01 Feb 2024
by Amy McLellan

Ocean Hackathon: from krill mapping to a revolutionary radio assistant

In December 2023, while most of us were planning to wind down for the festive period, teams from around the world gathered in Brest, northwest France for the annual non-stop 48-hour Ocean Hackathon. 

An initiative of the Campus Mondial De La Mer since 2016, Ocean Hackathon is designed to highlight how digital technologies and marine data can improve the marine environment and maritime industries.   

Thirteen teams made it through to the final on December 19, with 12 in Brest and one participating remotely. Teams had six minutes to pitch their project in English in front of an international jury. 

First prize of €5,000 went to a team from Toulon, France for their mobile app VANESSA. Described as a revolutionary radio assistant to aid marine communication and maritime security, VANESSA uses AI to analyse voice flows so that radio messages in any language can be deciphered and transcribed onboard.  

Edouard Vallet of the winning team spoke highly of an experience that combined technological challenges and intense collaboration. 

“It was an adventure rich in emotions, sometimes mentally and physically difficult, where each member brought their passion and expertise, creating an extraordinary team dynamic,” he said. “Our creation, VANESSA, is capable of listening, transcribing and understanding maritime communications in all languages, in real time. We are confident VANESSA will be an indispensable asset in the world's busiest straits, contributing to safer and more efficient shipping.” 

A team from Concepción, Chile, took the second-place prize of €3,000 for Licence to Krill, which uses machine learning to predict krill volume in the Antarctic area. The team was able to develop a prototype that allowed them to establish the abundance and geolocation of krill around the Elephant Islands, obtaining results with a 15% error rate.  

Cristian Cofré of the License to Krill team, said the experience had given him and his team mates a lot of hope to see so many people working to protect the ocean. “The Hackathon encouraged us to work on something we believe in and gave us the push to make a viable prototype in very little time,” he enthused. “Our solution is a machine learning model that predicts krill population in different global warming scenarios, which we hope will help protect the Antarctic ecosystem, that's in danger due to human exploitation. It's a hard task to achieve, but nowadays it's imperative to collaborate and make a common effort to protect our oceans.” 

Third place and €1,500 went to a team from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. iHAB is a high-performance predictive tool for enhanced prevention and mitigation of harmful algal blooms, which cause harm due to their sheer biomass and ability to produce potent toxins. 

The iHAB algorithm provides valuable insights and probabilistic forecasts based on historical data, environmental conditions and biological factors and is incorporated in an app to gather and provide information about red algae blooms to marine biologists, ocean fieldworkers and leisure consumers. 

Like many of the competitors, the Kuala Lumpur team leader Brenden Tan Poh Guan said it had been “really inspiring” to see so many useful and unique projects for the ocean. “We hope to continue developing and refining our solution until we can get it to be readily available to the public in Malaysia,” he concluded.  

The event included a keynote address by Guillaume Mazé, research oceanographer-physicist, and Kevin Balem, a development and data processing engineer, both from Ifremer, the French body for ocean science. Their address examined the development of the ARGO programme, which collects real time oceanographic data, including temperature, salinity, and biogeochemical parameters, from 4,000 autonomous profiling floats that drift with ocean currents and regularly dive below the ocean surface to deliver an unprecedented wealth of data about our oceans.  

The hope is the Ocean Hackathon will yield similar impactful solutions in years to come. 


Main image: Ocean Hackathon 2023 participants; credit: Technopôle Brest Iroise