The SEA Nexus: The future of environmental data

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Many of us know the feeling. We look at images of oceans covered in plastic, rivers clogged with trash, giant fishing fleets combing the seas, and witness the systematic destruction of habitats. We sort and recycle our trash, convincing ourselves that this is all we can do, because we are after all, not biologists, scientists, or environmental specialists. But this could all be about to change.

SEA was founded in Scotland in 2021 by CEO James Birchall. The vision was to create the next generation of environmental and ocean protection projects, by leveraging blockchain technology. In a recent interview, ARYZE had the pleasure of speaking to James Birchall and COO Milan Jandik about the project.

Experts estimate that we only have 10 years left to save our oceans. James Birchall however remains optimistic about the future and believes that the current trajectory can be averted through a combination of global environmental data collection efforts and frontline action.

 

What we need is a fast, free, accurate, and accessible way to monitor as many environmental variables as possible, both on land and at sea. This data will enable us to build models that help predict correlations and allow us to proactively recognise a developing crisis and thereby deploy a focused effort. Scientists know you cannot equate correlation to causations, but it is enough to flag up a correlation and put it in front of human eyes for further analysis.

James Birchall

He further highlighted that whilst data gathering already exists in many ways, it is not coordinated and not on the scale that SEA proposes. In addition, environmental priorities are frequently in conflict with the goals of governments, therefore core funding streams for most of these organisations are independent, leaving non-profit organisations under-resourced, and reliant on public donations, patronage, crowd-funding and other non-institutional funding. This is exactly what the SEA Nexus aims to solve.

The SEA Nexus ecosystem

The SEA Nexus is being built on the Algorand blockchain and is supported in part through a grant from the Algorand foundation. It functions to collect, analyse, manage, and store environmental data. The ecosystem comprises of a suite of apps, Ais (artificial intelligence), APIs and storage protocols.  This incredibly innovative technology creates a

Constant, fast, accurate flow of environmental data, from anywhere in the world, stored immutably on-chain, and available to scientific communities, governments, media and the public.

James Birchall

The ecosystem and apps are being developed by a sister-company, with their own inhouse development team, consisting of AI specialist, Designers, Data scientist, and Full stack developers. Uniquely the developers all share a background in conservation, from free divers, activists, and researchers.

We needed a specialised team in order to create this and having a group of people who are not only technically skilled, but also enthusiastic about conservation, makes us a very rare bunch of people that were lucky to come together.

Milan Jandik

 

(Milan Jandik, COO of SEA)

The SEA Nexus is designed to receive data submitted from several streams. Organisations that already gather data can plug their own API into the Nexus, and SEA has already partnered with 8 of the world’s largest Environmental organisations, namely SeaShepard, Coral Reef Alliance,5 Gyros, FISHACT, Gili Eco Trust, Green Wave, Ocean Preservation Society, and the Padi Aware Foundation.

Smaller community data gathering projects can upload data using digital tools supplied by SEA, and SEA is developing their own mobile app which allows anyone anywhere to submit data. This includes absorption rates of CO2 in water, ocean salinity, deforestation, wildfires, baseflow river levels etc. 

80% of the world’s population owns a smartphone. We thought, what if we could turn every smartphone user into an environmental data source. That’s more than 6.3bn people walking around with a device that can connect to the internet, pinpoint their GPS location, and supply environmental observations in thousands of data subclasses using numerical, text, visual and audio inputs.  If we add a few additional and basic devices such as (thermometer, litmus paper, air quality sensor, hydrophone, the number of subclasses would grow exponentially.

James Birchallb

Tokenization to fight sea degradation

To maintain and fuel the blockchain ecosystem, SEA is launching an Algorand utility token called VSEA. This token will also function as a reward incentive for mobile app users for uploading data, and can either add a new funding stream to established data collection projects, or replace restricting funding streams.

Once launched, the VSEA utility token will run alongside the SEA token, which was originally created to help fund partner organisations fighting ocean degradation, and to fund projects on the SEAstarter launchpad. One such project is the Ph.D. study on eDNA (environmental DNA) & Elasmobranch Biodiversity on sharks. This was essentially the first ever fully cryptocurrency funded Ph.D. and initiated through a collaboration with Stellenbosch University.

The team aims to collect up to 3 million data observations per day by the end of 2023. They feel this will positively disrupt the barriers that data scientists and researchers frequently face.

The question of who to credit for a specific piece of research, is as old as science itself.  With blockchain technology it will be possible to pinpoint the exact person who uploaded the data immutably. The data collected will go through Ai filters and consensus mechanisms which in essence will be another layer of peer reviewing.  The data will need to abide by standardisation and scientific protocols, blockchain facilitates this.

Milan Jandik

James further highlighted that another research barrier that the SEA Nexus solves, is the publishing hierarchy.  It is common that research is passed through a grading system, which means that only successful research is published. 

We feel that failed research is also interesting data. This is in essence exactly what science is, going through 100 ways of how not to do something, in order to arrive at the right solution.

James Birchall

Blockchain Technology solves the issues of trust, through its zero-knowledge proof. This means that data on the SEA Nexus will always be available to reproduce any failed research attempt and equally, successful research can always be reproduced by someone else, in-order to check and verify the results.

The SEA Nexus is currently under development, and the team is working towards launching the beta test-net in spring 2022 and main-net by June 2022.  

When it launches, it will be the beginning of a very long process, where building happens continuously. If for example we launch with 20 environmental data classes for collection, that still leaves us with thousands more that can be built on

James Birchall

When asked how they have managed to accomplish so much in just one year, Milan attributed it to the fast and borderless nature of blockchain technology and working remotely which enabled them to detach themselves from old world structures that would otherwise keep them on the ground.

Now we are able to spread our wings and do this fast.

Milan Jandik

James further added:

We are good at identifying blockers quickly and figuring out which of those blockers are real blockers, and which are just things that companies normally do that take up a long time.  It is something we have built into the structure of the company and is one of our strengths.

James Birchall

Conclusion

Innovative blockchain ecosystems such as the SEA Nexus are uniting conservation efforts on a global scale. Through the power of collaboration and the creation of dynamic applications, data can now be crowdsourced on a truly revolutionary scale. This means anyone, anywhere, can now contribute towards saving the oceans and our ecosystems, one block at a time.

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