Wednesday, June 8, 2022
Fishing, tourism, renewable energies, biotechnology and underground mining. These economic activities, known to all, are part of the set of actions through which humans have exploited the oceans and marine spaces in recent times. The use of the multiple resources offered by this source of opportunities, which covers three quarters of the Earth's surface, is increasingly aligned with sustainability in order to contribute to the good health of these marine areas.
Science continues to advance to find solutions that balance the economy-sustainability binomial. To get an idea of the wealth contributed by this industry, it is estimated that the 'blue economy' ranks seventh among the world's economies, with a total impact of around 2.5 trillion dollars.
In Spain, based on data from the Spanish Sustainable Development Network, the sectors linked to the seas and oceans employ 945,000 people and contribute a gross added value of close to 32.7 billion euros. These figures illustrate a potential that still has plenty of room for growth.
Traffic that "threatens" the marine world
However, not all the data are positive when it comes to the health of the seas and oceans. As a result of all these activities, together with the phenomenon of globalization that has become consolidated in the 21st century, traffic has increased significantly through these “marine highways.” And it is expected to increase. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food estimates that, between 2006 and 2014, global marine traffic grew by 260% and forecasts an increase of up to 1,209% by 2050, according to a study by researchers at McGill University in Canada.
Meanwhile, the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) has warned in a report that the health crisis caused by COVID-19 reduced maritime traffic in the European Union by 10% in 2020, a region that accounts for one-fifth of the world's maritime trade. Even so, this type of transportation kept supply lines open during the pandemic and demonstrated a great capacity for resilience, so everything points to the recovery of this upward trend from recent decades.
Maritime trade is capable of moving any type of goods. Many of these vessels handle and transport potentially hazardous materials, just as they do on overland routes, and accidents involving products such as hydrocarbons and Potentially Hazardous Harmful Substances (PHHS) can put the sustainability of marine environments at risk.
With regard to oil spills, scientific and technological advances have implemented techniques and procedures to prevent and manage these incidents, which are now also beginning to be developed to respond to chemical contamination events in the marine environment.
'Big Data': From the Cloud to the Sea Floor
Experts continue to search for more effective strategies to respond efficiently to these possible accidents, with the ultimate goal of minimizing the environmental impact they could trigger. It is an area in which Big Data has the potential to play a key role.
In the hyper-connected world in which we live, sectors such as financial services, hospitality and tourism, administration or the entertainment industry show better performance and efficiency with the analysis, management and interpretation of these algorithms. On the subject at hand, monitoring and storing data provided by 'Big Data' in the cloud has proven to be an essential “raw material” in the protection of marine environments against chemical contamination.
To take advantage of this potential, Cepsa has worked privately on the implementation of a new project: SICMA. This pioneering system uses large volumes of operational data to anticipate and improve the management of hypothetical incidents involving chemical substances in the maritime-port field. The information handled by this system includes satellite images and meteorological and oceanic data from different platforms and national and international institutions such as AEMET (Spanish State Meteorological Agency), Puertos del Estado (State Ports), or Copernicus.
Based on prediction data on marine and atmospheric conditions, such as wind, currents and spill characteristics (product, quantity, etc.), we provide real-time predictions on the evolution of the trajectory of a chemical spill, both in the marine and atmospheric environment.
Decision-making and rapid response
These data make it possible to evaluate the risk of an incident, facilitating proper decision-making and, as a result, quicker implementation of the appropriate action protocols in an emergency situation. Situations in which anticipation and response time are key.
The project, which has been carried out over two and a half years of work, received the participation of Cepsa's Environmental Protection area and its Research Center, together with the Environmental Hydraulics Institute of the University of Cantabria (IH Cantabria), through the Retos-Colaboración program of the Ministry of Science and Innovation.
SICMA is currently operating in the industrial centers of San Roque, Cadiz, and Palos de la Frontera, Huelva. According to José Manuel Fernández-Sabugo, head of management for Cepsa's maritime terminals and director of Cepsa Canarias, this system represents a "great step forward" in the work related to prevention and strengthens the company's commitment to the "safety of its facilities and transparency in its operations".
This new tool for optimizing the response to marine chemical pollution reinforces Cepsa's existing Athenea system, whose functions have been aimed at preventing oil spills for years at the company's industrial centers in Andalusia and the Canary Islands.
Support of Agenda 2030
The protection of seas and oceans is a global challenge and, as such, requires joint responses from both the private sector and public administrations. That is why the United Nations included among the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in 2015, the conservation and sustainable use of marine resources as a priority.
Specifically, among the challenges set out in Agenda 2030, SDG14 establishes, by 2025, a significant reduction in marine pollution of all kinds and an increase in scientific knowledge and research to restore balance between the use of marine resources and respect for the environment and the conservation of the oceans. In the case of SICMA, technology becomes a great ally to improve marine safety through training, prevention and rapid response.