In any discussion about eco-innovation, a vast territory is usually left uncharted: the oceans. The bounty of the seas, including food and valuable minerals, is commonly over-exploited, causing in some cases extensive damage. There is huge scope to make the existing marine economy more resource efficient and less environmentally-damaging.
There is also the opportunity to find innovative ways to use ocean resources - these could include renewable energy, medicines, new types of food and new more sustainable materials. As with all eco-innovation, advances in marine sectors will be of value worldwide, meaning potential benefits for European companies that offer the right solutions.
However, surprisingly little is known about the oceans and the extent, and condition, of ocean resources. A European Commission strategy, published in May 2014, seeks to remedy this. The aim of the Innovation in the blue economy strategy is to complete the mapping of Europe's oceans, and to encourage researchers, companies and others working on ocean issues to collaborate more closely.
Speaking on the publication of the Innovation in the blue economy strategy, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, the European Commissioner for Research and Innovation, said “we probably know more about the surface of the Moon and even Mars than we do about the deep sea floor.” She added that “maritime innovation has enormous potential for our economy and will help us meet challenges like climate change and food security.”
A basic objective for the strategy will be to map the approximately 30% of the sea floor around Europe that has not been surveyed. This will allow, by 2020, a digital map of the entire seabed of European waters to be delivered, providing a foundation for future sustainable development of marine activities.
Another spin-off from the strategy will be a platform for marine researchers to share their findings. This will link research from different levels, including European and national projects. An example of a current eco-innovative ocean-related project is PLANTPACK , which is working on petrochemical-free food packaging made using seaweed extracts.
The Innovation in the blue economy strategy will also establish a Blue Economy Business and Science Forum for innovation transfer. This will build on existing initiatives, particularly in shipping and aquaculture, to make the most of new ideas. One example is the possible use by the emerging marine energy industry, which is experimenting with underwater tidal turbines, of more environmentally-friendly anti-fouling treatments developed for ship hulls. The Green Ship of the Future initiative, for instance, is one programme working on a range of potentially transferable innovations.
The Innovation in the blue economy strategy aims to make the most of the wide range of activities with relevance for the oceans that will take place under the EU Horizon 2020 research programme.