us for a Q&A where we answered your questions about how we can save species.

Mark Spalding

Mark fell in love with the sea on the rocky shores of Cornwall, but was also privileged to dive in the Red Sea aged 11, when his parents moved to work in the region. After studying in Cambridge, Mark joined the World Conservation Monitoring Centre in the early 1990s, where he compiled the first ever detailed maps of coral reefs and mangrove forests. Building on these maps he worked with partners around the world to track both threats and conservation efforts. The Reefs at Risk publications, dating back to 1998, were among the first to raise global attention to the plight of these critical ecosystems. Mark is cautiously optimistic that we can overcome the slew of problems facing the ocean, and he believes that better information, and the smart utilization innovation and of new technology may be critical adjuncts to “old-school” conservation approaches. He believes that saving our planet cannot be a slow, drawn-out campaign of persuasion to save this species or that habitat: “we’re slower than the competition, and that means we’re constantly losing ground”. What we need, he believes, is to convert the competition – have them work with us, not against us. And to do that we need to use their same tools and approaches. His ongoing work with The Nature Conservancy involves high resolution global mapping of the value of nature to people, and is helping to engage new audiences to strengthen the demand for action: “once a hotel realizes that its beach is built by the coral reef offshore, or the fisher understands the critical role of mangrove forests as a nursery habitat then they are with us. We’re on the same side!”. And in rubbing shoulders with industry and economists he has realized that these same sectors present other opportunities. If search engines and retailers are using artificial intelligence to read our minds and to predict our predilections then we should learn from them, if hedge-fund managers are growing wealthy on “smart” deals surely there are places in the market for us to act to. Not nefarious double-dealings, but straight, honest, fact-led and transformative approaches. We have a huge challenge ahead, but there are growing glimpses that many in the conservation community are growing wise to these opportunities, and this could be transformative.

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