Innovating Aquaculture Biosecurity with Space Technology: Team Upstream’s Triumph at the 6th CASSINI Hackathon

 Innovating Aquaculture Biosecurity with Space Technology: Team Upstream’s Triumph at the 6th CASSINI Hackathon

The 6th CASSINI Hackathon, an initiative of the European Union Agency for the Space Programme, recently concluded with a remarkable victory for the Netherlands. Amongst fierce competition from participants across Europe, team Upstream emerged as the overall winner. In this article, we will explore the journey of team Upstream, from its inception to its victory, highlighting its innovative solution to tackle aquaculture parasites using Copernicus satellite data.

Netherlands Wins at 6th CASSINI Hackathon

About the Hackathon

The CASSINI Hackathons are a series of events designed to harness the potential of European space technologies in addressing global challenges. In its sixth edition, the hackathon brought together participants from across Europe, providing them access to valuable data from Copernicus, Galileo, and EGNOS. The challenges presented during the hackathon were centred around sustainable infrastructure, food security, and migration forecasting, demonstrating the diverse applications of space-related technologies.

Meet Team Upstream: From Iliad Success to Cassini Triumph

The success story of Team Upstream begins with their prior victory in the Iliad project’s hackathon, where they focused on “Balancing Aquaculture and Marine Protected Areas for Food Security.” This achievement showcased their expertise and deepened their understanding of the intricacies of aquaculture within Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). However, the Cassini hackathon introduced an exciting twist to their journey.

The team, consisting of Bård Johan Hanssen, Signe Annie Sønvisen, Jarl G. Taxerås Flaten, Erling Devold and Øystein Knutsen, was initially comprised of members from the same company. They had a clear vision of how their projects aligned with the themes of the Cassini hackathon. However, their team wasn’t complete until they crossed paths with Aleksandr Makarov during the hackathon. Aleksandr, an outsider to their company, brought valuable bioinformatics expertise to the team.

The formation of the Upstream team at the 6th CASSINI Hackathon / Photo by Dave Chapman

Reflecting on their decision to participate in the Cassini hackathon, Bård Johan Hanssen explained, “We won the Iliad hackathon, and as a result, we received an invitation to the Cassini hackathon. We had some projects within our company that involve marine spatial planning, and we saw some potential use cases from these that could be applied for the Cassini hackathon.” Aleksandr Makarov, the newcomer to the team, was drawn to the hackathon due to its well-organised nature and unique physical location in the Netherlands.

Experience of Winning: Upstream at the CASSINI Hackathon

Team Upstream’s project revolved around biosecurity planning and automating various aspects of it, a relatively unexplored territory in the field. Their project also addressed the crucial issue of spreading and transmitting harmful parasites in aquaculture, which is particularly relevant to the industry. Signe Annie Sønvisen highlighted the educational potential of their project, emphasising its use as a learning tool for students interested in the intersection of data science and ocean space: “Our project revolves around biosecurity planning and automating aspects of it. This is something we haven’t seen extensively developed.”

Upstream team at the 6th CASSINI Hackathon during a session with a mentor / Photo by Dave Chapman

During the hackathon, the team worked online and offline. The collaborative effort resulted in an innovative solution that earned them the top spot in the Netherlands and, eventually, the overall winner. Bård Johan Hanssen, reflecting on their decision to participate, emphasised the significance of their prior win and the allure of the well-organised Cassini hackathon, drawing them into this remarkable journey.

Upstream Project: Tackling Aquaculture Parasites with Innovation

The core of Team Upstream’s project lies in its innovative approach to combating aquatic parasites and diseases, an escalating threat to the burgeoning global aquaculture industry. With the ever-increasing demand for seafood and nations striving to augment production, the challenges of diseases and parasites have become increasingly daunting. These challenges bear significant economic consequences, with estimated global market losses ranging from 1.05 to 9.58 billion USD annually. Notably, sea lice pose a severe threat to salmonids, contributing to losses ranging from 500 million USD to a staggering 1 billion USD. Furthermore, sea bream, the second-most farmed fish species, is susceptible to parasitic infections. To address these critical issues, the European Union mandates the creation of biosecurity plans for all aquaculture sites, which is a costly endeavour. This is precisely where Team Upstream’s tool comes into play. Their solution assists and automates the creation of these biosecurity plans, with a primary focus on marine spatial planning and promoting sustainable aquaculture practices. Central to these plans is analysing potential disease and parasite spread pathways between aquaculture sites and into the environment. Team Upstream’s tool excels at simulating parasite outbreaks at both existing and hypothetical aquaculture sites while automatically detecting transmissions to neighbouring locations. In harnessing the power of space technology and leveraging high-resolution ocean data from Copernicus, the team paves the way for improved aquaculture site selection, comprehensive biosecurity analysis, and a significant contribution to global food security.

Page of the Upstream project on Taikai

Post-Hackathon Plans: Shaping the Future with Innovation

While the specifics of the team’s post-hackathon plans are yet to be determined, they have expressed a commitment to continuing their work and exploring opportunities for collaboration and integration. Their goal is to bring their technology to a global audience, benefiting agricultural actors worldwide. They also anticipate networking and forming partnerships within the industry to develop their project further.

Featured image credit: Dave Chapman

Kacia Rutkoŭskaja

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