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EMODnet's 2nd Open Sea Lab: a look back

As Open Sea Lab sailed off from Ghent last Friday evening, talk had already turned to plans for Open Sea Lab III. Open Sea Lab has captured the imagination in a way that few events in the marine data world can. This is largely due to the openness, creativity and enthusiasm of all of those involved. EMODnet would like to extend a huge thank you to all who participated in this year’s Open Sea Lab, as participants, coaches, speakers and co-organisers!

The organisers received over 100 applications for this edition of Open Sea Lab with 70 participants from 19 nations travelling to Ghent. The wonderful Zebrastraat venue provided a stimulating backdrop for three days of exploration and innovation. Welcoming the participants, Jan-Bart Calewaert (EMODnet Secretariat) explained the background to Open Sea Lab and acknowledged the support from the European Commission’s Directorate General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (DG MARE). On behalf of the core organising team of EMODnet Secretariat, VLIZ and imec, he welcomed also the involvement of CMEMS, ICES and Marine@Ugent as co-organisers in this year’s Open Sea Lab, as well as the collaboration with OVH and Greenbridge. Iain Shepherd (DG MARE) eloquently summarised the challenges facing society in terms of climate change and limiting natural resources and stressed the role the Ocean must play in addressing these. Paula Oset Garcia (VLIZ) invited the participants to consider how the three main challenge areas in this year’s Open Sea lab were actually all interrelated. The highlight of the morning was a stimulating and enlightening opening keynote from Jaeyoon Park of Global Fishing Watch on their work to identify IUU fishing activities. Participants were then treated to a taster of what was on offer at Open Sea Lab by Aron-Levi Herregodts (imec), before Europe’s world of marine data was opened to them by Neil Holdsworth (ICES), Fabrice Messal (CMEMS) and Pascal Derycke (EMODnet).

Day 1 involved the participants being matched into 16 teams based on shared challenge interests and complementary abilities. The 16 teams, with names ranging from the imaginative, ‘Finding demo’,Byte Bear’ and ‘Oil Busters’ to the visionary, ‘Changing Seas’ as well as the more prosaic, ‘Team 4’ and ‘Ilvo’, quickly got to work and wasted no time in advancing their ideas. Workshops in ideation and story-telling by the unflappable experts from imec living labs helped the teams shape their emerging ideas into potential real-life solutions. The team of 30 coaches from EMODnet, ICES, CMEMS, VLIZ and imec, provided round-the-clock support and were easily identifiable by their T-shirts, blue lanyards and thirst for data problems.

Day 2 saw the emergence of preliminary prototypes. More workshops in machine learning, data visualisation and user testing left some participants feeling spoilt for choice. Even some of the coaches tried to sneak into workshops incognito to pick up a few tips. Many of the teams worked late into the night, supported only by reinforced internet connection, pizza and the odd orange mascot.

Day 3 dawned crisp and clear in Ghent as the nervous teams joined one final workshop to polish their presentation skills before pitching their creations to the Open Sea Lab jury panel. Hans Pirlet (VLIZ), who had been centrally involved in developing the Open Sea Lab concept, chaired the closing session. Andy Kontoudakis (DG MARE) welcomed ‘a wonderful and diverse’ crowd of participants and stressed the importance of providing fertile ground, such as Open Sea Lab, to foster innovation because innovation happens when the opportunities are there. In addition to the team pitches, two inspiring key notes were provided, the first by Katja Mayer, University of Vienna, on Big Open Data: Challenges and Opportunities and the second by Koen Geirneart, dot Ocean, on ‘The Innovation Potential of Open Data for Autonomous Systems’. Katja Mayer congratulated EMODnet on the advances they had already made and provided some food for thought on its future development with her ideas for ‘EMODnet meta.’

Finally, the panel of jurors retired to reach their difficult verdicts and noted the difficulty they had in reaching them, given the quality of some of the pitches and demos. In addition to the overall prizes, Noémie Wouters (Greenbridge), Pierre Gronlier (OVH) and Tina Mertens (VLIZ) generously awarded their own prizes on behalf of their organisations.

The overall winner of Open Sea Lab 2019 was ‘Team Ilvo’, with their interactive fish stock assessment tool to allow non-specialists to understand and interpret fisheries data.

In second place were Team ‘Digital Twin North Sea II’ with their interactive visualisation tool showing the impacts, over time, of building a windfarm, to support more holistic decision making. And third place went to Team ‘Byte Bear’ for their interactive educational app linking choices humans make in their daily life to the environmental impact of these activities, visualized by a polar bear avatar.

The VLIZ award went to CODeFISH for their tool to provide near-future decision support for fisheries.

OVH awards went to, in first place, once again team CODeFISH , in 2nd place were team ‘Finding Demo’ for their tool to help divers record and report new sightings of invasive species, and 3rd place went to OILBUSTERS for their open, public oil spill detection service.

The Greenbridge award, went to ‘Changing Seas’ for their educational augmented reality app to help families make responsible choices to protect their marine environment.

EMODnet’s first Open Sea Lab had 48 applications and in the end 5 teams competed. This, the second OSL, saw that number grow to 104 applications with finally 16 teams competing. Some applicants returned for a second go, which says something about the positivity of the OSL experience. It seems that Open Sea Lab is something that will continue to grow into the future. Thoughts must turn now to how build on the outcomes of this year’s OSLII and on the open, innovative and diverse spirit that it nurtures.

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