Innovation Can Save Our Oceans

Our oceans cover more than 70% of the Earth's surface and provide 99% of its habitable space. They provide us with life, food, and medicines; they control our weather and climate; they protect us and are a major driver of the global economy; and they provide us with inspiration. It is hard to imagine that we are not doing all we can to look after this crucial part of our planet, so I applaud the United Nations for recognizing the importance of the oceans in their Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 in Goal #14.

The oceans are overfished, polluted, and exploited, creating a major global problem because they support all life on Earth. But they also represent a huge, untapped resource. As the largest habitat and source of natural resources on Earth, the opportunity to create sustainable enterprises using our oceans is vast. To achieve this, just like achieving anything of value, presents both challenges and opportunities. In tackling the Sustainable Development Goal to "conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development," the UN has identified a number of areas of focus over the next 15 years. These include addressing marine pollution; the management, protection, and conservation of marine and coastal ecosystems; ocean acidification; fishing regulations, including overfishing; the economic benefit of sustainable marine resources and technical capacity for Small Island and other Developing States; supporting artisanal fisheries; and the implementation of international law for the conservation and sustainable use of the oceans and their resources.

One area highlighted by the UN that is close to my heart, and that I have already taken concrete steps toward addressing, is minimizing and addressing the impacts of ocean acidification. We know that the ocean is absorbing CO2, the carbon dioxide that we emit at an alarming rate. This CO2 is changing the fundamental chemistry of the ocean by making it more acidic, yet we lacked the tools to measure its affects accurately or affordably. Ocean acidification has the potential to fundamentally alter everything about our seas, and with it, the Earth system. But you can't understand or address what you can't measure. Over the last two years, the recently awarded Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health XPRIZE challenged the world's innovators to create breakthrough pH sensors that are robust enough, inexpensive enough, and accurate enough to produce the understanding of ocean acidification we need from every corner of the world's oceans. As these sensors are brought to market and deployed around the world, we will have some of the important tools and scientific information needed to address the issue of ocean acidification. These pH sensors, along with other ocean instrumentation, will provide environmental managers with the critical capability they need to manage and protect marine and coastal ecosystems to avoid significant adverse impacts, including by strengthening their resilience, and take action for their restoration in order to achieve healthy and productive oceans -- another area that this ocean-focused Sustainable Development Goal addresses.

In order to succeed in implementing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal #14 within the allotted 2030 timeframe, we need to encourage and spur the development of marine technologies for all the focus areas, not just for ocean acidification. Whether through traditional grant-funded research and development or incentivized competitions such as the XPRIZE, scientific and technological breakthroughs are required to maintain a positive and long-lasting change for the benefit of the oceans and achieve an audacious vision of our oceans as healthy, valued, and understood.

Wendy Schmidt is President of The Schmidt Family Foundation, which works to advance the development of clean energy and support the wiser use of natural resources. She also is founder of the foundation's grant-making arm, The 11th Hour Project, and Climate Central, an independent organization of leading scientists and journalists researching and reporting the facts about our changing climate and its impact on the American public. With her husband, Eric Schmidt, Wendy created the Schmidt Ocean Institute in 2009, which provides opportunities for urgent ocean studies aboard the RV Falkor oceanographic research vessel. Wendy earned an M.J. in Journalism from the University of California, Berkeley and a B.A. magna cum laude from Smith College. She serves on the boards of The Natural Resources Defense Council, Climate Central, The Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, The Trust for Governors Island, XPRIZE Foundation, The 1851 Trust, Grist and Maiyet.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post, "What's Working: Sustainable Development Goals," in conjunction with the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The proposed set of milestones will be the subject of discussion at the UN General Assembly meeting on Sept. 25-27, 2015 in New York. The goals, which will replace the UN's Millennium Development Goals (2000-2015), cover 17 key areas of development -- including poverty, hunger, health, education, and gender equality, among many others. As part of The Huffington Post's commitment to solutions-oriented journalism, this What's Working SDG blog series will focus on one goal every weekday in September. This post addresses Goal 14.

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