ESA title

Blue Capital

  • Opportunity Call for Proposals (Competitive)
  • Activity Kick-start Activity
  • Opening date 06-05-2024
  • Closing date 14-06-2024
  • WEBINAR 24 April 2024 - 12:00 CEST Register

Funding opportunity

This opportunity offers funding for teams who would like to develop a service related to ‘Blue Natural Capital’. Funding will be provided by the European Space Agency (ESA) for 6-month studies called ‘Kick-Starts’, which can lead to larger scale Demonstration Projects. Kick-Starts are 75% funded by ESA up to a maximum of €60K per contract. Proposed services must use satellite data or space-based technologies. Please see the ‘Authorisation of Funding’ section below to check whether your team is eligible for funding.

The challenge

Blue natural capital ecosystems provide valuable resources and livelihoods to local communities including:

  • tradeable products
  • an abundance of seafood 
  • tourism revenue

They also:

  • improve water quality
  • act as a buffer to storm surges
  • are efficient at removing carbon from the atmosphere
  • are vital refuges for biodiversity
  • form an essential component for a healthy ocean

Development, unsustainable aquaculture and land use, destruction of the topography of the coast and associated increasing pollution in many forms pose immediate threats to the health of these ecosystems. Degradation of these marine ecosystems will not only have a devastating environmental impact but also create significant economic losses. Mangroves and seagrass serve as a nursery for many commercially-important shellfish and fish, acting as important contributors to carbon sequestration and storage. Several goods such as fisheries resources, timber and firewood can be harvested from mangroves, and vegetation from these ecosystems provides valuable protection from erosion and flooding. 

A sustainable blue economic model fosters economic growth, social inclusion and the improvement and preservation of livelihoods, while at the same time ensuring environmental sustainability of the oceans and coastal area. It is estimated that the ocean economy will be worth $3 trillion annually by 2030, accounting for approximately 5 per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP), and the economic and social value of coastal and marine resources and ecosystem services to individual communities and societies is incalculable.

The scope of the proposed Kick-start theme call is to support companies to investigate the technical feasibility and the economic viability of services which will address challenges related to blue natural capital monitoring, preservation, and sustainable growth. The call aims to promote the use of satellite technologies, in combination with digital technologies such as IoT, AI/ML, and blockchain to bring about innovative solutions for sustainable services and funding streams to support the blue natural capital sector.

Topics of relevance

The following relevant topics were identified for this Kick-start theme, along with examples (non-exhaustive) of potential applications which could be proposed. 

Coastal and Marine Ecosystem Monitoring

Marine ecosystems are one of the greatest sources of biodiversity and food. They also regulate the climate and are a major carbon sink. Blue carbon ecosystems, such as mangroves, seagrasses, and salt marshes are coastal habitats that play a vital role in sequestering and storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, making them essential in climate change mitigation efforts. However, these ecosystems are under increasing threat from climate change, unsustainable or illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, and other pressures linked to human activities such as maritime transport, energy production and tourism. Keeping track of the health and extent of the blue carbon ecosystems and carrying out physical inspections in order to gather an overview of the coastal and marine ecosystems is resource intensive, expensive and sometimes puts the  personnel involved at risk from groups carrying out illegal activities.

Marine spatial planning (MSP) enables a multi stakeholder planning process to help achieve sustainable use and biodiversity conservation in oceans and coastal areas. Spatial plans can provide for sustainable use, while also conserving specific areas through marine protected areas (MPA) and other appropriate measures in a manner that avoids potential conflicts. Regulations and investment are key to driving transition to sustainability for the sector, but effective implementation of sustainable practices require the ability to monitor, enforce and manage.

Some potential applications could be: 

  • Monitoring services to track oceanic parameters such as sea surface temperature, ocean currents, wave heights, chlorophyll concentration and water quality, helping develop understanding of the dynamic marine environment and identifying potential areas of interest or concern.
  • Services for monitoring and managing fisheries by providing information on fishery resources and their distribution, to detect the location of fish aggregations, track migratory patterns, and assess fishing activity, helping to implement sustainable fishing practices and prevent overfishing.
  • Marine protected areas (MPA) monitoring to provide regular updates on changes in habitat conditions, potential encroachments, and illegal activities, ensuring effective management and enforcement. 
  • Services for conducting environmental impact assessments, helping decision-makers understand potential ecological, social, and economic consequences before granting permits or authorisations. Integrating satellite data with other geospatial information, such as marine biodiversity databases, socioeconomic data, and cultural heritage information, and visualising these on geographic information systems (GIS) can provide decision-makers with comprehensive and interactive tools for effective marine spatial planning. 
  • Services to estimate the carbon sequestration potential of blue carbon ecosystems by analysing vegetation cover, biomass, and productivity, help assess the success of restoration projects, detect and monitor threats to these ecosystems, such as deforestation, coastal development, pollution and climate-related events and standardise UNFCCC reporting.

Sustainable Aquaculture and Fisheries

Approximately half the global seafood production today comes from farmed sources, or aquaculture and it is the world’s fastest growing food sector. Sustainable aquaculture is an integral part of the European Green Deal and Farm to Fork strategy. Aquaculture production, however, doesn’t replicate the extraordinary species and geographical diversity of wild marine ecosystems but is concentrated on just a few species in a handful of geographic locations. Aquaculture operations, when sited in ecologically-sensitive areas, can impact negatively on biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. Conventional aquaculture is frequently sited along waterways and coasts - areas that often overlap with rich fishing areas, shipping lanes or viable renewable energy areas - and it is likely that investors and other stakeholders will have conflicting plans or agendas for these areas.

Similarly, climate change, biodiversity loss and ocean pollution threaten the sustainability of fisheries. One in five people across the world depends on wild species for their food and income, with fisheries being a major source of this food. Ensuring sustainable fishing and sustainably managed fish stocks is key to protecting ocean biodiversity, fighting against climate change, food security and to maintaining the economic basis of fishing communities. 
Sustainable aquaculture is identified as one of the four big opportunities for ocean impact investment. However, access to reliable certifications and accreditations which offer quick turn-around times, proof of direct economic value generated and quantifiable data are among the top barriers to investment in the sector.

Some potential applications could be:

  • Services to monitor fish health by detecting abnormal body temperatures, which might indicate disease outbreaks in aquaculture facilities.
  • Services for continuous remote monitoring of water quality parameters such as turbidity, chlorophyll concentration, and dissolved oxygen levels, thus helping aquaculture operators maintain optimal conditions for fish and shellfish growth and detect any signs of environmental stress or pollution. 
  • Services to track the movement and behaviour of wild fish stocks, contributing to sustainable fishery management. 
  • Services to assess coastal areas and inland water bodies to identify suitable sites for aquaculture operations. Factors such as water quality, temperature, salinity, and proximity to pollution sources can be analysed to ensure the most appropriate and environmentally friendly locations for aquaculture farms.
  • Services to help optimise aquaculture feed usage by monitoring algae blooms and other natural food sources in the water. This data enables farmers to adjust feed inputs, reducing waste and minimising the environmental impact. 
  • Surveillance services to help monitor and detect illegal fishing activities near aquaculture sites, protecting important fish spawning sites and nursery areas, and marine protected areas, ensuring compliance with regulations and protection of both the farmed species and wild marine biodiversity. 
  • Mapping and monitoring of seafloor health and blue carbon potential, reporting of compliance to Climate Smart Aquaculture (CSA) policies.
  • Services to support evidence-based decision-making in aquaculture planning and policy development. Governments and regulatory bodies can use this information to set guidelines and incentives that promote sustainable practices, and help investors assess and prioritise nature-positive investments and TNFD disclosures.

Blue Finance

Banks, insurers, and investors have a major role to play in the transition to a sustainable blue economy – in helping to rebuild ocean prosperity and in restoring biodiversity to the ocean. Financial institutions provide the financing, investment and insurance required to power ocean-linked sectors, including shipping, seafood, marine renewable energy and thus have a sizeable impact on the health of the ocean that can accelerate the transition towards a sustainable blue economy. However, industry representatives believe that existing ocean data is not always transparent, consistent, or standardised across regions, leaving investors with insufficient information to model and predict financial risks and making them wary to give blue industries the capital they need. 

Some potential applications could be:

  • Services to aid investors in assessing the environmental and climate-related risks (flooding, deforestation, pollution, etc) associated with blue finance projects and make informed decisions about sustainable investment opportunities 
  • Monitoring of mangroves, tidal marshes and seagrass meadows as carbon sinks, supporting the computation of carbon credits and offsets 
  • Insurance services available to coastal activities and infrastructures require information on the physical risks (e.g. flooding, deforestation) around a particular asset, benefitting from satellite imagery and positioning
  • Services to monitor the progress and impact of blue finance projects over time. This real-time monitoring and verification of project outcomes help evidence compliance, build investor confidence and demonstrate the effectiveness and potential of ‘bankable’ blue economy solutions. 
  • Environmental monitoring services in support of the issuance of blue bonds can highly benefit from satellite imagery and positioning, providing real-time information on aspects such as water pollution levels, biodiversity loss, and land changes.
  • Services to provide transparency and validation for sustainability rating of seafood.

Potential users include:

  • finance institutions
  • carbon credit sellers and buyers
  • standardisation agencies
  • government institutions regulating the blue sector

Value of space

Space technologies can play a vital role in achieving sustainability and implementing blue nature solutions. Space technologies can, for example, help in the conservation, monitoring and data gathering to aid governance decisions and regulations.

Some further examples (non-exhaustive) can be found below:

Satellite Earth Observation (SatEO) imagery can be used to map changes in the marine ecosystems and protected areas, allowing the collection of information on geographical and environmental parameters relevant for investment and governing decisions, knowledge sharing and awareness raising. SatEO can be helpful to explore and identify new marine activity hotspots. EO data integrated with AI can support the monitoring and analysis of blue carbon, GHG emissions in marine ecosystems, effect of human activities such as tourism, renewable energy installations, etc on the local environment. 

Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) can be used to track fishing boats with the help of the AIS data and anti-spoofing technologies and have the potential to avoid activities like illegal fishing and encroachment on marine protected areas. These technologies can help in demarcation of vulnerable ecosystems, geotagging of fish captures to provide proof of compliance to local and international regulations and enforcements, traceability for reliable certification and accreditation of fisheries and aquaculture produces.   

Satellite Communications (satcom) can ensure connectivity to remote locations not served by terrestrial connections, offshore aquaculture farms, marine protected areas etc and serve as a tool for continuous and cost-effective monitoring and data gathering. Data from IoT sensors for example to monitor environmental parameters, human activity monitoring using drones, or real-time very-high-resolution video streaming of restoration efforts, can be made possible with the help of a combination of hybrid satellite and terrestrial communication.

What we look for

Kick-Start activities explore the business opportunity and the technical viability of new applications and services that exploit one or more space assets (e.g. Satellite Communications, Satellite Navigation, Earth Observation, or Human Spaceflight Technology).
This call for Kick-Start activities is dedicated to the theme ‘Blue Capital’, which means that the call is open to companies that intend to develop space-enabled applications and services relating to marine environment and blue natural capital.

What we offer

Kick-Start activities are 75% funded by the European Space Agency up to a maximum of €60K per contract.

How to apply

  1. Register your team on esa-star (this provides for the minimum ‘light registration’).
  2. Download the official tender documents from esa-star when the opportunity opens. This includes: a letter of invitation proposal, template, draft contract and additional information about this opportunity.
  3. Prepare your proposal using the official tender documents and reach out to your National Delegation to obtain a Letter of Authorisation.
  4. Submit your proposal via esa-star tendering by the deadline.

Authorisation of funding

ESA Space Solutions can provide funding to perform Kick-Start activities to any company (economic operator) residing in the following Member States: Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Germany, Luxembourg and the United Kingdom have pre-authorised the funding to this call.

Webinar

Join our webinar on 24 April 2024 at 11:00 CET. Please use the link at the top of the page to register.