Ocean sunset

Water covers 71 per cent of our planet and is, therefore, our largest and most precious natural resource. Like most natural resources across the globe, businesses extract, consume and profit from the ocean. In fact, our oceans are worth at least $24 trillion according to a WWF report, so how can we afford not to protect and invest in it like any other business? Tom Birbeck, co-founder of ARC Marine, investigates.

There’s a need for large scale, worldwide ocean conservation work to be carried out and these problems cannot be solved by a handful of charities, whose limited capacity and strict rules dictate what they can and can’t do with the donated funds. Charities have done a fantastic job in raising awareness for the problems we are facing and getting the ball rolling with conservation work. We now need rapid innovation and socially responsible companies whose creativity and drive to become the best in their sector will help solve the problems we are facing. This will spark the flame for a new industry and, as with most capitalist industries with healthy competition, it brings better products, a higher quality service and, as a result, healthier, more productive oceans. Put simply, we need to make it pay to protect it!

At ARC Marine we are developing a number of strategies to tackle our oceans’ problems. These include modules; marine-friendly concrete structures built to repair damaged natural reef systems, which also serve as a mooring point for pleasure boats to attach onto. This eliminates the need to lay anchors, which destroys fragile reef systems and delicate sea grass beds. Reef modules also serve as an anti trawling device or a “sleeping policeman” to stop illegal fishing in marine protected areas. These permanent seabed structures save government bodies’ time and resources on patrolling protected waters. It is this multi-purpose use that we believe can incorporate artificial reefs into established markets and start protecting the marine environment. Once reef sites have been colonised and nature’s food chain takes over, the overspill from these protected sites will, of course, be beneficial to the fishing and tourism industry due to the increase of fish stocks and cleaner waters.

There is also the growing market for sustainable fishing practices. Divers collecting by hand suitable fish and shellfish, result in zero by catch compared to traditional fishing methods and without damaging the seabed, which is the case when using beam trawlers. Permits and catch limits can be set and adjusted as fish stocks fluctuate and new jobs will be created through self employed divers and fishing vessels who take divers to designated “reef farms” and negotiate a share of what the divers catch.

Business has played the most significant role in damaging our seas. For example, single use plastics designed for consumer goods, not to mention overfishing. The ocean needs repairing and protecting, just like we do with heritage buildings and our land-based natural habitats. Specialists are employed to carry out this work and the same is needed for the oceans. If we set the challenge to the business world to tackle this problem not only will this provide a living for a whole new sector, but also everyone on the planet will gain from the increase in productivity from our seas for generations to come.

There is this apparent stigma that you can’t genuinely care about the ocean’s problems if you are doing it to make money. It seems nonsensical that people cannot care about the ocean but also want to profit from the hard work that it takes to achieve these tasks. We need to stop looking at these problems as separate issues and find away for the planet, people and profit to work together.

Tom Birbeck is co-founder of ARC Marine – creators of the world's first multi-functional artificial reef solution. http://www.arcmarine.co.uk/