An ocean of ideas
New study reveals a forgotten element of the blue economy: designs and innovations inspired by marine life and the deep sea
- The form, physiology and behaviour of marine organisms can be a valuable source of inspiration for solving human problems
- Seven broad categories of ocean-inspired “biomimetic” design (adhesion, antifouling, armour, buoyancy, movement, sensory, stealth) are showcased
- Marine biomimetics has the potential to drive appreciation of non-monetary values, conservation and stewardship, not the least in the deep sea
LEARNING FROM THE OCEAN INSTEAD OF EXPLOITING IT: More and more actors are turning to the ocean for extractive industries, such as mining the seabed for metals and minerals, especially in the deep sea where marine life is known to be particularly vulnerable.
What if we instead focused on “exploration before exploitation” and started to learn from the form, physiology and behaviour of marine organisms to come up with new innovations and other solutions to our own problems? This is the question asked in a newly published study which looks into the field of marine biomimetics, nature-inspired designs and solutions from the ocean.
“Marine biomimetics does not depend on continuous marine resource use or extraction, and often results in innovations that reduce pollution, energy loss, or emissions, giving it a vanishingly light footprint alongside the stomping footprints of conventional ocean industries like cruise tourism or offshore oil and gas extraction,” the authors write.
Together with colleagues from the USA, France, and Canada, they introduce the rich and rapidly expanding field of marine biomimetics, and explore a number of examples from the marine environment in general and the deep sea in particular.
From humpback whales to wind turbines
Examples featured include the mirrored eyes of a denizen of the deep sea called the Brownsnout spookfish, which has inspired energy-saving dispersal of natural light in buildings, as well as the bumps on the flippers of humpback whales that have inspired the design of more sustainable and optimized wind turbine blades.
Marine biomimetics is a poorly articulated and often overlooked element of the ocean economy associated with substantial monetary benefits.
Robert Blasiak, first author
Yet another example is the scaly-foot snail – found only on a handful of hydrothermal vents several kilometres beneath the ocean’s surface. A couple of years ago, the scaly-foot snail also became the first species to be listed as endangered due to the threat of deep-sea mining. Its armour-like iron sulphide shell has a tri-layered composition, which could inspire tough new materials for use in everything from body armour to scratch-free paint.
“Marine biomimetics is a poorly articulated and often overlooked element of the ocean economy associated with substantial monetary benefits,” says centre researcher Robert Blasiak, first author of the new study.
Aligned with a sustainable blue economy
Blasiak and colleagues divide ocean-inspired designs into seven broad categories (adhesion, antifouling, armour, buoyancy, movement, sensory and stealth). This framing is then used to shed more light on the even more overlooked deep-sea life as an inspiration for biomimetic design.
They conclude that a better understanding of the many values associated with marine biomimetics could increase appreciation of non-monetary values, conservation and stewardship, making it well-aligned with notions of a sustainable blue economy. They note however that a truly sustainable blue economy requires that it not only improves environmental performance, but also drives social sustainability.
“Marine biomimetics can only become a useful illustration of a blue economy sector if it can ensure that it also drives equity and inclusivity, while also spurring greater support for funding basic research on the ocean and the life it contains,” says co-author Jean-Baptiste Jouffray.
Blasiak, R., Jouffray, J-B., Amon, D.J., Moberg, F., Claudet, J., Søgaard Jørgensen, P., Pranindita, A., Wabnitz, C.C.C., Österblom, H. A forgotten element of the blue economy: marine biomimetics and inspiration from the deep sea. PNAS Nexus, 2022.
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