Nina Jensen is talking about facial recognition technology.
A passer-by, or ‘Zoom bomber’ in this case, might think she’s joking if they only catch a snippet of the conversation.
But she’s not. In fact, she’s deadly serious.
“In the past 40 years we’ve lost 40% of life in the ocean, think about that for a minute,” she says, a pause hanging in the air for reflection. “The damage done is unbelievable and the problem is, I’m afraid, escalating. But this is manmade and mankind can address it. We just need to find the right solutions, and develop the right knowledge, to tackle the key issues – namely, overfishing, plastic pollution and climate change.
“Facial recognition for fish may sound like a crazy idea, but if we can adapt existing technology to avoid bycatch and save endangering species then why not?”
She pauses again, as if expecting an answer to the rhetorical question, then sits back, breathes out and smiles: “Look,” she implores, “we can’t go on like this. We need to think differently to change things.
“So, let’s look at the crazy ideas. The crazier the better!”
Crazy is probably a word that’s been bandied about frequently with regard to REV Ocean, but usually in a positive sense – usually with respect to the scale, scope and ambition of a project that, quite literally, sounds more like a Hollywood script than reality.
The lead actors in the drama are CEO Nina Jensen, formerly Secretary General of the World Wide Fund for nature (WWF) in Norway, and founder Kjell Inge Røkke. Røkke, one of Norway’s richest men and the power behind energy, fish and marine giant Aker, needs no introduction.
In 2017 he signed up to Bill Gates’ and Warren Buffet’s The Giving Pledge initiative, vowing to donate more than 50% of his (currently USD 3bn) fortune to philanthropic endeavours. The ocean, where Røkke began his career as an 18-year-old fisherman, seemed like an obvious, worthy cause.
And, like that, REV Ocean was born.
The initiative has the grand ambition of enabling “one healthy ocean” through a multi-pronged attack: the creation of the Ocean Data Platform, where ocean data will be gathered, shared and utilised; the World Ocean Headquarters, a hub for facilitating meetings, policy, the dissemination of knowledge and development of solutions; Plastic REVolution, a project to combat plastic pollution by creating a sustainable value chain; and REV Ocean itself, the world’s largest and most advanced research and expedition vessel.
This 182.9m long super-yacht – equipped with eight laboratories, a Triton 7500/3 submarine (capable of diving to over 2000m), a ROV that can operate at depths of 6000m, under- and over-water drones, and an Airbus ACH 145 helicopter, amongst many other features – will conduct scientific research and experimentation to build knowledge and understanding of the challenges facing the ocean environment. It will then test a multitude of technical and practical solutions (such as fish-al recognition) that can tackle them.
It’s truly a jaw-dropping storyline and, alongside Jensen and Røkke, the ship is the star.
“We need action. Both Kjell Inge and I want to go further, faster, than anyone has before with this cause. There’s no time to waste.”Nina Jensen, CEO REV Ocean
Jensen describes the reported USD 350m vessel, now under construction at VARD Langsten on the Norwegian West Coast, as the “central pillar” in the endeavour. It is the tool by which her currently 23 strong team (aided by countless collaborators from the academic, public and private sectors worldwide) can achieve the overarching ambition of moving ‘from Curiosity to Understanding to Solutions’ to the ocean’s challenges.
“We have the will,” she states, “and we are now building the platform to gather knowledge, bring together key stakeholders and align them so we can work together to turn that learning into concrete innovations that can make a real difference.”
As the vessel is yet to launch it’s difficult to give exact details of its operations, but Jensen is more than willing to list a huge range of potential missions. Amongst the possibilities spilling forth are using drones to map illegal fishing, investigating how climate change is impacting on fisheries (and how quota systems should evolve accordingly), assessing the distribution of microplastics throughout the water column, and how this impacts on the food chain and human health, finding ways to stop plastics entering the ocean in the first place, testing solutions to remove them, rebuilding natural habitats (such as mangrove and kelp forests) and, well… the list goes on.
“This isn’t a side project, this is our reason for being, and we’re not looking at incremental change, we’re searching for big-bang solutions,” she stresses, commitment burning through the screen. “We need action. Both Kjell Inge and I want to go further, faster, than anyone has before with this cause.
“There’s no time to waste.”
Connecting at Nor-Shipping
Unfortunately, however, things are a little delayed.
COVID-19 has hit progress on the vessel build, with the original plan to deliver REV Ocean in 2021 now set back to Autumn 2022, while disagreement with local politicians in Norway over plans for the 200m high World Ocean Headquarters has placed further development on hold.
Jensen, it appears, is not easily discouraged though, seeing the current situation as a time to work on planning, outreach, cementing new and existing partnerships, and building both understanding and enthusiasm for this crucial mission.
“We must work with the best and brightest from around the world to achieve our goals, so we need to spread the word,” she explains. “We also want to get people thinking about how their existing expertise and technology could be used in innovative ways to address key issues. For example, who thought that oil spill booms could be used to clean up plastic? There are solutions out there, right now, that could unlock huge benefits. Do you, reading this, have one?”
Although the pandemic has delayed progress Jensen describes the lack of travel as “sheer bliss” and says the (home) office time has helped the organisation reach new levels of efficiency. However, she’s looking forward to greater human contact on the horizon, with Nor-Shipping 2022, taking place in Oslo and Lillestrøm 10-13 January*, as an obvious diary date.
“The fact that so many key decision makers and ocean stakeholders gather in one place is a huge benefit,” she states. “It enables knowledge sharing, new strategic partnerships and a chance to really connect and communicate, increasing understanding and support.
“I like this,” she says, gesticulating at the screen, “but you can’t beat face-to-face meetings and speaking engagements to really inspire and be inspired. That gives Nor-Shipping a vital role to play as we set course for a more sustainable future.”
Call to #ACTION
Nor-Shipping 2022’s* main theme of #ACTION is also, obviously, very close to her heart.
“The ocean needs that now more than ever,” Jensen says, moving towards the screen one final time. “The next five to ten years will be crucial – for REV Ocean, as we aim to fill knowledge gaps, unite decision makers and demonstrate breakthrough technology and solutions – but, more importantly, for the ocean itself, and for the world.
“It really is everything to humanity. We came from the ocean, it gives us all we need – providing food, work, energy, medicines, and so much more – it regulates our climate, just looking at it, touching it, being in it and on it, inspires us. And yet, with all this, we still treat it like a rubbish dump. It cannot continue. If it does we won’t.
“REV Ocean is a step in the right direction,” she concludes, “but we can’t do it alone. We need you!”
And there’s nothing crazy about that call to action. In fact, the only crazy thing is not heeding it…
To find out more about REV Ocean see – www.revocean.org
*Please note that the date has been changed as this article was written before Nor-Shipping 2021 was postponed to 10-13 January 2022.
Nor-Shipping 2022 – Your Arena for Ocean Solutions – takes place in Oslo and Lillestrøm, 4 – 7 April 2022. Make sure you’re part of the #ACTION. Sign up NOW for our newsletter!