EU Space Applications to Fish Plastics Out of our Oceans and Rivers

EU Space Applications to Fish Plastics Out of our Oceans and Rivers

Did you know that of the 300 million tonnes of plastic produced every year, an estimated 26 million eventually ends up in the ocean? As a result, some estimates suggest there are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic floating around the oceans and washing up onto beaches and coastal areas. 

There are options to tackle this plastic sea party! Thanks to initiatives like the CASSINI Prize for digital space applications, we now have a range of innovative, space-based solutions ready to detect, monitor and remove plastics, microplastics and other litter from our oceans and waterways.  

“Addressing the ocean’s plastic problem starts with identifying and tracking the debris, which is exactly what each of our winning applications is doing, essential information for authorities or NGOs,” says Rodrigo da Costa, Executive Director of the EU Agency for the Space Programme (EUSPA). 

CASSINI is the European Commission’s initiative to support entrepreneurs, start-ups and SMEs developing innovative applications and services that leverage the EU Space Programme. Dedicated to promoting the commercialisation of Galileo, EGNOS and Copernicus data and services, EUSPA is actively involved in the initiative.

With a total prize purse of EUR 2.85 million, the Maritime CASSINI Prize for Digital Space Applications sought innovative commercial solutions that leverage Copernicus, Europe’s Earth Observation programme; Galileo, the EU’s Global Navigation Satellite System; and/or EGNOS, the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay System – used in combination with other data sources – to track and remove marine plastic pollution.   

Because the contest aimed to create a new ecosystem of entrepreneurs, applications were limited to SMEs having a close-to-market solution. 

After a rigorous review process and a challenging demonstration requirement where applicants had to prove their solution’s effectiveness in real-world conditions, EUSPA and the European Commission announced the winners during the EU Space Week 2023 in Sevilla, Spain.

The winners

Coastal Marine Litter Observatory by SCIDRONES: Using an innovative combination of Copernicus multi-spectral data with high-resolution drone imagery and advanced AI-algorithms, this application helps differentiate between plastic pollution and natural debris sources such as driftwood and seaweed. Local authorities can use the application to guide their cleanup operations, allocating resources to those beaches and environments most affected by plastic pollution. 
Eyes on Plastic by EOMAP: This data-driven web app combines Sentinel-2 optical imagery and commercial optical satellite imagery, on-site cameras, cloud-based big data processing chains, Earth Observation analytics and crowdsourcing to identify, map and monitor plastic pollution in near real-time. The solution looks to help governmental stakeholders meet their mandates for managing and reporting plastic pollution, including that found in rivers.  
Ocean Plastic Alert and Tracking by GEOMATYS Combining satellite images with meteorological and oceanographic models, this application is designed to detect debris at sea from space and predict its drift. By coupling ocean current and wind models with satellite observations, the solution can make forecasts both forwards and backwards in time. This allows coastal authorities to locate and predict where the front of plastic and debris is after a major weather crisis that causes navigational safety issues. It also optimises the collection of debris in collaboration with the likes of fishing boats.

All three winners received a EUR 950,000.00 cash prize, which will be used to further develop, scale up and, ultimately, give the real push for the commercialisation and promotion of their applications.

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