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September 13, 2013

New Competition to Track Changing Ocean

The race is on to develop the world’s best ocean pH sensors! A new competition just launched to improve understanding of one of the ocean’s greatest threats, ocean acidification.

XPRIZE, a non-profit that tries to solve grand challenges by incentivizing research and development through prize competitions, launched a new program called the Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health Prize, which addresses ocean acidification. The purpose is to design cheaper and better performing pH sensors that can be deployed to ocean habitats all over the world. These sensors are important because we desperately need to know more about how carbon emissions are changing the ocean’s chemistry on a local scale and how this is already harming marine life and fisheries.

Last year, Oceana and our allies pushed for and gained language on ocean acidification in the United Nation’s Rio +20 output document. The United Nations acknowledged the seriousness of the acidification problem and established the beginning stages of an international monitoring network for ocean acidification. But the greatest hurdle to deploying this massive network of pH sensors around the world is that current models are very expensive, fragile, and not user friendly. The XPRIZE is incentivizing the world’s best marine thinkers to overcome these challenges. If successful, these new sensors will provide information about how ocean acidification is impacting habitats, from the deep sea to tropical coral reefs.

Even with vast improvements in monitoring, we already know the root cause of ocean acidification, which are carbon-emissions mainly due to the rampant burning of fossil fuels. Oceana is working to limit these harmful emissions by stopping the expansion of offshore oil and gas drilling and promoting alternative renewable energy sources like offshore wind. We will need to simultaneously address both the cause and effects of ocean acidification to prevent this global ocean health crisis.