Open data inspires at OpenSeaLab Hackathon 2019

The city of Ghent in Belgium played host to three intense days of networking, team-building, problem solving in September when the second edition of the OpenSeaLab hackathon took place.
Published: 11 November 2019

​​​​The organizers the OpenS​eaLab asked coders, communicators, data enthusiasts, entrepreneurs, and creative minds to work together and use the wealth of open marine data from ICES, EMODnet, and Copernicus Marine to develop novel marine and maritime applications.

Seventy hackers from 19 countries brought their individual skills and expertise and formed teams to tackle the three challenges: sustainable blue economy, blue society & ocean literacy, marine environment protection & management (including climate change).

OpenSeaLab provided coaches, inspirational speakers, and workshops to help them. According to Lenert Schepers, a coach from the Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ) Data Centre, “The most important thing about the OpenSeaLab hackaton is that people use our data and that they can develop it into real applications."

Neil Holdsworth, Head of ICES Data and Information,  gave a kick-off presentation setting the scene for the hackathon and advertising ICES datasets and services. Carlos Pinto and Colin Millar from ICES Data Centre attended as coaches to support the teams in accessing ICES data and give advice.

Open marine data
After hosting our own hackathon last year​, this year ICES joined forces with EMODnet and Copernicus Marine for the OpenSeaLab. Neil Holdsworth, Head of ICES Data and Information, explained the reason for this. “An event like this helps us to promote what we have but we also get a chance to compare ourselves to other networks in terms of open data and services, and to see where there are opportunities for us all to do better. Events like this both allow us to understand how others use the data, perhaps in unexpected ways that we wouldn't have, and it also is a more liberal setting where people can experiment and challenge the normative ways in which we present ICES products. In fact, the winning entry is an example of how advice can be visualized that challenges the format of how ICES output the advice, and also bends the rule of the interpretation of that advice, both of which are thought provoking."

Andy Kontoudakis, Maritime Innovation, Marine Knowledge and Investment, DG MARE, was enthused with the hackathon as it provided a fertile ground for innovation to flourish.

​ICES data is a winner
The overall winner of OpenSeaLab 2019 was Team ILVO with their interactive fish stock assessment tool that allows non-specialists to understand and interpret fisheries data. The team was made up of three colleagues from ILVO: Wim Allegaert, a data manager responsible for fisheries data; Kevin De Coster, a full stack software developer/problem solver; and Brahim Al Farisi, a computer science engineer and math enthusiast.

Team member, Wim Allegaert, explained that the idea for the tool comes from always being asked the same question once people find out that he is a fisheries data manager: “Will we run out of fish?"

“It's a really difficult question to answer, especially as I am not a stock assessment scientist!" says Wim, “Googling this will result in a lot of information that is mostly too complex for non-scientists". So this led to the team designing a user-friendly tool that allowed a wider audience to find and understand fish stock data. In terms of who will benefit most, the team say that it is primarily developed for users who want to gain insight into stock status but are not marine scientists. “We have not found a similar interactive tool ourselves. In the past, ILVO made similar cards “manually", maps in static pdf files that we sent to interested parties."

Built as a web application, the tool displays a map and allows the user to choose the fish species and the timeline. Once these are chosen, the advice for that time will display with a traffic light system, by displaying an area as green, orange, or red. If there are many years of data available, the data series can be displayed as an animation. If the user clicks on a certain stock, the data that the advice is based on appears. Team ILVO based their tool on ICES advice, and the user could link through to the actual advice or the Advice drafting group report if they wanted more information.

The tool uses the ICES stock web services as a data source. “For the hackathon we generated the stock advice maps for a number of stocks that are important for Belgian fisheries but with the existing code the map can be created for all stocks with an ICES advice."

The traffic light indicators are based on the indicators that ICES uses (biomass and stock assessments) so the displays are science based. The team noted that ICES data was the most important framework for building the tool, as it was easy to integrate and well-documented.

Future improvements

“Because our time at the Hackathon was limited, we focused on a small dataset. By making the data public, the data can be explored by parties with different expertise. Known information can be displayed in a different way, like our stock status maps. It would be an added value to integrate the landings per member state per stock. You could colour the countries according to the landings for the selected stock"

The team would ​​like to collaborate with ICES to put the fish stock status tool online so that this understandable tool could be used by a wider audience, including those organizations interested in sustainability, NGOs, journalists, even fishers.

Watch a video overview of OpenSeaLab 2019.

One of the envisioned outcomes​ for ICES Science Plan is the increased visibility of, and access to, our science, data, and advice. Participation in events such as OpenSeaLab expands our engagement with others and the uses of our science, data, and advice. Read the full Science Plan.  ​  

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Team ILVO - Kevin De Coster, Wim Allegaert, and Brahim Al Farisi -  overall winners of OpenSeaLab hackathon 2019.

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Open data inspires at OpenSeaLab Hackathon 2019

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