Ocean Innovation Challenge

Deadline: 5 March 2020

Financing Innovation for Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14 Oceans

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What it is

The Ocean Innovation Challenge (OIC) is a unique new mechanism that has been designed to accelerate progress on SDG14 by the identifying, financing, advising and mentoring of truly innovative, entrepreneurial and creative approaches to ocean and coastal restoration and protection that sustains livelihoods and advances the ’blue economy’. The OIC seeks innovations that are transferable, replicable and scalable in order to achieve maximum catalytic impact. The first call for applications opens on 8 January 2020.

The goal of the OIC is ,,To accelerate progress on SDG14 by catalysing replicable and scalable innovations - including technical, policy, economic and financial - that can be sustained and contribute directly to delivery of one or more SDG14 targets,,. "Innovation" here can include both truly new approaches, or the transfer or adaptation of existing proven approaches to new contexts and/or locales.

What it does

The Ocean Innovation Challenge is issuing a series of 'Ocean Challenges' or Requests for Proposals, each focused on a specific SDG14 target. Initial concepts may be submitted by public or private entities, including governments, private companies (including start-ups), NGO/CSO, United Nations entities, academic institutions, and intergovernmental organizations. The first 'Challenge' opens here on 8 January 2020.

Concepts passing initial review and meeting OIC criteria will be invited to submit full proposals for further internal and external ("peer") review and consideration. Grants range from 50,000 USD to 250,000 USD and project time frames can range from one to two years. Project proposals must be implemented in and benefit stakeholders in developing countries but may be submitted by applicants in either developing or developed countries. All proposals should include a special focus on ensuring gender equity, livelihoods of the poor and poverty eradication.

_Grants range from 50,000 USD to 250,000 USD and project time frames can last from one to two years._

Why it matters

The ocean faces unprecedented threats to the ecosystem goods and services it provide to humanity, from climate regulation to food security to energy resources. Despite some progress, many ocean challenges, from nutrient pollution to illegal, unregulated and unreported IUU fishing to ocean acidification, continue worsen.

SDG 14, which aims to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development, sets forth a very ambitious agenda for oceans restoration and protection. For most sectors that use and impact on the ocean, from fisheries to aquaculture to industrial agriculture, the `business as usual` scenario will not deliver the kinds of transformational change needed to move towards truly sustainable ocean use.

A combination of technical innovation and cutting-edge policy, financial and economic incentives are needed to transform ocean-related sectors, both sea-based and land-based. At present, while there are a handful of relevant initiatives, these are limited in their sectoral scope. Solutions are required that cut across the unique innovation needs of each SDG14 target, whether it be reduction of plastics pollution, eliminating overfishing, or enhancing access for small scale fishers. The OIC seeks to identify and provide support to scale-up these solutions.

For more detailed information on each SDG 14 targetView the SDG 14 Targets, Context and Indicators

Ocean Challenge #1

_4.8 - 12.7 million metric tons of plastics reach the ocean each year_

The first 'Ocean Challenge', launched on 8 January 2020, seeks innovative solutions to counter the scourge of ocean pollution. Nutrient pollution loads to the oceans have tripled since pre-industrial times, now approaching around 13 million metric tons (mt) per year, leading to exponential growth in eutrophication and the occurrence of hypoxic (low oxygen) areas, now numbering over 500 and causing hundreds of billions of dollars in economic damage annually. Globally, there are only a handful of examples (such as the Danube/Black Sea basin) where nutrient loads have been reduced sufficiently to reverse and eliminate hypoxic areas, hence much work remains to be done on this SDG target.

Of the over 300 million metric tons(mt) of plastics produced globally each year, some 4.8 to 12.7 million metric tons reaches the ocean impacting negatively on marine organisms and ecosystems. Only about 9 percent of the over 2 billion mt of plastic produced to date has been recycled, so we remain a long way from truly 'closing the loop' on ocean plastics pollution. UNEP estimate the annual damage from marine plastics at USD $13 billion per year and growing. Rivers represent a major vector for the introduction of plastics to the ocean, transporting between 9 and 50 percent of the total.

SDG 14.1 calls for "By 2025, prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, in particular from land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient pollution".

What are some examples of the types of innovative initiatives that could be funded?

The OIC's first Ocean Challenge focuses on SDG14.1, Ocean pollution, with a strong focus on nutrients and plastics from land-based sources (such as agriculture, wastewater and poorly managed solid waste) while recognizing that ocean-based sources are also important sources for some types of plastics pollution (such as abandoned/lost fishing nets).

While by no means exhaustive, some general examples of the types of innovations that could be considered include:

Marine Litter/Plastics:

Design, manufacturing, supply chain and other innovations that serve to reduce plastics utilization and/or enhance plastics recovery, recycling and re-use

Design and manufacturing of truly biodegradable substitutes for plastics

Design of recyclable plastic resins that can replace non-recyclable resins in similar products

Introduction of plastics waste collection, recycling and re-use programmes in developing country municipalities including mechanisms for full cost recovery (such as container deposit laws)

Financial, policy, regulatory or other incentives that minimize loss of fishing nets and optimize their recovery for re-use or recycling

Economic, policy, regulatory and other measures/incentives to minimize or eliminate use of unnecessary single use plastic items


Innovations in fertilizer design, manufacture and/or application that minimize fertilizer nitrogen loss from fields and maximize uptake by crops;

Introduction of market-based instruments that promote more efficient fertilizer use in watersheds/coastal areas facing nutrient pollution (tradeable emission permits, pollution taxes, etc.)

Testing policy, regulatory and/or economic incentives that promote safe collection, recovery and re-use of nutrients from municipal and/or agricultural wastewater.

Piloting of scalable 'non-traditional' wastewater collection and/or treatment approaches such as local wastewater source separation for safe collection and re-use of nutrients, etc.

How to Apply

The first 'Ocean Challenge', focused on solutions to Ocean Pollution, opens here on 8 January 2020. The application process is in 3 stages:

  1. Starting 8 January 2020, interested applicants should submit their preliminary proposal here no later than 5 March 2020. Early applications are encouraged.
  2. In April 2020, successful applicants to the first round will be invited to submit a more detailed project proposal before 25 April 2020.
  3. OIC Award-winners will be announced at the 2nd UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon, Portugal, 2-6 June 2020.

Who can apply?

Proposals can be submitted by

  • Governments
  • Private entities (including start-ups)
  • NGOs
  • CSOs
  • Academic institutions
  • United Nations and other intergovernmental organizations
Applications are accepted in English, French and Spanish.
Click HERE
to apply for
"Ocean Challenge #1"
Please note that only projects invited to submit a full project proposal in April 2020 will be contacted.
Please contact us by email if any problems or questions.