Today´s oceans contain an estimated 26-66 million tons of waste that heavily impact both the marine environment and its ecosystem. Rivers are the number one source of marine litter and because of the ever-increasing global production of plastics, ocean pollution is set to become an even greater problem in the future. At present, most initiatives are concentrated on the collection of litter from the water surface, however, 94% of marine debris is assumed to be located on the seabed itself. Up until now, it has mostly been divers who have collected waste from the ground, but this is an expensive and highly inefficient method involving risks for those who perform it.
The EU-funded SeaClear-Project (2020-2023) is working on developing an efficient, cost-effective, and innovative solution for this problem. A team of autonomous robots finds and collects seabed litter. Underwater detection sensors allow it to operate under low-visibility conditions. One robot identifies litter using deep-learning artificial intelligence trained to differentiate between marine wildlife and debris. The collection is performed by a larger robot that navigates to the location where waste has been found and removes it using a gripper-suction device. This process is carried out in strict compliance to nature conservation standards.
Hamburg Port Authority, one of the European partners of the interdisciplinary project team, is engaging with local communities to raise awareness for ocean pollution, emphasizing that both society and individuals are responsible for protecting nature. The team also exchanges with stakeholders from ports and coastal regions as well as marine biologists, environmental activists, and the public to develop a globally deployable solution that actively contributes to maintaining and restoring the health of the world´s oceans.
By integrating autonomous vehicles into port traffic processes and utilizing them for underwater works shapes and facilitates safe and secure port operations in the future. By participating in the SeaClear project Hamburg Port Authority actively contributes to environmental protection, future innovations, and technical development.