The future of freight transportation? 

The future of freight transportation? 


World's first electric container barges to sail from European ports this summer, via The Guardian

Think autonomous vessels and you might be forgiven for thinking small in scale. News from Europe in the past week certainly raises the bar, as Dutch manufacturer Port-Liner announced plans for 52 metre barges.

From this summer, these fully electric - and potentially crewless – container barges will begin to operate from the ports of Antwerp, Amsterdam, and Rotterdam.

The first batch of five barges – each capable of travelling for 15 hours and carrying 24 x 20ft containers – can operate without any crew. As with many autonomous innovations, however, the rest of the infrastructure has to be in place, too, so in the first instance they will be manned.

Good news for cost efficiency and great news for the planet, as these vessels are entirely emission-free.

Designed for the inland waterways of Belgium and the Netherlands, this new breed of vessels plans to take a disruptive tilt at the vast number of diesel-powered trucks currently moving freight in these areas, with 23,000 trucks estimated to be taken off the roads as a result.  

Larger vessels (over twice as long and capable of travelling for 35 hours) will follow at a later date. The manufacturers claim that their use alone could lead to a reduction of about 18,000 tonnes per year of CO2.


Mass buy-in needed for new fish tracking technology to work, via RNZ.co.nz

 You can't move for ‘how blockchain might affect the x industry’ at the moment. While most of them are interesting in projecting forward to how this technology may provide greater security or efficiency within various sectors, they are often not rooted enough in operational reality. Which is why the comments this week from Wez Norris, Deputy Director General of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency were very much worth reading.

While pointing out the huge potential of new blockchain approaches being piloted to track fish from net to fork, he also highlighted one of its major challenges – the need to scale.

Various technologists have been exploring how blockchain - a secure, verifiable digital ledger of almost any transaction – could be applied to fisheries management, so that the journey of any fish could be recorded, from catch through distributors right through to your plate in a restaurant.

ThisFish (based in Vancouver) is one example of a working system, and a pilot programme – a partnership between WWF in Australia, Fiji and New Zealand and with tech companies ConsenSys and TraSeable and tuna fishing and processing company Sea Quest Fiji Ltd - was recently launched in the Pacific Islands tuna industry.

While welcoming such schemes, though, Mr Norris highlighted that if blockchain systems are going to work, they need to think and work internationally, saying: "A fish that might be caught in Solomon Islands might be transported to Fiji and it might be transported there and then marketed through a company in Singapore and then eventually end up in the US, and so all of those players need to be part of this system. It is going to take quite some time to build that level of trust and commitment."

The multi-country WWF partnership in the Pacific Islands already shows good signs of understanding that international imperative.


Lack of big data weakens efforts to restrain illegal fishing in Africa, via Undercurrent News

 A new report in the illegal fishing domain launched this week underlined Wez Norris’ central point with some vigour. As new technologies flourish to track, trace and highlight suspect activity, many of them rely on one major input – sound data from multiple international partners.

 The UK’s Overseas Development Institute highlighted that the lack of a comprehensive database that tracks fishing vessels, their precise location and potential or proven engagement in illicit activities seriously hampers efforts to curb illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUUF). 

They focused their research in West Africa, quoting statistics that estimate that just six Wes African countries lose a combined $2.3 billion in revenue each year, nearly 15% of their combined GDP.

The report sensibly highlights the difficulties of progressing in this area, and is very much worth a read.

NLA will soon be able to share news of our own investigations in this exciting and promising area, so watch this space!


Fish In Protected Areas Found 4 Times More Than Elsewhere, via The International Business Times

The growth in Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) has been one of the most welcome conservation stories of the past few years. The Atlas of Marine Protection estimates that only 3.6% of the world’s oceans are protected in ‘implemented and actively managed’ MPAs, with  2.0%, of the ocean  strongly protected in no-take marine reserves. Many countries, though, are working towards officially protecting at least 10% of their territorial waters.

As MPA declarations have accelerated, the enforcement challenge has become ever more pressing, and various technologies have started to rise to the challenge. Autonomous vessels have been deployed to patrol protected areas, and innovative technology companies such as the UK’s OceanMind have fused the power of satellites and machine learning to provide regulators and enforcement agencies with the kind of actionable intelligence simply not dreamed of before across vast expanses of ocean.

With all this in mind, it was encouraging to read a new report this week from an international team of researchers who reminded us why all this activity is so important.

They used hydroacoustics technology to find that the fish population was four times more abundant in Mexico's protected Cabo Pulmo National Park than the regions outside it. Local residents of Cabo Pulmo had established the 71-square-kilometer undersea park established in 1995. 

Researchers surveyed the marine life using sound waves produced by hydroacoustic equipment mounted on boats. As well as providing great strength to the case for MPAs, the research also highlighted the potential of a new, more cost-effective method to assess fish populations to track the effectives of protected areas and no-take zones.

Hydroacoustic surveys are more cost-effective than the underwater visual censuses using divers, though the latter method would be more appropriate to collect species-specific information.

Study collaborators included Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego, Bangor University and the Centro para la Bioversidad Marina y la Conservación in La Paz, Mexico. The study was funded by The National Science Foundation, the Baja Coastal Institute, the International Community Foundation, David and Lucile Packard Foundation, and The Helmsley Charitable Trust.

Please check back next week for more Blue Economy Technology news.