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How Coding Can Help To Clean Up Our Oceans

June 3, 2024

Our oceans are currently confronting a critical challenge as they become increasingly polluted. Every year, millions of tons of plastic waste, along with toxic chemicals, untreated sewage, and oil, make their way into the ocean. 

Despite the overwhelming magnitude of ocean pollution, it is not an unstoppable force. In fact, technology and coding are becoming crucial in the fight to restore the health of our oceans.

Coding is particularly important because it helps create and manage software that collects important data, automates processes, and enhances how machines and robots function—tools that are essential for cleaning and monitoring our oceans.

This article examines how coding and technology are essential allies in the global effort to clean up our oceans, emphasizing the need for ongoing innovation and collaboration in this field.

Understanding the Scope of Ocean Pollution

Oceans make up 71% of our planet and are increasingly polluted with plastic. It's estimated that if current trends continue, we could soon have a pound of plastic for every three pounds of fish in the sea. Each year, over 8 million metric tons of plastic are added to the already staggering 150 million metric tons circulating in our oceans. Studies show that over 80% of marine pollution originates from land-based sources. 

Moreover, there are currently an estimated 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris in the ocean. Of this, 269,000 tons float on the surface, while some four billion plastic microfibers per square kilometer litter the deep sea.

The Impact of Ocean Pollution on Marine Life, Human Health, and the Economy

Ocean pollution is a widespread issue with profound effects on marine ecosystems, human health, and the global economy. Fully grasping the diverse impacts of this problem is essential for developing and implementing effective solutions.

  • Marine Life: Over 100,000 marine mammals and turtles, as well as millions of fish and birds, die each year from plastic pollution through ingestion and entanglement. Toxic pollutants absorb into the tissues of marine animals, leading to severe health problems or death.
  • Human Health: Humans are exposed to chemicals from plastics that have entered the food chain, including dangerous substances like bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates, which can disrupt endocrine functions and have been linked to numerous health issues, including cancer and infertility.
  • Economy: The economic impact of ocean pollution is profound, especially on coastal communities that depend on tourism and fishing. The United Nations estimates that ocean pollution costs the global economy $8 billion annually, with clean-up operations and losses in tourism revenue.

The Role of Technology in Ocean Conservation

Ocean conservation is an urgent global issue, and technology plays a crucial role in addressing the myriad challenges it presents. From monitoring pollution levels to rehabilitating marine habitats, technological advancements are pivotal in both understanding and solving the complex problems that threaten our oceans.

Monitoring and Data Collection

One of the primary roles of technology in ocean conservation is in the monitoring and collection of environmental data. 

Advanced sensors and satellites provide critical information on water temperatures, salinity levels, pollution, and the presence of harmful algal blooms. Autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) and remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) are equipped with cameras and sensors that capture data from inaccessible areas of the ocean, providing insights into the deep-sea environments and helping scientists monitor biodiversity and ecosystem health.

Drones are also increasingly used for surface monitoring. They can cover vast areas of the ocean quickly and efficiently, collecting data on marine mammal populations and tracking the movement of plastic debris. 

Pollution Control and Cleanup

Technology is instrumental in both preventing and addressing ocean pollution. For instance, new filtration systems are being developed to stop plastics and other pollutants from entering waterways. These systems can be installed at the mouths of rivers or in drains to capture waste before it reaches the ocean.

In terms of cleanup, there are innovative projects like The Ocean Cleanup, which uses a combination of nets and floating barriers to collect plastic from the ocean’s surface. Another approach involves using nanotechnology to break down pollutants in water. Researchers are developing nanomaterials that can efficiently absorb toxins or break down materials like plastic into harmless byproducts.

Habitat and Wildlife Protection

Coral reefs, which are vital to marine biodiversity but are highly sensitive to temperature changes, benefit from technologies that monitor heat stress and help in active reef restoration efforts. Artificial reefs can now be constructed using 3D printing technology, creating structures that mimic natural reefs to support marine life.

Technology also aids in the protection of marine wildlife through electronic tagging and tracking. This allows for real-time data on animal movements and behaviors, enabling better protection of endangered species and more informed management of marine protected areas.

Renewable Energy and Sustainable Practices

Developments in renewable energy technologies, such as tidal and wave energy, offer the potential to reduce the carbon footprint associated with maritime industries. Additionally, precision fishing technologies help reduce bycatch and improve the sustainability of fishing practices by using sophisticated sensors to target specific species and sizes of fish.

Public Engagement and Education

Finally, technology plays a key role in public engagement and education about ocean conservation. Interactive apps, virtual reality (VR), and augmented reality (AR) experiences can simulate ocean environments, making the abstract issues more tangible and accessible to the public. These tools not only educate people about the importance of marine conservation but also inspire them to become active participants in protecting our oceans.

Existing Coding Solutions Used in Ocean Cleanup

Ocean cleanup technologies have become increasingly sophisticated, offering a range of solutions to address the problem of marine pollution, particularly plastic waste. Here’s a detailed overview of some of the key technologies currently in use:

The Ocean Cleanup’s Interceptor™ and System 001

One of the most notable efforts in this area is The Ocean Cleanup project, which has developed multiple technologies. 

The Interceptor™ is an autonomous device designed to capture plastic debris in rivers before it reaches the ocean. Operating at strategic points along rivers, the Interceptor™ uses a barrier to direct waste into a conveyor belt that deposits the trash into onboard dumpsters. 

Here's a video showing how the Interceptor works: 

Also, The Ocean Cleanup has developed System 001, also known as Wilson, which is a 600-meter-long floating barrier deployed in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to collect surface plastic. The system moves with the natural currents and winds, allowing it to passively catch and concentrate plastic debris.

Here's a video showing how the System 001 works: 


Developed by RanMarine Technology, the WasteShark is an aquatic drone designed to collect waste from harbors, rivers, and lakes. This device is capable of operating autonomously or being controlled by a human operator. It skims the surface of the water, collecting plastic and other types of debris into its onboard basket, capable of holding up to 160 liters of waste.

Here's a video showing how the WasteShark works:


This small robot, designed by the French company IADYS, is intended for marinas, ports, and commercial ponds. It works similarly to the WasteShark but on a smaller scale, targeting areas that are typically difficult to reach with larger vessels.

Here's a video showing how the Jellyfishbot works:


The Seabin is another innovative technology aimed at cleaning marinas, ports, and yacht clubs. The device is essentially a floating trash bin with a submersible water pump capable of filtering surface water and capturing debris and oil. The Seabin can be installed in the water at marinas to continuously collect floating debris drawn into it by the pump.

Here's a video showing how the Seabin works: 

Magnetic Nanoparticles

Researchers have been developing nanoparticles that can be used to remove pollutants from water bodies on a molecular level. For example, magnetic nanoparticles coated with certain compounds can attract and bind to toxic heavy metals or chemical pollutants. These particles can then be easily removed from the water using magnets, thus cleaning the water effectively.

Global Monitoring

Satellites and aerial imaging play a crucial role in identifying major concentrations of ocean plastics and observing how they move with ocean currents. This technology aids organizations in deploying cleanup efforts more strategically, focusing on the most affected areas. Satellite imagery can also monitor the effectiveness of the deployed cleanup technologies by providing before and after images.

Challenges in Coding for Ocean Cleanup

While coding and software development play crucial roles in advancing ocean cleanup technologies, they also come with their own set of challenges. Addressing these issues is vital to developing efficient, scalable, and robust solutions. 

Here’s a detailed exploration of some of the key challenges faced by coders and software developers working in ocean cleanup efforts.

Complexity of Data

Oceanographic data collection involves various parameters like temperature, salinity, depth, and pollution levels, each of which can vary significantly over small distances and short times. The challenge for coders is to develop algorithms capable of handling and analyzing this vast, high-dimensional data without losing critical information.

Data Quality and Availability

Often, the data collected can be noisy, incomplete, or inconsistent, especially when gathered from remote or harsh environments typical of marine settings. Ensuring data integrity and managing missing or faulty data in a way that the final analytical outputs are still reliable and accurate is a significant challenge.


Ocean conditions are dynamic and unpredictable. Algorithms must be adaptable and resilient to sudden changes in environmental conditions. This requires the implementation of advanced machine learning techniques, such as reinforcement learning, which can complicate the development process.

Integration with Hardware

Coding for ocean cleanup often involves integrating software with various types of hardware, such as drones, underwater robots, or sensor networks. Ensuring that the software communicates effectively with hardware, which often operates under the constraints of power, size, and durability, presents unique challenges.


Solutions that work well in a controlled or small-scale environment may not scale effectively to the vast areas of the ocean. Coders must design systems that can be scaled up without a loss in performance or efficiency, which can be particularly challenging given the harsh and variable marine environment.

Latency Issues

For technologies like autonomous marine vehicles, real-time data processing is crucial for immediate decision-making and operational efficiency. Developing software that can process data and deliver outputs in real-time, often with limited onboard computing resources, is a critical challenge.

Energy Efficiency

The need for real-time processing must also be balanced with the constraints of energy consumption, especially in platforms that rely on solar power or other limited energy sources. Optimizing algorithms to minimize energy use while maximizing processing capabilities is a key area of focus.

Ethical Data Use

In ocean research and cleanup, large amounts of data are collected, including potentially sensitive environmental information. Ensuring that this data is used ethically, respecting privacy norms and regulations, especially when involving data sharing and public dissemination, is a significant responsibility for coders.

How to Get Involved in Ocean Cleanup Initiatives

Getting involved in ocean conservation efforts is crucial, whether you're a coder, a non-coder, or simply an interested citizen. Here’s a detailed guide on how individuals from various backgrounds can contribute to this vital cause.

For Coders: Contributing to Existing Projects or Starting New Ones

  • Join Open-Source Projects: Many ocean cleanup projects are open-source and rely on the volunteer contributions of coders worldwide. Platforms like GitHub host repositories where coders can contribute to developing, testing, and improving software that is essential for tracking pollution, modeling ocean currents, or operating cleanup machinery.
  • Participate in Hackathons: Hackathons focused on environmental challenges are fantastic opportunities for coders to contribute their skills. These events often encourage developing innovative solutions to real-world problems, including ocean pollution.
  • Start Your Own Project: If you have a unique idea or solution, consider starting your own project. This could involve developing new algorithms to analyze environmental data, creating apps that increase public engagement and awareness, or even building new tools for data collection.
  • Collaborate with Researchers and NGOs: Many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and research groups need technical expertise to bridge the gap between environmental science and practical, technological solutions. Coders can contribute by collaborating on projects that require sophisticated software solutions or by providing consultancy services.

For Non-Coders: Supporting Tech-Driven Ocean Health Initiatives

  • Volunteer with Local Organizations: Non-coders can get involved by volunteering with NGOs and community groups focused on ocean cleanup. These groups often need help with organizing events, raising awareness, and conducting local cleanups.
  • Educate and Advocate: Educating others about the importance of ocean health and advocating for policy changes are vital ways to contribute. Use social media platforms to share information about ocean pollution and support technological solutions that help mitigate it.
  • Support Technological Solutions: Investing in or donating to startups and companies that are developing innovative technologies for ocean cleanup can accelerate their progress. Even non-coders can play a part in bringing these technologies to market by providing financial support or participating in crowdfunding campaigns.
  • Participate in Citizen Science Projects: Many organizations run projects that rely on citizen scientists to gather data. Non-coders can contribute by collecting samples, reporting pollution incidents, or even using specific apps to track and report data.

Educational Resources and Communities to Join

  • Online Courses and Webinars: Websites like Coursera, edX, and Udemy offer courses in environmental science, marine biology, and technology applications in conservation. These resources are excellent for both coders and non-coders wanting to learn more about the field.
  • Professional Networks and Forums: Joining networks like the Marine Conservation Society or the International Maritime Organization can provide updates on the latest research, projects, and how you can get involved. Online forums and communities also offer a platform to discuss ideas and collaborate with like-minded individuals.
  • Attend Conferences and Seminars: Participating in conferences, either virtually or in person, can expand your understanding of the current technologies and strategies employed in ocean conservation. These events are also great networking opportunities.


The journey towards cleaner oceans is not solely the responsibility of scientists and coders; it requires a collective effort. You, as a reader, are invited to play an integral role in this transformative journey. Support technology-driven ocean conservation efforts by contributing to or investing in organizations that are pioneering these innovations. 

If you have coding skills, consider volunteering your expertise in projects that aim to develop or improve pollution cleanup technologies. Even simple actions, such as educating others about the importance of these technologies and advocating for policies that support sustainable ocean practices, can make a significant difference.