A proof of concept project between IBM, UN Science-Policy-Business Forum and the Global Partnership on Marine Litter will use advanced digital technologies to help monitor and provide innovative solutions to tackling marine plastic pollution on a global scale.

A prototype of the project was presented during the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Act#ForNature Global Online Forum, at a Townhall session on Turning the Tide on Marine Plastics: How UNEA-5 can be a Turning Point, held on 8 June in the context of a three day long series of environment themed events broadcast from Oslo, Norway.

IBM, a founding member of the Forum, has volunteered to provide its world leading research and technology in computing to develop this proof of concept in just six weeks.

The world’s oceans face immediate threats from marine pollution and especially marine plastics and microplastics, which according to UNEP could outweigh fish in our oceans by 2050 if current trends continue.

Although public awareness has grown rapidly in recent years, much work remains to understand and mitigate the impacts of marine litter and microplastics on marine ecosystems, human health and the health of the planet.

Responding to the current lack of any global data repository on marine plastic distribution in our seas and oceans, the pilot will help develop a Digital Ecosystem for the Environment – a concept urged for in a discussion paper published by the Forum’s Working Group on Big Data last year.

Workshop participants outside the IBM Centre in New York
Participants during the IBM Marine Litter Digital Platform Proof of Concept Workshop, 9-10 March 2020, IBM Centre, New York. More workshop pictures available on Flickr

Data is wonderful but we all struggle with dealing with too much of it. IBM and our partners idea was to see how we can use innovation and digital tools to make us a little bit smarter, better and more capable at tackling these tricky problems”, Nicholas Holmes, Global Government CTO – IBM Data & AI Experts Labs and Learning.

Creating a platform for the sharing of marine plastic related data and knowledge amongst actors from across sectors is a key objective for the pilot. Together with the identification of data gaps and the most appropriate technology, such as Artificial Intelligence, needed to monitor and model marine plastic distribution.

The project will build on the work convened by the UNEP and its scientific partners and policy bodies to eliminate marine plastics.

Proposed components of the project include:

Global platform for monitoring marine litter

  • To collate and integrate data from a wide variety of sources on marine litter and microplastics, including earth observation, in-situ monitoring, citizen science, indicators and SDG.
  • To create data products, information and insights on state of marine litter and microplastics in the environment. This will include validation and cross checking across the different data sources in order to provide simple, easy to use data products. (For example, there are many citizen science databases and each has unique data attributes, these will need to be integrated into a single, harmonized geospatial dataset.)

Forecasting and modelling

  • To create an analytical interface which helps users model the expected result of various policy interventions.
  • Long-term goal which aligns with ongoing work on policy effectiveness under the Ad Hoc and Open Ended Expert Group on Marine Litter and Microplastics.
  • May support planning and implementation of marine litter action plans at various levels for prioritization of activities.

Interactive platform including AI for solutions and collaborations on marine litter

  • To convene various stakeholders (governments, industry, academia, civil society and other) concerned about marine litter through a single interactive virtual forum.
  • Some of the functionalities include: stakeholder profile, smart matchmaking of stakeholders for action, sharing of stakeholder’s experiences, Identification of gaps.
  • To share information on projects, engagement and lessons learned.
  • To provide a smart user and database interface to the increasing number of rich marine litter related databases and studies available on the web.

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Header image: Initial dashboard design for platform. Sourced from IBM presentation during Act#ForNature Townhall session.

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