Our Oceans, Our Lives

More than 3 billion people—about 40 per cent of the world’s population—rely on coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods. This substantial number shows just how reliant we are on this resource. From fishing towns on the Gulf Coast of Texas to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, the ocean provides us with so many things we not only enjoy, but need.

Sustainable Development Goal 14, Life Below Water, does not end with the oceans, but instead, starts with the oceans. By protecting our oceans, we are able to work towards living healthier more sustainable lives with fewer contaminants in our food, harnessing natural energy resources such as wind and tidal energy, and reducing the effects of climate change.

Safeguarding the oceans demonstrates how the Global Goals go hand in hand: the healthier our oceans are, the more likely we are to also achieve Goal 2: Zero Hunger, Goal 7: Affordable and Clean Energy, and Goal 13: Climate Action. The Global Goals should instill in us the resolve to make sure that our ambitions become a reality and that we do not lose out on an irreplaceable resource.

A Recurring Threat

Subsea oil spills pose one of the most systemic threats to our oceans. My passion for containing this threat developed after having witnessed the Deepwater Horizon oil spill unfold right in my backyard. In April 2010, the Gulf of Mexico experienced one of the most devastating environmental disasters in history after the explosion of the ultra deep-water oil drilling rig, Deepwater Horizon. Just 42 miles off the coast of Louisiana, an estimated 5 million barrels of oil had leaked into the Gulf by the time it was capped 3 months later.

The disaster left a profound impact on the region and its communities, and forever changed its marine ecosystem. In response to the spill, BP tried countless times for remediation under pressure from many governmental agencies and ended up turning to a controversial toxic dispersant that has made irreversible damage to the surrounding area. This spurred my commitment to saving our oceans. The spill exposed me to the true nature of environmental damage, and at the age of 17 I was inspired to conduct a science fair project in hope of preventing another oil spill, much less one that would last three months, contaminate 1,200 miles of coastline, and take the lives of eleven people.

17 with Big Dreams

Then a high school student with no technical expertise, I developed a vision for how I wanted to contribute. I thought that I would be successful even if I could just come up with some research to support a better solution to the problem, regardless of the scale, while at the same time bringing awareness and attention to the issue of environmental damage.

One of the consequences of the Deepwater Horizon tragedy was that many oil majors looked further offshore for deep-sea exploration in order to preserve economic and environmental stability. Nonetheless, subsea oil spills are happening on a small scale nearly every day, and despite this, there is still not an effective temporary solution to contain spills at the source.

My invention, which is patent-pending, offers a temporary solution to contain the environmental damage being caused by subsea oil spills. It is a subsea oil wellhead capping device that collects and separates the water, oil, and gas phases of a spill into separate mixtures at the source. This allows the phases to be recycled immediately and provides an effective, temporary solution in the case of an unforeseen subsea oil spill.  The main benefit of this device is its ability to prevent an oil spill from spreading and contaminating wildlife and marine ecosystems as well as the societal impacts this has.

The undisputed need for sustaining the environment has been a prevalent issue for a multitude of parties, and the implementation of this device can solve this detrimental problem on an international scale. The issues surrounding our oceans may seem complicated and intractable, but our generation knows that when we come together to find solutions, educate our peers, and change our behaviours, we have the ability to protect this wondrous natural resource from irreversible harm.