Keel Beach, Achill Island, Ireland. Courtesy Giuseppe Peronato.
One of the challenges dedicated surfers face here in the Northeastern part of the U.S. is that great swells are rarely accompanied by good weather. Prime surf season begins once the storms begin to pick up in September and extends through the winter. And while storms bring great swells, they also bring higher ocean pollutants as storm runoff carries bacteria from streets, drains and even sewers down to the beaches. If you want to surf good waves here, it’s something you have to deal with. I even have one particular friend whose ear infections became so frequent his doctor gave him a standing antibiotics prescription. The problem is, one never really knows which beach is safe at any given time.
If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you probably know where this is going. What if we could instrument our beaches with sensors to measure environmental conditions, then use the Internet to connect the sensors and feed that information to consumers in real time. We could be much more informed and better evaluate the risks we are willing to take. Good idea, right?
The government of Ireland thinks so.
As one of the first governments to comply with the European Union’s recently enacted Bathing Water Directive, Ireland’s Environmental Protective Agency has been working with us at IBM to collect and analyze large amounts of complex environmental data from more than 130 of Irelands beaches and lakes. This information is available for the general public at the online portal called, Splash.
While on a much broader scale, the work is similar to the IBM-Galway Bay water management project where we have been attaching solar-powered sensors on buoys in the bay to collect massive amounts of data to help evaluate weather and environmental conditions to aid the local fishing industry. In this case, Ireland’s Environmental Protection Agency, IBM and An Taisce, the National Trust for Ireland the National Trust for Ireland is collecting data across beaches and lakes with the primary purpose to give citizens accurate, timely information on water quality.
From today’s press release:
The system also enables more efficient reporting by local government authorities and state agencies. Prior to the Splash portal, public reports such as water samples and compliancy with standards were not available until the year after they were collected and created. With Splash, this information is available immediately, in map-based format, and adhering to the requirements of the European 2006 Bathing Water Directive. Ireland is the first of the 27 EU member states to implement this online smarter solution for beach water quality reporting.
One hopes this kind of system is adopted not just by the 26 other EU member states, but by governments around the world. Accurate and current information on water quality will create greater expectations from consumers, which in turn motivates governments to act for greater quality. A benevolent cycle. And the world’s surfers will appreciate it.