[I don’t fully understand the operation or universe of potential or preferable applications of “Counter-mapping,” but then again, sometimes I have trouble figuring out how to apply GIS tools. It does seem, however. that these concepts could be useful in addressing the interface between local, artisanal users of natural resources, such as fishers, and new conservation needs and programmes. There is a useful list of references at the bottom of this article.]
Sara is a 32-year-old mother of four from Honduras. After leaving her children in the care of relatives, she travelled across three state borders on her way to the US, where she hoped to find work and send money home to her family. She was kidnapped in Mexico and held captive for three months, and was finally released when her family paid a ransom of $190.
Her story is not uncommon. The UN estimates that there are 258 million migrantsin the world. In Mexico alone, 1,600 migrants are thought to be kidnapped every month. What is unusual is that Sara’s story has been documented in a recent academic paper that includes a map of her journey that she herself drew. Her map appears alongside four others – also drawn by migrants. These maps include legends and scales not found on orthodox maps – unnamed river crossings, locations of kidnapping and places of refuge such as a “casa de emigrante” where officials cannot enter. Since 2011, such shelters have been identified by Mexican law as “spaces of exception”.
Travelling through tree-covered areas is a slow and arduous process, as is travel through politically unstable areas. Scale on an orthodox map is uniform; counter-maps can represent psychological as well as physical distances that are rarely linear or uniform. In the town of Duvergé in the Dominican Republic, I once interviewed a Haitian migrant who had dealt with civil unrest, a long mountain chain, forests, police checkpoints and clusters of militias (chimères) on his journey across the border. Although geographically his home town was only 177km away, he was psychologically about as close to home as a Londoner is to Murmansk.
Counter-mapping’s ability to capture this fragmentation also makes it a useful tool for documenting physical transformations wrought by climate change. In the Arctic, melting sea-ice is opening up the Northwest Passage to the possibility of greater transcontinental shipping. Questions of sovereignty over these waters are pressing, and the traditional function of maps has been to impose the stamp of a crown on vast swaths of the Earth. In the Arctic, as in Africa and Asia through the 19th century, it suited many Europeans, Russians and Americans to think the land was empty before they arrived. In the mining town of Labrador City, there are curiously named lakes: Tanya Lake, Beverly Lake, Carol Lake. Curious, until you learn that Carol was the wife of the chief geologist of the Iron Ore Company of Canada (IOC). The names date from the 1950s.
Counter-mapping often pays greater attention to “their method” than orthodox mapping. There are more than just Cartesian coordinates in the world. Detailed knowledge of the thickness of ice, places of shelter and predators are engraved in Inuit stories. Indeed, the naming continues; within the great Rapa valley in Sarek, the Swedish wilderness, is a small area recently given the name Rovdjurstorget (Predator Square) because the tracks of all four large predators that exist in the wild in Sweden (bear, wolverine, wolf and lynx) have been found there.
And if a scientist frowns at the mention of storytelling, just remind them of the names of places to be found in anatomical atlases of the brain – the amygdala (the almond) , the hippocampus (the seahorse) , the globus pallidus (the pale globe) . Mapping is eternally linked to stories, and counter-mapping acknowledges the use of more than one knowledge base. It also has the possibility to counter the naïve, sometimes malign, simplicity of state lines. Arctic people in particular know a thing or two about these lines – the Sami were often burdened with paying taxes to three nation states at a time.
One of the fundamental overlaps between the counter-mapping of the Arctic and the journeys of migrants is that in both cases there is no single scientific or technical solution to the problem at hand. Alleviating the problem depends as much on ethics as equations, and Inuit people have different ethical obligations to the Arctic to IOC geologists. The answer to the question “whose woods are these?” is not singular. Counter-mapping at least helps us to give more weight and representation to customs and claims on the land that have traditionally been ignored.
[Not sure that this news represents a vote of confidence in the Open Government movement or support for it by the US Government . . . At the least, the less-than-24-hours advance notice of the postponement of the meeting evinces a degree of disrespect for the “Open Government community.” . . . For other, sporadic notice of information about the Open Government movement, or not by the US Government and a few civil society organizations and individuals, check the web site at <https://groups.google.com/group/us-open-government>
For non-US organizations and agencies that are affected by elements of the US Open Government programs (I’m thinking, for example, of disaster and international health issues, such as satellite imagery or up-to-date epidemiological reports), contact me at <email@example.com>, and we’ll see if we can find a channel for introducing your concerns in the formulation of version four of the US National Action Plan. . . . . bp]
Good morning Open Government community,
We’re writing with a few updates regarding the National Action Plan for Open Government.
First, due to a combination of factors, we will need to delay tomorrow’s meeting by approximately two months. Please hold Tuesday March 27 at 10:00 am on your calendars. As stated in the United States’ official delay letter (available: open.usa.gov,opengovpartnership.org), the delayed delivery of the fourth National Action Plan and related materials is allowing USG additional time to ensure that the plan is as substantive and aligned to national priorities as possible. The delay in this month’s meeting reflects that approach. We appreciate everyone’s patience and remain committed to full participation in the partnership.
On an administrative note, we wanted to make sure that everyone saw that, as a result of the delayed delivery of the fourth National Action Plan, the Open Government Partnership has moved the United States from the “odd year” to the “even year” cohort of participating countries. The new deadline for delivery of NAP4 is August 31, 2018. You can read OGP’s official letter here.
Alycia on behalf of the Open Gov Team
U.S. General Services Administration
<Alycia.firstname.lastname@example.org> Office of Government-wide Policy 202-219-1487
A growing movement seeks to make the tools of science available to everyone (including you)
A PAIR of toddler’s tights. That is the most important component of the device that Max Liboiron designed to measure the ocean’s plastic debris.
In 2014 Ms Liboiron, a geographer, took up a job at the Memorial University of Newfoundland on the Atlantic coast. Two years earlier Canada’s Conservative government had passed a bill that weakened environmental protection and cut the budget for monitoring the country’s water and air. Ms Liboiron wanted to help plug the gap. She had no staff and no equipment. But she had a feeling that, if she could get around the second of those problems, she could sort out the first. Given appropriate tools, she suspected, locals would be more than happy to survey the waters surrounding the island for marine plastics. The ocean provides Newfoundlanders with food and jobs; knowing what ends up in the fish they eat and sell is crucial.
Newfoundland is not awash with fancy scientific equipment going begging. Baby stockings, however, are widely available. Attached to half a plastic bottle as a mouth and towed behind a boat, the synthetic tights (cotton will absorb water and sink) sieve surface water for some of the five trillion or so pieces of plastic that are estimated to pollute the world’s oceans.
BabyLegs, as Ms Liboiron has dubbed her contraption, is the sort of do-it-yourself kit being used by an increasing number of concerned citizens seeking to monitor the soil, water and air. Such tools are typically cheaper than the professionals’ alternatives. The Manta Trawls with which scientists skim the oceans for microplastics start at around US$3,500. BabyLegs, which you can put together yourself using instructions from Ms Liboiron’s Civic Laboratory for Environmental Action Research (CLEAR), costs just a few dollars.
But price is only part of the point. The bigger issue is agency. BabyLegs and schemes like it not only provide a cheap way to gather data governments are ignoring. They also offer citizens an active role in doing so; a way to help themselves, and express their commitment to others, on their own terms. It may look scrappy; it may be comparatively primitive (although, increasingly, it is not). But it is liberating. In 1977, in the very heavenly dawn of London’s punk-rock scene, a crude, photocopied magazine told its readers: “This is a chord, this is another, this is a third. Now start a band.” They did so by the thousand. Now that punk aesthetic has come to science.
Big in Japan
Safecast, an NGO based in Tokyo, provides the most comprehensive picture of radiation levels across Japan. Its data come from hundreds of devices, either assembled from Safecast’s kits (which cost $500) or built from scratch using instructions on their website. They consist of a Geiger counter, a GPS unit to log where measurements are made, a simple open-source computer called an Arduino to time-stamp the data and a memory card.
Pieter Franken, one of Safecast’s founders, started to map the country’s radiation levels a few days after the huge earthquake of March 11th 2011. When explosions ripped through the reactors of the tsunami-struck Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, Mr Franken, a Dutch computer scientist working in Tokyo, bought a Geiger counter and went on the road. “On my first drive, the readings I was getting were significantly higher than those being reported on TV,” he says. Radiation levels varied dramatically from street to street; in some towns far from the plant they were higher than in those that were close.
The official data were not fine-grained enough to reveal such patterns. Results from Speedi, the government computer system used to predict the path of the radioactive plume from the plant, were considered too inaccurate to share with the public. No one trusted the government’s reassurances when they came.
“I met people on the ground desperate to know radiation levels in their home, school or at work,” Mr Franken says. He contacted two old friends, Sean Bonner and Joi Ito, tech entrepreneurs with colourful and impressive CVs, to talk about what to do. Between them, they cooked up the idea of using volunteers with mobile Geiger counters to collect data and stream them to a website.
Supplies of commercial instruments had, understandably, dried up quickly after the disaster. So Mr Franken patched one together from parts and connected it to an iPhone to get GPS co-ordinates for the data. By the end of the next month he and other volunteers had built a prototype of the “bGeigie”, the first in a series of detectors that they would make available in kit form on their site.
In the six years since the disaster, Safecast has moved from the fringes of respectable science to its mainstream. Two of its members were invited to speak in Vienna in 2014 at a meeting on the Fukushima disaster organised by the International Atomic Energy Agency. In 2016 the team published a paper in the Journal of Radiological Protection. And perhaps most tellingly of all, scientists are adopting their methods. “How Radioactive Is Our Ocean”, a project at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, is getting people to send samples of seawater from beaches on the west coast. The scientist leading the project, Ken Buesseler, met members of the Safecast team in 2012 shortly after he published a study on radioactive isotopes in the fish and waters off the coast of Fukushima. When he could not raise money from the federal government to look for those isotopes off America’s Pacific coast, he discussed with Safecast how to establish a citizen-science project to collect the data instead.
Citizen science has been around for ages—professional astronomers, geologists and archaeologists have long had their work supplemented by enthusiastic amateurs—and new cheap instruments can usefully spread the movement’s reach. What is more striking about bGeigie and its like, though, is that citizens and communities can use such instruments to inform decisions on which science would otherwise be silent—or mistrusted. For example, getting hold of a bGeigie led some people planning to move home after Fukushima to decide they were safer staying put.
Ms Liboiron’s research at CLEAR also stresses self-determination. It is subject to “community peer review”: those who have participated in the lab’s scientific work decide whether it is valid and merits publication. In the 1980s fishermen had tried to warn government scientists that stocks were in decline. Their cries were ignored and the sudden collapse of Newfoundland’s cod stocks in 1992 had left 35,000 jobless. The people taking science into their own hands with Ms Liboiron want to make sure that in the future the findings which matter to them get heard.
Issues such as climate change, plastic waste and air pollution become more tangible to those with the tools in their hands to measure them. Those tools, in turn, encourage more people to get involved. Eymund Diegel, a South African urban planner who is also a keen canoeist, has long campaigned for the Gowanus canal, close to his home in Brooklyn, to be cleaned up. Effluent from paint manufacturers, tanneries, chemical plants and more used to flow into the canal with such profligacy that by the early 20th century the Gowanus was said to be jammed solid. The New York mob started using the waterway as a dumping ground for dead bodies. In the early part of this century it was still badly polluted.
In 2009 Mr Diegel contacted Public Lab, an NGO based in New Orleans that helps people investigate environmental concerns. They directed him to what became his most powerful weapon in the fight—a mapping rig consisting of a large helium balloon, 300 metres (1,000 feet) of string and an old digital camera. A camera or smartphone fixed to such a balloon can take more detailed photographs than the satellite imagery used by the likes of Google for its online maps, and Public Lab provides software, called MapKnitter, that can stitch these photos together into surveys.
These data—and community pressure—helped persuade the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to make the canal eligible for money from a “superfund” programme which targets some of America’s most contaminated land. Mr Diegel’s photos have revealed a milky plume flowing into the canal from a concealed chemical tank which the EPA’s own surveys had somehow missed. The agency now plans to spend $500m cleaning up the canal.
Jeffrey Warren, who created MapKnitter, is one of the founders of Public Lab. The group was set up to help locals map the devastation caused by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. When the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, Mr Warren was studying digital cartography as part of a master’s degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Wanting to help but lacking local knowledge, he called the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, an environmental group in New Orleans, and was put through to Shannon Dosemagen. The brigade is named after the plastic buckets it provides to residents concerned about refineries in the area to help them in gathering samples for laboratory analysis. This has often revealed levels of toxic chemicals, such as benzene, many times higher than those allowed by law. Those data have helped local people, who are often poor and black, to lobby for change.
Tapping in to her experience with the brigade, Ms Dosemagen, who is now Public Lab’s executive director, rapidly organised training sessions in a New Orleans park. Cameras on balloons and kites began snapping the oil’s progress; MapKnitter joined the pictures together to show the impact of the slick (see photo above). Seven years on, Public Lab still springs into action after industrial accidents. Within days of Hurricane Harvey’s landfall in Texas last August coastguards asked Mr Warren for volunteers to help track chemical spills by combing through aerial photos.
Public Lab’s website now hosts discussion boards on topics that range from finding decibel meters for smartphones to detecting metal ions in water, along with a range of impressive tools. In line with its do-it-yourself ethic, the site offers no ready-built equipment; those who build their own devices, Public Lab believes, are more likely to use them. There are instructions for converting a camera to take infrared images that will help determine crop health as well as for spectrometers which can show up the chemical composition of a liquid or gas by analysing light shone through it. Using a design PublicLabhas kindly made available at its website to readers of The Economist, you can build one yourself, either just for the fun of it, or to measure the sugar content of your wine, or for some punk’d up purpose of your own.
A similar ethos is also beginning to seep into university labs and research institutes. Cheap 3D printers and computer-aided design programs that allow design files to be shared online mean that ever more apparatus can be made in the lab, rather than ordered from a catalogue. The economic argument for doing so is compelling. A plastic test-tube rack can cost more than $20. Downloading one of the many different files for the rack of your choice and printing it costs a tenth of that. A $1,000 laboratory jack for lifting and levelling equipment can be made for $5.
It is not just simple pieces of lab equipment that can be printed. Earlier this year Tom Baden of the University of Sussex and his colleagues published plans for a 3D-printable fluorescence microscope, called FlyPi, which uses ultraviolet light and fluorescent dye to improve its analysis of samples. Mr Baden estimates that it can be set up for less than $250. Flashy commercial microscopes on the same lines can cost thousands of dollars. Mr Baden, a neuroscientist who studies the eyes and brains of zebra fish, says that although the quality of a FlyPimay not be that of a commercial model, the low cost means that his lab can have several extra microscopes on the go at once alongside the high-spec one they already had.
“Open hardware” like the FlyPi is a boon for scientists in poor countries. Mr Baden and fellow neuroscientists Lucia Prieto-Godino and Sadiq Yusuf founded TREND in Africa, an NGO that organises summer schools for researchers. Courses on open labware begin with building a printer which can itself be made largely from printed parts. Printed scientific tools can be repaired cheaply, as can the printer.
Joshua Pearce, an engineer at Michigan Technological University in Houghton, believes the time is now ripe for change. Even mass-produced plastic trinkets and household goods are cheaper to print than to buy. “If we can beat the shower curtain ring-makers,” he says, “the equipment manufacturers have got no chance.”
Mr Pearce, an early advocate of open hardware, is pushing the concept hard. Atomic layer deposition (ALD) is a method of building up very thin, uniform films on a surface. In chip manufacturing, the process can lay down transistors that are no more than a 100 atoms across. Engineers are exploring its potential for making thin, wearable sensors, implants and drug-delivery devices.
Many researchers would love to get their hands on a system but, at a cost of $250,000, few can afford it. That cost reflects the sophistication of the kit required to carry out the enterprise. ALD must take place in a carefully controlled vacuum. Mr Pearce, however, wants to produce one that anyone can make in the lab for a fraction of the cost with printable plastic parts.
Hundreds of scientists like Mr Pearce and Mr Baden are uploading their plans for instruments to the internet, where they are scrutinised by citizen scientists hoping to improve the tools they are using, and thus the things they can study, monitor and make a fuss about. As new, cheaper, easier-to-use instruments become available, more people across the world will step into the breach as governments threaten to scale back their efforts to monitor the environment and set their own agendas.
In Chile, Exploratorio Sombrero hopes to map poorer neighbourhoods of Melipilla, the city where it is based. In Indonesia, Lifepatch has helped farmers whose land was engulfed by a volcanic eruption. Safecast is growing, too. In April, it unveiled a solar-powered device that can detect levels of particulate air pollution as well as radiation. Within two years, Safecast plans to have more such sensors in America than the EPA. That will improve national statistics at a time the government shows little interest in doing so; more important, it will empower communities which never had the knowledge to affect their futures before.
Lisa Rasmussen at UNC-Charlotte received a [US] National Science Foundation award for a conference about ethical issues in citizen science. Lisa is part of the CSA Ethics working group, which encouraged the proposal, with Anne Bowser and me as advisors. The goal of the conference is to reach a shared understanding of the existing “gap” in ethical oversight in citizen science, and begin to understand how this gap may be filled.
To involve more people in the citizen science community of practice, we invite those on Twitter to join in the discussion tomorrow (Tuesday July 11) from 2:00-3:00pmET at the hashtag #CitSciChat. The in-person conference will take place next week at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences, and then we’ll host another Twitter #CitSciChat on Thursday July 27 from 1:00-2:00pmET.
The NatureTech award does not have to be based on mapping or GIS technologies, but there are many options using those tools, especially in ways that provide access to land information (including especially ownership).
This extended blog by Mike Miller illustrates a number of different ways that Web GIS tools could be harnessed to enhance and support environmental and cultural resource management in small islands of the Caribbean.
The Sandwatch program, originally set up by Gillian Cambers in the Cariibbean,is an example, and local projects could be contenders for a $3,000 NatureTech.Solutions award. Click on the NatureTech link for details. ]
By KU`UWEHI HIRAISHI• MAY 24, 2017
Photos of King Tides (L-R) at Maunalua Bay in East O‘ahu, Kaluahole (a.k.a. Tonggs), and Kālia (a.k.a. Grays) in Waikīkī.
CREDIT HAWAI‘I & PACIFIC ISLANDS KING TIDES PROJECT
Scientists studying sea level rise at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa need your help. Impacts of some of our highest tides of the year are predicted to be seen this week. And the general public is being summoned to document those impacts along the thousand or more miles of coastline across the island chain. HPR reporter Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi explains how anyone with a smartphone and coastline access can contribute to science.
GONSER: We’re trying to document these high water level events to give us a snapshot into what could become an everyday occurrence with future sea level rise.
Matt Gonser is with the University of Hawaiʻi’s Sea Grant College Program, and he’s working on recruiting citizen scientists, ordinary folks like you and me, to collect data by snapping photos of what happens when the highest of high tides or King Tides meets sea level rise. Is there flooding? Is there erosion?
MERRIFIELD: What does it actually look like on the ground?
Side-by-side comparison of King Tide impact on the Ala Wai. CREDIT HAWAIʻI & PACIFIC ISLANDS KING TIDES PROJECT
MERRIFIELD: How is the beach affected? Is it running up to the road?
Merrifield has studied sea level rise for over 30 years, and says nothing can quite replace first-hand human observation.
MERRIFIELD: We have a very comprehensive system but it’s not everywhere. It would be great to see what the impacts are like across the state, and that’s where the citizen scientists can really help us.
Last year, Gonser recruited 60 citizen scientists contributing over 500 photosduring two King Tide events. But continuous data collection is needed when it comes to observing the combined impact of natural or cyclical changes like King Tides and sea level rise, which Merrifield says is subtle.
King Tide impact observed at He’eia Fishpond in Kāneʻohe, Oʻahu. CREDIT HAWAIʻI & PACIFIC ISLANDS KING TIDES PROJECT
MERRIFIELD: We’re talking about inches of change over decades. It’s not something that you would point out and say that’s sea level rise, and that’s global warming. It’s a little more complicated than that.
According to Merrifield the rate of sea level rise that we’ve been seeing for the last century is going to double and even triple over the next few decades.
MERRIFIELD: And that’s when the awareness of it will be much more abrupt and obvious.
GONSER: The reality is that change is coming and that needs to be a part of the discussion. And that’s what we hope the citizen scientist project can initiate because when you’re out there and you’re experiencing it, you can’t ignore it, it’s real. The inevitability of sea level rise is here and now the discussion moving forward is what can we do about it?
Note that one of the “semi-finalists” for the the Unilever Global Development AwardSupported by Business Fights Poverty is the What3Words, and one of the basic prominent users of the What3Words technology is the island of St. Martin. This would be a natural for a NatureTech.Solutions award.
Applications for the 2017 award are due September 1, 2017.
The first annual US$ 3,000 NatureTech.Solutions award will be presented to a resident of an Eastern Caribbean island on or about 1 October 2017.
The award is for an open-source innovation that improves the management of natural or cultural resources in a small island [or islands] of the Eastern Caribbean. Applications (e-mail preferred) are due to
Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands (CFVI), PO Box 11790, St. Thomas, United States Virgin Islands 00801,
by close-of-business, 1 September 2017.
The award will be made by CFVI on behalf of the Potter Fund for NatureTech.Solutions] as part of the legacy of Island Resources Foundation, which provided technical assistance to conservation activities and organizations in small islands while based in the US Virgin Islands from 1971 to 2016.
The NatureTech.Solutions award is for a technology (a reproducible application of knowledge for practical purposes) that can be used by private or public decision-makers in small islands of the Caribbean to make better decisions about the management of natural or cultural resources. An assumption is that this technology would be information-based, but there are many ancillary potential applications such as self-contained training modules, front-ends for existing resource databases, visualizations of existing data, and so forth.
Deadline for applications for the first NatureTech.Solutions award is Friday, September 1st, 2017.Unless otherwise agreed to by the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands, applications must be submitted in electronic form through the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands, at email@example.com, with “[NatureTech]” in the subject line.
Small Island — The award application must be submitted by an individual or organization resident or based in a small island of the wider Caribbean region:
Smaller than 10,000 square kilometers and less than 1 million inhabitants;
Political status not relevant.
Instructions — The submission must be in English or Spanish, and must include instructions that would enable a potential user to actually apply the technology.
Open Source — The submission must include an operational version of the technology that is in the public domain — that is, it can be used and adapted by any potential user.
Electronic Submission — May be in a document format, or multi-media, or an operating application for standard operating systems, such as Mac OS, Windows, iOS or Android.
Due Date: — The Application should be emailed to the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands at firstname.lastname@example.org with [NatureTech] in the Subject line of the message, before close of business, 1 September 2017.
Elements of the Application:
Application Process — Applications, not to exceed four single-spaced typed pages, should include the following information:
The Name of the Innovation being proposed for the award (e.g., “Property Record Ownership Method — PROM Barbuda”)
Applicant Name, address, telephone number, email address (and point-of-contact if the application is an organization).
A brief history of the innovation, highlighting the resource management need addressed by the innovation, and the applicant’s involvement in addressing that need.
Description of who has been using the innovation for how long or how many iterations, what are the specific products from the innovation, and the resource management advantages from using the innovation.
Current status of the innovation, including planned modifications or extensions, and adaptations for other places or organizations.
Names, addresses, telephone numbers and email addresses of three people familiar with the innovation who can be contacted for additional information about the operation and effects of the innovation.
Supporting documentation in the form of access procedures or instructions or software implementing the innovation may be submitted, but should not exceed the equivalent of an additional ten (10) pages. Contact CFVI if specialized support systems are required.
As in real life, virtues are not mandatory, but they are likely to have a positive effect on the decision of the Advisory Committee:
Engagement with local organizations and agencies (and note that local agencies and non-profit/non-governmental organizations can be applicants themselves).
This article describes a push to make the aquaculture industry more sustainable. NatureTech.Solutions is in no position to reward grassroots aquaculture innovation in the small islands of the Eastern Caribbean, BUT, we might be able to make a nice award to a group that adapts one of these “fish-free fishmeal” products to cost-effective use in the region. From the Mongabay Series: Oceans
Eight teams of innovators from around the world are competing in the Fish-Free Feed (F3) challenge, created to accelerate the development of aquaculture diets made without fish or fish oil.
The aquaculture industry is growing faster than the human population, at about eight percent each year, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
About 20 percent of the world’s fish goes to aquaculture, depleting wild-caught forage fish such as anchovies and krill to provide essential oils and protein for the development and growth of these cultivated foods.
The first team to sell 100,000 metric tons of fish-free feed or, if that threshold isn’t reached, that sells the most feed by the end of the contest, on September 15, 2017, will be named the winner of the F3 challenge.
When the world is staring down a population that’s pushing quickly toward nine billion people, aquaculture offers an efficient way to produce high-protein food for the hungry masses. But there’s a catch: While fish are feeding the multitudes of people, there may not be enough left for other fish to eat. As the farming of fish, shrimp, and mollusks expands, the old adage about “plenty of fish in the sea” may no longer ring true.
The aquaculture industry is growing faster than the human population, at about eight percent each year, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. About 20 percent of the world’s fish goes to aquaculture, depleting wild-caught forage fish such as anchovies and krill to provide essential oils and protein for the development and growth of these cultivated foods.
“Even if the industry gets to a sustainable maximum yield, that just means we’ll take the same amount of fish out of the sea without affecting how much we want next year,” says Kevin Fitzsimmons, an aquaculture expert and environmental sciences professor at the University of Arizona in Tucson. “Nobody interviewed the whales and dolphins and seabirds as to whether they’re getting enough anchovies, menhaden and other forage fish.”
The Fish-Free Feed (F3) challenge was created to accelerate the development of aquaculture diets made without fish or fish oil. Eight teams of innovators from around the world were attracted to the sustainable premise and the promise of a $200,000 (USD) prize, raised through crowdfunding and sponsorship from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the New England Aquarium, the University of Arizona, and the World Bank. The first team to sell 100,000 metric tons of fish-free feed or, if that threshold isn’t reached, that sells the most feed by the end of the contest, on September 15, 2017, will be named the winner.
“There’s a lot of research going on out there, the problem is getting the word out in the industry and getting people to recognize that all kinds of ingredients — single-cell proteins, algal extracts or insect meals — could be used instead of fish,” says Fitzsimmons, chair of the contest committee. Beyond generating new feed formulations, he also hopes the contest will connect alternative ingredient manufacturers with feed companies and investors who can help smaller companies scale up production.
One of those smaller companies looking to ramp up production is TomAlgae, a Belgian-based manufacturer of microalgae that feeds shrimp during the earliest life stages. By growing a specific diatom under carefully controlled conditions, they take the guesswork out of nutrition and avoid contamination with pathogens that can reduce the nutritional value of this food source.
“We want to replace the live algae used in hatcheries,” says William van der Riet, the company’s cofounder. “There is an enormous technology gap in the early stages. They rely on a very artisanal way of producing their own feed when they should be relying on feed with quality that is consistent from day to day.”
This specialized feed can’t compete with the bigger companies on a tonnage level, notes van der Riet. Under ideal conditions, about 100 grams of the freeze-dried micro-algae (which is rehydrated before use) could feed one million shrimp larvae and produce about 15 tons of shrimp meat. The F3 challenge is a way to join with other companies producing fish-free products and create a complete chain of sustainable feeds for aquaculture, starting from the hatchery stage, he says.
On a larger scale, algae is harnessed by TerraVia, a California-based company, to produce docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), one of the omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFA) found in fish oil. Roughly 400,000 tons of fish oil go into feeds for farmed salmon and trout, making aquaculture the single biggest industry for consuming long-chain omega-3s like fish oil, notes Walter Rakitsky, TerraVia’s senior vice president of emerging business. Algae is the original source of the EFAs that bioaccumulate in fish.
Previously focused on extracting oils for biofuel production from algal fermentation, TerraVia uses its bioreactors in Brazil to produce DHA. With facilities capable of making tens of thousands of tons of AlgalPrimeDHA, Rakitsky estimates that every ton of their algae-derived DHA saves about 40 tons of wild-caught fish.
With a sustainable ingredient to offer, TerraVia teamed up for the F3 challenge with Star Milling, a Bay Area feed company, and TwoXSea, an environmentally motivated fish wholesaler headquartered in San Francisco. Their contest entry is a rainbow trout feed produced by Star Milling, and formulated for TwoXSea by USDA research physiologist Rick Barrows to include the TerraVia’s algae-made DHA as well as other healthy ingredients such as flax oil and pistachio meal.
The quest for healthier fish food wasn’t new to TwoXSea, a company cofounded by Bill Foss, a hi-tech expat who helped start a seafood restaurant — called Fish. — to serve sustainable seafood and educate consumers.
“We treat the ocean like a toilet with everything we dump in [the water], we don’t know what inventory is in there, we can’t control it, and yet we blindly depend on it for food. That’s stupid,” says Foss. “Every consumer needs to start making educated decisions and take some responsibility — not just on farmed fish.”
The obvious solution, for Foss, was to stop sourcing seafood from somewhere else and start farming freshwater trout on a plant-based diet. He calls the process “renewable” rather than sustainable. “We want to be involved in things that can be replicated, so that generations from now we’ll still have access to the same fish,” he says.
Similar to Foss’ restaurant patrons, more than one kind of meal needs to be on the aquaculture menu because each species has different nutrient requirements. For example, the plant-based foods formulated for omnivorous tilapia might not be suitable for carnivorous salmon.
The Ridley Corporation, a leading agri-feed producer based in Australia, focused on developing feed for prawns, a seafood for which experts estimate that global aquaculture production will grow by more than 5 percent in the coming years. With a novel ingredient called Novacq, their contest entry represents a long-term effort to develop more sustainable feeds that boost growth performance, enhance disease resistance, and reduce waste.
“We’ve been looking at sustainable feed strategies for many years, so the thinking behind the competition matches ours really well,” says Sunil Kadri, head of business development at Ridley. “Whether or not we win, we want to be part of this international movement and work with like-minded people and companies; this competition gives us that opportunity.”
Those kind of opportunities are lining up. Before the next competition milestone in mid-January — a first tally of sales receipts for the new feeds — the F3 contestants are invited to a round of meet-ups with fellow competitors, selected industry insiders, and investors.
“We didn’t set this up to pick winners or losers,” says Fitzsimmons of the F3 challenge. “Having all these companies talking to each other and using a fish-free diet — that’s a success unto itself.”
[This article was published in the on-line magazine BOATINTERNATIONAL. I remain totally flummoxed — and frankly skeptical — about these weird financial tools that The Nature Conservancy has been developing and promoting for the past decade or more, but it would be great if they could be handily adapted to the needs of countries like St. Lucia or Grenada.
[And I would be delighted to see several of these financial innovations as applicants for the a NatureTech.Solutions award for 2017. bp]
Innovation Award: Maria Damanaki, The Nature Conservancy
Photographed by Harry Cory Wright
The Innovation Award recognises an individual or group that has been responsible for the development of the most promising new innovation for the benefit of the marine environment this year. Nominees for the Innovation Award must have taken a lead on the initiation or completion of one or more new innovation for the benefit of the ocean, or seen another significant milestone towards the development of that innovation.
Last year the Nature Conservancy, a global charity, pledged “to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends”, and created a ground-breaking marine investment model when it brokered a debt swap between the government of Seychelles and its Paris Club creditors. This resulted in the restructuring of $21.6 million of Seychelles’ debt in exchange for a commitment by the 115-island archipelago to invest in marine conservation and climate adaptation initiatives, not least the creation and management of a marine reserve of more than 400,000 square kilometres, which will be the second largest in the Indian Ocean.
As Maria Damanaki, the charity’s global managing director for oceans, explains, it specialises in debt-for-nature swaps, having completed “15 of them around the globe, mostly via a US government mechanism called the Tropical Forest Conservation Act. However, funding for TFCA dried up and the Conservancy began to look for additional opportunities to develop debt swaps, or ‘debt conversions’ as we prefer to call them”. This was the first that supported marine conservation.
“We are hoping to close another two deals in the next 12 to 18 months,” she says, “to be able to expand marine protected areas and biodiversity protection zones as well as financing for marine conservation and climate resiliency.” The debt conversions, she adds, “are a great way to take what can be a negative – the high levels of debt in small island developing states – and be able to restructure the debt into funding” for conservation causes. “These deals also support these countries’ policy goals around the blue economy, in particular around improving [the management of] fisheries, coral reefs and adaptation to climate change,” Damanaki says. “These deals create funding streams and improve policy regimes around these blue economy goals in a holistic fashion.”
Born in Crete, Damanaki became the youngest-ever member of the Greek parliament, and served for 25 years. And in 1991 she became the first woman to lead a political party in Greece. Latterly she spent four years as European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, during which the commission oversaw the recovery of fish populations to much healthier levels. Indeed the continuation of her fisheries policy could result in there being 15 million more tonnes of fish in the sea than there were, and 30 per cent more jobs.
“The ocean gives us oxygen, food and joy,” she says. “We give it plastic, too much carbon and reckless fishing. People exploit it first, and consider the consequences later. The ocean is in peril thanks to humanity; only we can help it recover.”
Amado Blanco and Net-Works, Zoological Society of London/ Philippines
Danajon Bank in the Philippines is one of only six double barrier reefs in the world. It’s also among the most degraded, with some of the highest rates of overfishing. Pollution and a declining fish population mean local families are finding it hard to feed themselves. Discarded micro-filament nets, which take hundreds of years to degrade, add to the issue.
Net-Works – a collaboration between the Zoological Society of London and Interface, the global carpet tile manufacturer – has created a community-based supply chain that encourages local communities to collect and sell discarded nets, thereby generating income for themselves. The nets – more than 100 tonnes have been collected so far – are then exported to Slovenia, where they are recycled into yarn to make high-quality carpet tiles. To date, more than 900 families have benefited from the income. And the sea is cleaner.