Norway’s REV Ocean Initiative is launching the world’s largest and most advanced research and expedition vessel. The goal is to combat the negative impacts of climate change, plastic pollution and overfishing.
published 25 October 2023
When the 182-metre-long REV Ocean sets sail in the near future, the superyacht will feature the most advanced ocean technology and research equipment available and will be capable of taking measurements at depths down to 6 000 metres.
The mother vessel will house up to 30 crew members and 60 researchers. It will be equipped with advanced trawling and sampling systems, sonar systems, laboratories, classrooms, and helicopter platforms, as well as the world’s deepest diving submergence vehicles (DSVs).
"We have already launched two advanced submergence vehicles that are currently being used to conduct research," says Nina Jensen, CEO of REV Ocean Initiative.
The remote controlled submergence vehicle ROV Aurora has spent a lot of time underwater, not least between Svalbard and the North Pole, where it has been collecting samples from both the water and the seabed at depths down to 4 000 metres.
“Our goal is to increase knowledge about the ocean, make this knowledge accessible and translate it into concrete solutions,” says Jensen.
The ship will carry scientists and ocean enthusiasts from the business community, political circles and research institutions. Its objective: to find concrete, scalable and commercially viable solutions for improving ocean health.
Anyone who is interested in finding solutions to the problems facing the ocean may apply to sail on the REV Ocean.
“We won’t be conducting basic research in the traditional sense, but will instead be facilitating concrete research to solve problems related to plastic pollution, climate change and overfishing,” explains Jensen.
She says that cross-disciplinarity, innovation and openness will be important criteria in determining who will be allowed to participate in the vessel’s expeditions.
“We cannot save the oceans with marine biologists alone – we need people with different backgrounds and perspectives. Alongside researchers, we will therefore have, for example, artists, teachers, politicians and business leaders on board, as well as children and young people,” Jensen says.
In addition, sharing data and solutions is an absolute requirement.
“Today, too much work is being done in silos, where people do not share experiences and are not willing to help one another,” she says.
The ambition is to not only create tangible solutions on board the ship, but also to serve as a springboard for a larger, targeted movement for ocean health.
“REV Ocean will be a floating think tank and a showcase. We have the world’s most advanced communications technology on board to show what the problems and the solutions are. Hopefully, this will boost engagement in and enthusiasm for ocean-related measures among members of the business community, investors and philanthropists,” says Jensen.
The vessel is part of the broader REV Ocean Initiative. Although a good deal of activity under the initiative will naturally be connected to the ship, there are also other large-scale projects underway to promote healthy oceans.
One of these is the Ocean Data Platform, an independent, not-for-profit foundation that will collect, categorise and make accessible vast amounts of ocean data. The objective is to make it easier to find the knowledge, perspectives and inspiration needed to create good ocean solutions.
“Let’s say you are interested in a specific ocean area. Weather data, for example, may be found in one place, while information on benthic habitats is found in another place, and data on fisheries and shipping traffic is found in yet another – and so on. We want to gather the data in a single place. We are not going to own or store the data, but rather make it accessible and analyse it,” Jensen explains.
She believes that making knowledge about the ocean more easily available will also encourage more action to be taken:
“It is problematic that much of the knowledge about the ocean is stored in closed or inaccessible systems. I think that once we have a clear overview of what the right course of action is, that course will be followed. We are making knowledge about ocean problems – and the solutions needed – as available and ‘in your face’ as possible, so that it becomes difficult to NOT implement the right measures.”
Although its impressive new research vessel has yet to be launched, there is already a buzz of activity in REV Ocean’s offices outside Oslo.
“The Ocean Data Platform is working with Global Fishing Watch to combat illegal fishing. We are linking together a wide variety of data – on shipping traffic, port arrivals, fish stocks and benthic habitats – to determine where activities will give the best effect. We are also involved in a similar project to save the world’s coral reefs and there is a queue of other projects,” Jensen says.
The initiative has also established the Plastic Revolution Foundation to create profitable, scalable solutions addressing the problem of plastic pollution.
The REV Ocean Initiative was started in 2017 by industrialist Kjell Inge Røkke – a former fisherman and one of Norway’s wealthiest individuals. Røkke has joined the global Giving Pledge movement, committing himself to donating more than half of his wealth to good causes. At that time, marine biologist Nina Jensen – who is known as one of Norway’s most talented and uncompromising environmental activists – was head of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in Norway. Jensen, who describes herself as an activist to the core, says that Røkke spent more than a year convincing her to leave her dream job at WWF and lead the new initiative.
“Røkke has earned a good deal of his money from petroleum-related activities, so in the beginning I was unsure if he was serious. I had no desire to be part of a greenwashing initiative. But after a year of dialogue, I became convinced that he truly was committed and that this could actually make a difference. My idealism combined with his talent for business and tremendous ability to follow through gives us a unique opportunity to do something big,” she says.
After four years on the job Jensen has no regrets.
“Many of the things we are doing now are things I dreamed of doing at WWF, but which were not possible due to lack of expertise, capacity or capital. And when you work at an NGO and see how much is wrong in the world, it is very easy to focus on the problems. In that respect it is very liberating to be allowed to work full time on solutions.”
“But I can still get extremely angry and enraged,” she adds.
In closing, she points out that as a pioneering ocean nation with access to enormous amounts of capital, Norway has both a unique potential and a special responsibility to create and promote sustainable solutions.
“Among other things, Norway has the world’s best fisheries management regime. And Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global has taken what I think is the most important climate decision ever by divesting from coal. That single action alone has made it much less attractive to invest in coal, which is the world’s worst climate sinner,” Jensen concludes.