Sargassum is a foul-smelling brown toxic seaweed that is polluting the coastline. It has been proliferating spectacularly on the Mexican coasts since 2015. The marine and coastal ecosystems are affected and the economic repercussions for the country are disturbing.
The Mexican scientific team, which calls itself the “Sargassum Busters”, a reference to the cult film Ghostbusters, opted to tackle this ecological challenge. Directed by researcher Juan Claudio Toledo Roy and made up of nine students and researchers from UNAM (National Autonomous University of Mexico) and BUAP University (Benemérita Universidad Autonoma de Puebla), the team was awarded, along with two other projects, at the Ocean Hackathon® final in Brest on December 12, 2019.
The innovation proposed is an algorithm that complements the existing satellite tools and which provides real-time warnings of massive sargassum arrivals. It is also capable of estimating the volumes.
All the “Sargassum Busters” were present and their innovation impressed the jury, and in particular its president, Sigi Gruber, Head of Marine Resources Unit, DG Research and Innovation, European Commission. During the awards ceremony, she invited the team to present its results at the All-Atlantic Ocean Research Forum in Brussels in February 2020. “Being the winners and being invited to these events provides us with credibility and visibility,” said Juan Claudio Toledo Roy.
Saving the Seas Digitally
The Ocean Hackathon® is an annual competition to promote the emergence of scientific and technological projects related to the sea. The initial selection round was held simultaneously in eight French towns (Dinan, Brest, Cherbourg, La Rochelle, Sète, Toulon and Champs-sur-Marne) and, for the first time abroad, in Mexico, from October 11 to 13, 2019.
The Mexican edition was a great success: for 48 hours non-stop, gathered at the Casa de Francia in Mexico, the 58 participants had to devise an innovating project integrating a demonstration interface (site, application, cartography, etc.) and using maritime data made available for this event.
The High Quality of Mexican Research
“This first international edition of the Ocean Hackathon® highlighted the importance of ocean sciences and the high quality of the research carried out in Mexico,” said Valérie Barbosa Solomieu, attaché for Science and Technology at the French Embassy in Mexico. The challenges laid down at the start of the 2019 edition, including an application for the control and management of invasive aquatic plants and the development of a platform to combat ocean pollution, were so interesting that the number of volunteers to solve them quickly exceeded the available capacity.
Mexico's participation at this event was made possible thanks to the support of AFD, IRD (French National Research Institute for Sustainable Development), CEMIE Oceano, the French Embassy in Mexico, IFAL (French Institute for Latin America), CONABIO, UNAM and INECC. “We are already preparing for the 2020 edition, which we hope will be just as successful. It will be planned in closer collaboration with French and Mexican research institutions and be held on several sites, more particularly in coastal cities,” said Valérie Barbosa Solomieu.