Helping the sea to breathe

by Annie Georgieva  | Business | Technology

If we say metaphorically that humanity thinks sea goes up to the knees, then to keep the metaphor – the trash in it goes up to the neck. The UN says that by 2050, the world’s ocean will have more plastic than fish. According to Greenpeace, 5.25 trillion pieces of nylon waste currently sail in its waters. Each year, another 8 million tons of plastic is poured into this stream of garbage. The trash kills marine life and gets involved in humanity’s food chain. The Black Sea is the most polluted with microplastics in the world.

Humanity’s careless behaviour has already created “dead zones” in the world’s ocean. Pouring industrial water and sewage into coastal water critically reduced the oxygen level in certain places which in the last 60 years have increased four times in area. Currently, they are the size of Australia. Life in the dead zones is endangered and these zones are expanding. At the same time, the population of the world has increased five times in a century. Resources to feed people on the land are running out, but only one tenth of the food we produce comes from the ocean (which covers 70% of the planet) and in an unsustainable way. Can we change this suicidal trend?


Last year a small company from Varna, a handful of innovators, became the Bulgarian finalist in an international competition for business with a cause: Chivas Regal the Venture.The core of the company “Sea Harmony” is the technology created by Arman Sarkisyan.Twenty years ago, he had a successful distribution and production business selling diet and healthy foods. But as a specialist in marine ecology, his hobby was to design, build and immerse reef installations to support the sea. In 2009, Arman sold his food company and invested all the funds in the design of an ecological system that helped his business succeed and at the same time defend a strong cause. In 1996, he started immersing the first of 14 different models of experimental reef installations, and a series of tests led to the creation of the patented Pisa Reef. “Our civilization cannot survive, without the survival of Nature, through which we exist. Even if we live in seemingly settled concrete cities, we depend on everything that happens both nearby and far beyond them”, says Sarkisyan. The Sea Harmony team focuses its work on the development of the revolutionary technology for growing habitats – exa integrated aquaculture in the open sea, based on the construction of reef like coral reefs.

The technology solves global problems related to the expanding “dead zones” and is one of several ways of producing significant amounts of food with minimal resources, giving an opportunity to feed our fast growing population. Ocean Reef-Tower Oases (ORTO) and the latest patented model Pisa Reef presents a good trend in the future of aquaculture. They are actually vertical reef farms for shells and naturally self-sustaining wildlife species that feed on them, such as shrimps, rapans, fish and crabs. Feeding on the overpopulation of green seaweed, developed due to contamination and erosion, the new occupants of vertical farms purify the water and give very good output, with no serious inputs. These farms do not depend on storms and do not interfere with shipping. So, this seemingly economic technology helps the ocean to self-heal naturally, while providing significant economic benefits and social impact.The Pisa Reef is an underwater multi-storey “house” which provides multiple surfaces and a space for the natural settlement of various marine creatures, mussels being the main occupant.The technology is completely ecological – it revitalizes ecosystems, protects shores from erosion and is not a source of microplastics, unlike conventional production. What is more, the reefs are in constant motion, which can be captured and used, transformed into electricity with the help of a small modification, or applied to a special filter to become desalinated water for the areas in deficit. The Black Sea countries have already begun integrating it. The Bulgarian facilities are near Kranevo, where a 1000-reef marine farm is being built, and similar installations are also being introduced into the waters of Turkey, Romania and Georgia. Sea Harmony says: “Our mission is to have the benefits of our seas available for future generations.”

Great cleaning

At the age of 17 a Dutchman of Croatian origin, Boyan Slat, spoke during a TED Talk about his project Ocean Cleaning Machine. Today Boyan is 23 years old and this year he plans to put into operation platforms which collect waste using water flows in the Pacific Ocean.About 20 years ago, oceanographer Charles Moore first reported on the Great Pacific landfill located between Hawaii and California. This particular island of plastic is 1 million sq. km in the centre, and its periphery covers another 3.5 million square kilometers. The density of the garbage is so high that one can safely walk on the island. United Nations Environment Program warns that the landfill is growing relentlessly and will soon be visible from space, like the Great Wall of China. Slat’s invention consists of massive, two kilometer free-floating platforms, which – like an artificial coastline – collect the garbage in one place so it can be shipped and recycled. According to the Dutchman, with the help of this system in about five years more than half of the trash from the Pacific will be gone.

The prototype of the system is currently being tested in the North Sea. If with those turbulent winds and low temperatures it works well, there is no reason for it not to cope well with its task in the Pacific.The next phase in Slat’s project is pollution prevention, which includes a powerful information campaign, exchanging plastics for alternative biodegradable materials and researching solutions for waste reduction.The third step is the design of small passive traps which would collect plastic waste in rivers so it would not enter the world’s oceans.

Boyan is in a race against time. Now the vast majority of the ocean’s garbage consists of large pieces of plastic. Over time, however, they decompose into smaller pieces and eventually transform into microplastics which are elusive but poisonous for the sea species and people who eat it. About 700 species are threatened with extinction because of plastics in the world ocean.

Five years ago the enthusiast and a small team of followers created the Ocean Cleanup Foundation, which is raising funds to implement the idea. The Dutch government, oil companies and technology companies from Silicon Valley already participate in the project, which so far has raised over $31 million. The founder of PayPal Peter Teal is one of the foundation’s donors.

Visit Sea Harmony at