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Marine Observatories: how new technologies contribute to studying and protecting the “oceans's health”

30 March 2021
Article by Filipe Gonçalves, product development engineer in the area of technologies for the sea at INEGI.


Marine observatories play an important role in understanding ocean climate and ecosystems. In addition to collecting scientifically relevant data, they also contribute to the management of ecosystems and the conservation of ocean areas, and to reduce pollution and minimize acidification. They also have an important role in the fight against illegal fishing, helping to end fishing subsidies.

However, the development of technologies that operate in the water - as these infrastructures are dedicated to the observation of the marine environment - is still far from meeting the needs of activities related to the marine environment. Autonomy, energy consumption, sensing and data transmission, for example, are still technical and scientific challenges that must be resolved.

INEGI's approach in this technological sphere has resulted in important progress, with increased results in the design of structures, efficiency, and energy autonomy. The modular underwater lander AMALIA 2, developed by INEGI, is being used as a mobile observatory for the monitoring of invasive marine algae on the Iberian coast, and is an example of how we have been innovating and modernizing traditional maritime activities.

The modularity achieved has diversified the range of possible applications, allowing underwater docking (AUVs), the use and exchange of components produced with different materials for underwater applications, the installation of alternative propulsion systems and power generation based on waves and tides. Developments that prove the importance of ocean engineering for the development of marine observatories for the sector.

Environmental issues have social and economic consequences

Humanity has a relationship of dependence on the marine environment, which is evidenced by its influence on climate and meteorological conditions, temperature stabilization, and control of carbon dioxide (CO2) levels, in addition to being a habitat for a great diversity of plants and animals.

Its economic relevance is also undeniable. In Portugal alone, the Blue Economy represents a turnover of 3.3 billion and 126 thousand jobs (data from 2018) 5. Portugal holds approximately 41% of the marine space jurisdiction in the European Union3, being responsible for the largest marine space within the EU. These figures reflect the size and importance of the marine space for the Portuguese economy and its population.

The growth in consumption of products derived from the blue economy, resulting from the increase in the world population, also has a huge impact on the oceans. Worldwide, approximately 1 billion people depend on fish and other marine products7, but this unsustainable consumption is responsible for an imbalance in marine ecosystems that leads to the extinction of important and valuable marine species.

Consumerism results in another problem, much discussed today, but with no solution in sight: contamination by plastics and urban waste, which is growing at alarming rates. Other forms of contamination occur through heavy metals, lost containers and fishing nets. All pose a threat to navigation, marine species and human lives7.

It is also important to mention here the increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, the effect of which is devastating in the oceans4. The rise in temperature and sea level causes a huge imbalance in oxygen levels, and CO2 emissions, absorbed by the oceans, result in acidification of the environment.

Blue economy depends on "health of the oceans"

Studying these ecosystems, monitoring and systematically assessing their environmental conditions, and understanding the impact of human activities on the marine environment is, therefore, important at several levels3.

Marine observatories make this possible, by obtaining data in a real environment, in situ, in order to assess the changes that occur in this ecosystem. The effect on productivity, species diversity and the ability to adapt to climate change scientifically demonstrate the imbalance of the so-called "health of the ocean", or health of marine ecosystems.

The use of ocean resources in a responsible and sustainable way is currently a concern of society and the scientific community. An example of this is, for example, the EU Framework Directive called "Marine Strategy", which unites the 27 countries in the search for better management of this resource6.

However, in order to make these ambitions a reality, and given the current situation of degradation of marine ecosystems, the intensification of the use of marine observatories becomes necessary and essential.

If we are not able, collectively, to use marine natural resources without causing damage to the ecosystem, the consequences will be catastrophic for "marine health", for the economy and, consequently, for humanity.


[1] R. A. Weller et al., "The challenge of sustaining ocean observations,” Front. Mar. Sci., vol. 6, no. MAR, pp. 1–18, 2019.

[2] J. P. Santana, N. Mathias, R. Hoveling, H. Alves, and T. Morais, "Innovative Benthic Lander for Macroalgae Monitoring in Shallow-Water Environments,” J. Mar. Sci. Appl., vol. 19, no. 1, pp. 133–147, 2020.

[3] DRGM, "Direção-Geral de Recursos Naturais, Segurança e Serviços Marítimos.” [Online]. Available: https://www.dgrm.mm.gov.pt/as-pem. [Accessed: 18-Dec-2020].

[4] GOOS, "The global Ocean Observing System - GOOS.” [Online]. Available: https://www.goosocean.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=118&Itemid=109.

[5] DGPM, "Economia do Mar em Portugal - 2018, Documento de Suporte ao Acompanhamento das Políticas do Mar,” p. 114, 2019.

[6] PCEU, "Directive 2008/56/EC - Marine Strategy Framework Directive,” Off. J. Eur. Union, pp. 19–40, 2008.

[7] M. Ii, "Final Report,” no. April, pp. 1–84, 2017.