Tuesday Project Spotlight: SEA
Updated: Feb 25
Climate scientists are shouting from the rooftops about the effects of climate change. Here in California, we are well aware of these effects. But actually quantifying environmental data can be difficult. For example, data related to “biodiversity, hydrology, productivity, and erosion” are currently “insufficient and disjointed (1).” The reasons for this data gap include “limited expertise, lack of sustainable funding for long-term monitoring, and coordination (2).”
What if we could get more people involved by incentivizing “citizen scientists” to collect this data on their own? If people could track environmental data from every corner of the planet, this data could assist scientists and governments with climate-related decisions.
Source: @seatokenofficial on Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/seatokenofficial/photos/304871761721243. Featured Image Source: @sea_token on Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/p/CcBNUOXtHMr/.
Enter SEA, a blockchain project “designed to save our seas” through the collection and validation of environmental data. SEA recognizes that the problem of ocean degradation will have trickle-down effects that extend to human health (3). SEA aims to combat ocean degradation with two goals: (1) reducing the resources needed to collect environmental data, and (2) increasing the financial resources for organizations fighting environmental threats (4).
A Two-Pronged Approach
The company is funded by the Algorand Foundation (like the BL4SG Center!), and is taking a two-pronged approach to these two goals:
1. To address the challenges of collecting environmental data, SEA designed a core project called “Sea Nexus.”
The Sea Nexus project is creating a “unified global network for environmental data (5).” The network consists of people using an app on their smartphones to track relevant environmental information. The “shortlist of data classes” they collect will include “coastal erosion, deforestation, species observation, monsoon and heatwave monitoring, earthquake monitoring, wildfires, river baseflow, and many more important measurables (6).”
While this collective data may be helpful to environmental organizations, that alone may not be enough to move smartphone users to action. How can citizen scientists be incentivized to use the Sea Nexus app? Simple: those who submit data that is confirmed to be accurate will be rewarded with “drops” that can be exchanged for Sea Nexus’ utility token, called $VSEA (7).
There is also an interesting profit-sharing angle to this project. Although the data collected will be free to use for non-commercial uses, SEA Nexus will require a license for commercial use. 40% of the sales profit for each license will go “straight into a market buyback of VSEA, raising the token price (8).”
The VSEA tokens bought back with these profits are then distributed to existing VSEA holders, proportional to a holder’s wallet balance and depending on whether the holder contributed to the data gathering that was eventually sold for commercial use. In this way, SEA Nexus encourages holders to contribute more data and ensure that data is accurate in order to receive a greater share of the profits (9).
The company expects this novel approach to enable easier and more thorough collection of environmental data. SEA’s CEO James Birchall told the BL4SG Center that this data collection system also creates the potential for predictive mapping, since “[i]f we monitor a large enough data set with enough frequency and coverage, our AI can start to draw correlations between trends in different environmental variables.” Identifying these correlations allows scientists to recognize “critical climate change feedback loops,” which can then be used to shape informed policies related to climate change.
2. To increase financial resources for organizations fighting environmental threats, SEA created “SEA Token.”
In addition to the Sea Nexus project, SEA created a token “designed to feed organizations working to save our seas with financial resources (10).” The project takes 5% of each transaction and divides it up: 2% goes to environmental organization partners to fund their work, 1% is locked into liquidity, and 2% is shared between all current holders of SEA. Thus, every SEA Token transaction is designed to benefit environmental organizations as well as existing SEA token holders (11).
This two-prong approach using blockchain for environmental data collection is intriguing and creates several questions. The first issue is privacy. The idea of citizen scientists armed with smartphones collecting environmental information is useful from a data collection perspective but could be concerning if that data crosses privacy lines, such as taking data from private property or collecting data about people.Sea Nexus is addressing this issue by using a user’s Algorand wallet address as their primary identifier, making their presence on the Nexus system “basically anonymous.” Although a user’s submitted data will include necessary information to confirm the data’s accuracy, such as the user’s location, phone model, and camera settings, the data is not linked to a user’s legal identity or person. This minimizes the privacy risk for Nexus users.
There is also a “first-mile” problem with the collection of data representing real-world characteristics (12). How can Sea Nexus confirm that the data collected via its app is accurate? Using artificial intelligence and algorithms, Sea Nexus is “removing inaccurate observations, grouping similar (accurate) observations, and forming a meaningful picture from the data, which is then committed to [the] blockchain (13).”It will take time to confirm that this method is right, and there is always the probability of human error.
However, the use of Internet of Things (i.e., “smart devices”) to collect and/or confirm data may remedy this problem. CEO James Birchall recognizes that IoT devices, which can include wearables, vehicles and static household devices, already include “complex sensors capable of detailed environmental research” around the world. These devices could eliminate the need for human trust—and the potential for human fallibility—in such data collection.
SEA and its core project Sea Nexus are offering a unique approach to the use of AI and blockchain for social good by incentivizing citizen scientists to collect environmental data and increase resources for environmental organizations. As the risks of a warming climate intensify, we will all benefit from technology that can aggregate data and use it for our common good.
Nenibarini Zabbey, et al., World Seas: an Environmental Evaluation (Second Edition), 36.9.4 (2019).
Id.; see also UNCTAD, 5 Global Actions Needed to Build a Sustainable Ocean Economy (May 2022).
The SEA White Paper explains, “If our oceans die, we die. Ocean pollution makes its way back to humans, the toxins lead to long-term health conditions, cancer and birth defects. As ocean ecosystems die, chain reactions are triggered, affecting other ecosystems not just in the oceans, but on land.” SEA White Paper at 3.
SEA White Paper at 4.
Sea Nexus White Paper at 3.
For more details on the staking and earning of drops, see $VSEA White Paper at 2.
$VSEA White Paper at 9.
Sea Nexus White Paper at 3.
SEA White Paper at 5.
For more on the tokenomics, see SEA White Paper at 12.
The “first mile” problem is defined as the attempt to ensure “that the data stored on the blockchain distributed ledger is isomorphic with the real life data that it purports to represent.” Michael Alles & Glen L. Gray, “‘The first mile problem’: Deriving an Endogenous Demand for Auditing in Blockchain-based Business Processes,” Volume 38, International Journal of Accounting Information Systems (September 2020).
For more on the “cleaning and validation” of data, see Sea Nexus Quick Guide at 12.