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There is no denying that the North Sea is in bad shape. But with the right mindset and advanced technology, we will get our beloved sea as clean as it was hundreds of years ago. Great news for the birds, porpoises, and shellfish, and for ourselves.

The North Sea is ‘wounded’. I mean, really wounded. Like a warfighter after a heavy battle. If you look at a recent report, it does not exactly cheer you up. Marine mammals suffer from increasing underwater noise or get caught in fishing nets. The bottom is disturbed almost everywhere by bottom fishing. And seabirds are dying en masse because of all the litter.

Should we stand by passively while our sea deteriorates at lightning speed? No: it is time to roll up our sleeves. Steps are already being taken to improve the situation. The amount of coarse plastic in the sea is slowly decreasing. There is now 27% less litter on beaches than a decade ago. This is no accident. Policies, such as the ban on balloon launches, contribute to this.

It is becoming clear that, with a mix of motivation and innovative technology, we can achieve something. What happens, if… we made a radical commitment to the health of our sea? Which animals would then return? And how do people benefit?

Healthy fulmars

Although the plastic soup seems slightly smaller, it is a serious problem for numerous marine animals, including seabirds such as the fulmar. These birds ingest plastic because they mistake it for something edible. In our scenario, that is a thing of the past. The Netherlands has allocated hefty budgets for water drones that remove plastic waste from rivers and the sea. The amount of plastics washing up on beaches has been reduced by another 50 percent

What can we learn from the sea? What role can the ocean play in generating renewable energy? And how can innovations help us take better care of the sea? Find out in our newest edition: IO Next: The Ocean.

A satisfied porpoise

Bycatch is a big problem in fisheries. Other animals are caught in fishing nets than intended. The harbor porpoise, for example, suffers from this. They either end up in the nets themselves, or we catch the food they would eat.

Technology can lend us a helping hand. In the world of fishing, for example, there are smart devices called bleepers. These small but powerful instruments emit acoustic signals underwater. As a result, marine mammals know there are nets in the water and do not get entangled. And the great thing is, this technology is already working. We are ensuring large-scale implementation of the technology in the North Sea and bringing it back to life.

We should also talk about noise pollution. Porpoises can go deaf from the loud noise of motorboats. Reduced reproduction is also seen in some shellfish due to noise pollution. In our prospect, diesel engines are a thing of the past. Electric boats are subsidized by the national government. Down with the (noise) pollution!

Humans are happy too

Humans too, are made happy when the North Sea is healthy. After all, it is our greatest ally in the fight against climate change. When marine habitats such as eelgrass and seaweed thrive, they, like forests, have the ability to absorb CO₂. This phenomenon is known as ‘Blue Carbon’. In our scenario, the Netherlands sets up dozens of large-scale seaweed projects.

So by taking good care of the sea, we achieve our climate goals. And that brings another 101 benefits. For instance, who doesn’t like a piece of fish on their plate? A juicy cod served with jacket potatoes? Although cod largely disappeared from the North Sea due to excessive fishing, and its return was hampered by climate change, we are managing to bring it back. Good news for the Dutch fishing industry, for our own plates, and for those of the tourists who like a bite. To keep our ecology in balance, it is of course wise to also eat fish in moderation.

In short: there is hope for our beloved North Sea. We still have a lot of work to do, but then we will have something. A reputation as a cod country, a plastic-free beach, and, if we are lucky, maybe even a glimpse of porpoises as we take the boat to one of the Wadden Islands. That doesn’t sound wrong, does it?