2020 Final Problems & Solutions

Problems are sourced from a wide variety of sectors (government, non-profit, for profit).

Have questions or your own problem idea, email

Note: Problems are subject to change/modification.

TEAM: Blue Waltz Bio




TEAM: Tracing Nemo

PROBLEM FOCUS: Fish Traceability



TEAM: OverSea

PROBLEM FOCUS: Onboard Monitoring



TEAM: Pacific Tuna Points

PROBLEM FOCUS: Bycatch in Industrial Fishing



TEAM: Urchin Kelp Restore

PROBLEM FOCUS: Urchin Baren and Kelp Restoration



TEAM: Our Decisions are Responsible (ODAR)

PROBLEM FOCUS: Purchasing Sustainability (Pivot from Waste Stream/Recycling)



TEAM: By Catch Loans

PROBLEM FOCUS: Financing for Sustainable Fishing (Pivot from Elasmobranch Bycatch in Commercial Fishing)



Spring 2020 Problems

Problems are sourced from a wide variety of sectors (government, non-profit, for profit).

PROBLEM: Teams with their own startup idea - can apply

(Click here to complete an interest form)

CHALLENGE: Assemble a team of 3-5 students from any college or department to develop a technology or policy solution for Ocean Health. (if accepted we will help you find a sponsor)

BACKGROUND: You and your teammates are convinced you have a great idea and technology or policy solution to solve a problem facing the environment and oceans. Apply as a team to Hacking4Oceans and we will help you find a sponsor, validate your problem, and help you figure out if your idea is desirable, feasible, viable. Through this class, we will help you find product/mission market fit.

PROBLEM: Reducing bycatch in modern industrial fishing

CHALLENGE: There have been several innovations in the last decade to reduce bycatch in industrial fishing, yet very few have been implemented at scale. How could we develop scalable technologies/processes/policies to reduce bycatch while increasing yield of the desired catch, within current or future regulatory frameworks?

Is there a cost effective solution that could both reduce bycatch and increase fisher's intended yields?

BACKGROUND: Modern industrial fishing often results in large amounts of unintended catch which is then dumped overboard. Sometimes the bycatch itself is valuable, other times (e.g. for sharks) it is critical for the health of the entire system. In all cases, the bycatch consumes fishing resources that were intended to catch the target species. Modifications such as use of circle hooks (reduce shark and turtle bycatch) and changing long line depth (reduce seabird bycatch), slow release shark repellents, and flashing LEDs that repel turtles. However, very few have been implemented at scale.

PROBLEM: eDNA measurements for marine resource management.

CHALLENGE/BACKGROUND: Environmental DNA (eDNA) measurements have shown promise for measuring the biological state of aquatic resources with higher fidelity and lower cost than traditional survey methods. There are a range of potential applications for this nascent technology, including, but not limited to, water quality monitoring, invasive species detection, fish stock assessment, endangered species assessment, environmental impact assessments and aquaculture monitoring. Unfortunately, eDNA tools still require custom sampling equipment and expert users in order to generate useful data and insights.

Specifically, is there a sufficiently large market for eDNA measurements to justify the NRE investment required to make these assays accessible to resource managers?

PROBLEM: Cost Effective Scaling of Nearshore Water Quality Monitoring

CHALLENGE: Monitoring water quality is prohibitively expensive. If it could be done more cost effectively, it could be used by local municipalities to quickly detect degradation in water quality and respond proactively and effectively.

BACKGROUND: Coastal ecosystems face constant pressure that threaten their survival. The stress of human development, including pollution from industrial and agricultural runoff is one major stressor. 80% of sewage is discharged untreated into the ocean. Nutrients and chemicals from upstream agriculture create dead zones.

Attempts to conserve coastal habitats will be insufficient without understanding the state of the ecosystems and their health.

Are the current tools like eDNA, in situ chemical and biological sensors sufficient and cheap enough to be deployed cost effectively at scale?

Could citizen science support this effort?

A cost effective solution would have wide applicability in environmental protection and remediation efforts, including waste water management, aquaculture.

PROBLEM: On-board video image processing for fish identification

CHALLENGE/BACKGROUND: Electronic monitoring (EM) refers to the use of camera systems on fishing vessels to identify fishing activity and monitor compliance with rules. Roughly 1,000 vessels globally have EM systems on board. Ideally, this systems would be able to use AI to identify fish volumes and species for improved scientific management purposes. On many vessels (e.g., tuna on the high seas), video recordings are physically offloaded from the vessel by hand infrequently, and the data analysis may have several months lag. Satellite communications on the high seas limits the ability to transmit large data files. Improved on-board processing would allow vessels to report effort and catch estimates via text file, with fuller data downloads at a later time.

Can we work with existing EM providers to develop a software that can record and transmit real-time analysis?

PROBLEM: What can be done to motivate people in the field (early in the supply chain) to use fish traceability technology like apps and electronic records?

CHALLENGE: Thinking about an individual fisher - How can traceability tech be designed (and/or paid for) in ways that motivate fishers and others in the supply chain to use it regularly, thus enabling comprehensive data collection? Who has done this well and how can their success be scaled/replicated? Alternate framing: What motivates tech use in the traceability space?

BACKGROUND: According to the NOAA, about 80% of the seafood consumed in the US is imported. Tracking and regulations around fishing in other countries tend to be lax or not enforced well, making fish traceability a truly global problem. Fish supply chains are quite complex and fish from different batches are often mixed together, with the result that about a third of fish sold in the US has been found to be mislabeled (source: Oceana). Traceability of legitimate sustainable fish (separated from unsustainably sourced fish) is a big challenge in all existing sustainable fish certification programs, e.g. Marine Stewardship Council certified fish carried by Whole Foods.

There are several apps like Abalobi, OurFish, and WorldFish which are being used to track small fishing boats and/or collect data at the point of exchange between fishers and buyers early in the supply chains. Motivating technology use can be a challenge everywhere, but with seafood traceability it is especially tricky as those being asked to do the traceability/data entry work are often not those that will see much benefit from the information.

PROBLEM: Reducing urchin explosion to allow kelp forests to grow

CHALLENGE/BACKGROUND: There is an over-abundance of kelp-grazing purple urchin along California’s North Coast that have destroyed 95% of the kelp forest in that region. Scientists attribute this decline to a “perfect storm”: warming water, loss of a key urchin predator, and an explosion in the purple urchin population. To slow kelp forest decline and support restoration of this critical ecosystem, the first step involves significantly reducing the urchin population.

But, urchin removal is costly, as much as $750 per diver per day, and requires a specific set of skills. Due to the high cost of urchin removal and the sheer volume of urchin, there isn’t enough funding to support these efforts without a market based incentive. Although urchins are harvested around the world for their valuable roe, called “uni”, the Northern California purple urchins are starving and as such, not a marketable seafood product.

Is there a different market for these urchin that could incentivize divers to harvest large amounts of urchin, making way for kelp to recover. Is there a business model that can incentivize harvest of these pest urchin?

PROBLEM: Removing urchins from urchin barrens

CHALLENGE/BACKGROUND: Many kelp ecosystems, such as those along Northern California's coast, have been severely diminished in recent years. The ultimate causes may include warming waters and disease-triggered die-offs of specific predators (e.g., sea stars), but often the proximate cause is an explosion in the population of sea urchins. Urchins feed on kelp and can graze kelp forests down to rock unless they are kept in check. It is difficult to remove urchins at scale, and there is not currently a viable seafood market for these urchins which are effectively starving and lack roe.

Is there a cost effective solution that can remove urchins from urchin barrens, whether mechanically or otherwise?

PROBLEM: Harnessing the general public to support kelp forest conservation conservation

CHALLENGE/BACKGROUND: Between Sonoma and Mendocino counties, we’ve lost 95% of our kelp forests in a handful of years. Scientists attribute this decline to a “perfect storm”: warming water, loss of a key urchin predator, and an explosion in the purple urchin population.

Declines have had a significant impact on the region's communities (closures of recreational and commercial fisheries and declines in kelp forest related tourism).

To slow the decline and support restoration of this critical ecosystem, the first step involves significantly reducing the urchin population and out-planting kelp to reforest the seafloor.

Yet, to participate in this restoration requires dive certification, leaving a significant portion of concerned citizens without a way to directly support restoration efforts. Is there an opportunity to rally concerned citizens around kelp decline? Could a business or marketing campaign be built around leveraging the public’s interest in this issue to support restoration efforts that could also generate requisite capital to expedite restoration activities, for example, through a “buy a sea tree” campaign?

Additional Sourced Problems

PROBLEM: Can Reef Restoration Be Designed to Save Coastal Communities?

CHALLENGE: Recent work shows that nature-based defenses and coral reefs in particular can offer significant flood risk reduction to communities. Indeed, these benefits could pay for reef restoration if restoration were designed to quickly increase shallow reef height and complexity. But current coral reef restoration efforts are nascent and focused mainly on growing tiny coral and not designed to offer these coastal protection benefits.

BACKGROUND: Coastal risks are rising and there is a critical need for measures that can help reduce these risks for people and property. There is great interest in the role that natural defenses, such as coral reefs, can play in reducing risk. Significant funding could be available for reef restoration if it can be designed to deliver these benefits.

For example, 2017 was the most destructive and expensive hurricane season in history including for both governments and insurers. Overall losses were more than $215B across the USA and the Caribbean of which more than $120B was uninsured losses. The US government is providing over $100 billion in funding for disaster recovery from the 2017 hurricanes alone and critical decisions are being made now on where to invest these funds. And with climate change, the costs and recovery needs will grow.

Rigorous work by done UCSC scientists and others has helped make the case that coral reefs offer significant economic benefits for coastal protection (Ferrario et al. 2014, World Bank 2016, Beck et al. 2018, Reguero et al. 2018, 2019, 2020). For some countries including the USA, reefs provide annual flood savings of $1.8 billion or more (Storlazzi et al. 2019). Coral reefs serve as natural, low-crested, submerged breakwaters, which provide flood reduction benefits through wave breaking and wave energy attenuation. These processes are functions of reef depth and secondarily rugosity.

Coral reefs face increasing threats from coastal development, overfishing, and climate change, which puts communities and nations at risk. The good news is that reefs can recover and even adapt, if we identify the resources to manage and restore them. For the first time, government agencies (e.g., FEMA) and the world’s biggest re-insurers (e.g., Munich Re, Swiss Re) are considering how their funds could be invested in coral reef restoration to reduce future risk and build resilience.

The opportunity is that reef restoration efforts are not designed to deliver these benefits; but they could be.

PROBLEM: Develop a recovery fund that provides moderate interest loans to communities to get them through the valley of death and cover some of the direct costs of conservation management.

CHALLENGE: All over our planet oceans and rivers are over-fished, grasslands over-grazed, forests over-harvested, and ag lands degraded. This is bad for the people who depend on these systems for their livelihood and bad for the rest of life on earth. It’s also unnecessary. Collectively we know how to restore and manage these systems so they can provide dramatically improved livelihoods for people, provide more food and habitat for other species, store more carbon and produce more clean water. Develop a recovery fund that provides moderate interest loans to communities to get them through the valley of death and cover some of the direct costs of conservation management. Repayment of the loans can start once yields have surpassed a pre-determined threshold, above pre-conservation management levels. The loan would be analogous to college student loans (such as those provided by Chancen International).

BACKGROUND: So why is overexploitation and degradation so widespread? Technical and social obstacles are part of the problem, but the main obstacle is financial. The first stage of conservation management is to reduce harvest so systems can start to recover. After which harvests can slowly increase to much higher levels. This valley of death is the main obstacle to conservation management in tens of thousands of communities all over the world. Desperately poor people simply can’t afford to reduce harvest while the system recovers. Even wealthier people may not be able to afford lower harvest because they have school tuition, healthcare bills, and loans to pay.

PROBLEM: Precision aerial drone distribution for healthier aquatic and marine environments

CHALLENGE: The quickly evolving UAV industry has begun addressing the business needs of liquid spray UAV platforms for agricultural purposes. Yet US FAA regulations (and perhaps technological limitations) have to date have slowed development of heavy lift capacity drones needed to mainstream these platforms for these applications.

Moreover, the development of a competitive market platform for UAV distribution of dry, pelletized products has virtually not at all been addressed.

Servicing these business needs could dramatically reduce costs, increase efficiency and precision, decrease ‘product drift’, and reduce public health and safety risks, improve water quality and the health of our aquatic and marine environments.

BACKGROUND: Multiple business sectors utilize helicopters and planes to aerially distribute dry granulated or pelletized chemical products. These efforts can be costly (aircraft or charters, fuel, pilots) and pose some public safety and environmental risks (e.g. product drift). Some business may use costly ground equipment (tractors and hoppers) or personnel for distribution which could reduce some risks but increase those to the applicators and might be more costly than potential alternatives.

Business applications include aerial dispersal of dry materials to:

• controlling agricultural pests (slug/snail baits)

• preventing extinctions by removing invasive vertebrates from islands (rodenticide baits)

Other applications (requiring confirmation) may include:

• seeding fields with for nitrogen fixing, erosion-reducing ‘overwinter’ cover crops

• spreading agricultural fertilizers

• treating industrial livestock waste management lagoons

• treating stagnate water for mosquito abatement

Similarly, planes and helicopters are used for distribution of liquids such as fire retardants, fertilizers, and herbicides.

PROBLEM: Beyond Behavior Change: Developing the Plastic Innovation Pipeline

CHALLENGE: Evaluate, assess and outline an innovation ecosystem supporting sustainable plastics production and consumption, and a viable experimental portfolio of solutions (innovation pipeline).

Developing and cultivating the innovation pipeline, given the complexity of the markets and the high barriers to entry, demands a strong eco-system of innovators, investors, industry, scientists, policy-makers, and a hub of knowledge and resources. This project will provide an assessment of the existing innovation eco- system, the dynamics, the gaps, the strength and weaknesses, and resources and will produce a strategic roadmap for further strengthening and development.

BACKGROUND: The Philippines plastics innovation ecosystem is a complex dynamic system that depends on healthy interactions of its multiple components – demand, fulfilment, investment/financial support, policy portfolios, and global growth and scale-up of implementations. How can we transform this system so that it inherently prevents ocean plastics pollution? A business -friendly landscape and fruitful collaboration between the private sector and governments is key. The Think Beyond Plastics Foundation has partnered with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to support the design and development of a pollution-preventing and scalable innovation ecosystem for plastics, beginning with a pilot in the Philippines, one of the more complex plastic ecosystems.

PROBLEM: Can we help fisheries get more efficient?

CHALLENGE/BACKGROUND: Our ocean is home to a vast array of marine life and supports the economies of 153 coastal nations. Globally, fisheries employ about 10 percent of the world’s population and provide essential animal protein to nearly three billion people. Our ocean and our fisheries must be managed sustainably to allow both nature and people to thrive. However, more than 70 percent of fisheries, representing roughly half the global catch, lack effective management systems and may be overfished. Fisheries management agencies across the globe lack the technical capacity and training to develop effective management solutions. Given a knowledge base of existing best practices accumulated from around the world, is there a way to use it to make fisheries management (especially government fisheries agencies) more efficient? What is the business case and who would pay for it?

The Nature Conservancy designed FishPath to overcome this problem. FishPath is a process for guiding the development of fisheries management strategies, underpinned by the world’s most comprehensive decision support tool and supported by a network of global practitioners. The process is labor intensive and requires training and capacity building efforts by quantitative fisheries scientists and experts skilled in the development of fisheries management plans. There simply are not enough fisheries scientists available to scale the program. Is there a commercial enterprise that can take advantage of this knowledge base to scalably help fisheries worldwide be better managed? One option could be to place PhD students, postdoctoral researchers, in countries to train and develop staff in the technical aspects of fisheries science and management.

PROBLEM: Ending the Wild Wild Wet: How to leverage fisheries electronic monitoring data to drive ocean resilience?


A range of factors including overfishing and illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing activities (IUU) threaten to disrupt ocean health and global seafood supplies. The vast majority of IUU is undertaken by legally licensed fishing vessels. More granular data about activities on board vessels can give us a reasonable picture of resource health and fleet compliance with fisheries regulations. Electronic monitoring (EM)—the use of onboard video cameras, GPS, and sensors to automatically track catch and other key science and compliance data on fishing vessels—provides us with critical information on catch, discards, and other key data. It is hardware that currently exists on ~1,000 industrial vessels out of more than 90,000 worldwide. However, the process of turning raw EM data into useful information for scientists, fisheries managers and markets is laborious and expensive, leading to big gaps between when fishing events happen and when we have useful information on them.

PROBLEM: Can we design seaweed aquaculture that creates livelihoods while also developing ocean-focused climate solutions?

CHALLENGE/BACKGROUND: Seaweed aquaculture (SA) needs to be scaled up, but there are cost and permitting barriers in the U.S.

In the U.S., the profit margins where SA has been attempted have been minimal, therefore, scaling up production has not been possible. The market for SA product is also relatively small in the U.S.

Does cost and regulatory burden in the U.S. make SA a non-starter, or is there a design and technological solution that could support expansion?

Can you stimulate a supply chain for SA products? Or is it best to focus on expansion of SA in favorable habitats outside of the U.S., in other countries? What are the advantages and disadvantages of this approach?

What are the best oceanic conditions year-round for SA, and how do you go about siting/finding these conditions in the U.S. and abroad? Are temperate seaweed species more efficient to grow than tropical species? Are there mechanization challenges and solutions to help increase the profit margins?

PROBLEM: Cost-effective seaweed drying

CHALLENGE/BACKGROUND: The seaweed asparigopsis, a red algae, is being studies by several academic institutions because it produces a set of chemicals called bromoforms. When added to livestock feed, bromoforms can reduce the production of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Efforts are underway to develop farming systems for asparigopgsis now. One of the remaining technical challenges is how to take the wet (heavy) seaweed, and cost-effectively dry it in a fashion that does not degrade the bromoforms, so that it can be shipped internationally and added to livestock feed.

Is there an approach to cheaply dry asparigopsis at scale that doesn't degrade its chemical properties?

PROBLEM: Increasing coastal community engagement in climate mitigation and adaptation through Gaming/VR


PROBLEM: Fish are running out of Food: Can you replenish or substitute the Forage Fish population?


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Application now closed please check back in Winter 2021.