Clear Blue Sea: An Environmental Tech Startup That’s Making a Difference in Plastic Pollution

Clear Blue Sea is a non-profit environmental tech startup based in San Diego, CA that’s run by a passionate and dedicated group of founders and talented individuals who want to make a difference in the world of ocean plastics.

I’ve had the opportunity to work with this team of inspiring ocean advocates lately so I wanted to share their mission with the world. By doing so, I hope I’m able to encourage you to take action and help bring awareness to one of the worst global problems, plastic pollution.

Meet the Founders

Susan Baer & Jessica Gottdank

Susan Baer and Jessica Gottdank are the founders and heartbeat of Clear Blue Sea. Both Susan and Jessica have always believed that you can solve today’s global crisis such as plastic pollution if you bring people and technology together.

In our interview, Jessica mentions that one of the major factors that led her to help grow Clear Blue Sea’s movement was growing up in San Diego and being mindful of the environment, especially the ocean. Her professional and educational background includes expertise in math, science, and engineering. She’s a BSME graduate from Olin College of Engineering and Project Engineer at Clear Blue Sea. As for Susan, she is currently the Executive Director at Clear Blue Sea. She studied at Yale achieving her MBA/PMP credentials. Both Susan and Jessica have impressive backgrounds working with companies behind ground-breaking technology and inventions such as SAIC (a partner of NASA) and Boeing.

By combining their education, experience, and talents together, they’re able to contribute to tackling plastic pollution through a new innovation named FRED.

Who is FRED?

Copyright © 2019 Clear Blue Sea

FRED, which stands for Floating Robot for Eliminating Debris is a cutting-edge invention built to deal with floating ocean plastics in marine environments. FRED is an innovation made out of existing technologies such as: a catamaran-based vessel, solar power for renewable energy, long distance data communications for ocean remote control, semi-autonomous programming for ocean navigation, and marine conveyor belts for collecting debris. In order to ensure total functionality, the team at Clear Blue Sea is still testing the waters with FRED.

FRED and the Clear Blue Sea Mission

Copyright © 2019 Clear Blue Sea

FRED is expected to move slowly for optimal debris collection while also making sure that marine animals can avoid him. He will be equipped with pingers to alert marine life of his presence, and sensors to detect plastics and biological material. When FRED’s bins are full of debris, he will then travel to a mothership for debris offloading.

A lot of people might find that this non-profit has an approach that is a little different from other ocean conservation initiatives. Many organizations aiming to protect the ocean are dedicated to policy changes and raising public awareness. Clear Blue Sea is glad that those organizations are doing work to prevent the problem from getting worse. However, their approach is to use engineering to help remediate the problem and inspire the growing tech community to be a part of the solution. Jessica noticed that communities seem to like that they’re taking direct action and aren’t afraid to tackle such a huge problem. Historically, cleanups are manned missions, which can be expensive and dangerous, but robots are efficient, cheap, and of course safe for humans.

Moving Forward into the Future

Clear Blue Sea’s vision for the future is to have fleets of FREDs operating in the ocean to clean up harmful plastics. Their plan is to test a larger scale FRED off the coast of San Diego. Once they prove FRED’s basic functionalities, then he will be ready for the “pilot” phase. This phase is where the team of engineers plans to test five FREDs off of Hawaii, with a Mission Control center on land to oversee the operation.

Mini FRED – Copyright © 2019 Clear Blue Sea

In the near term, they will need to scale up their mini FRED prototypes and optimize the debris collection subsystem. Ultimately, that would be the key to their success. Susan and Jessica also have plans to expand their internship program. The expansion will help them get more young people who are interested in helping the future of the ocean stay afloat. Whether it’s in research, policy, administration, law, engineering, art, marketing, or more.

Get Involved

Copyright © 2019 Clear Blue Sea

A few thoughts from Jessica Gottdank…

Western “society” has completely lost touch with the environment. While it no one’s fault in particular, we collectively need to get back in touch. Humans are overpopulating the Earth and our “consumer” mindset and “busy” lifestyles are really taking a toll. Ocean plastic pollution is just one example of an unintended consequence of a new material that was supposed to change the world for the better. We need more people aware of the product “life cycle” and what that means for everyday life and businesses. In a nutshell, product life cycle describes where materials come from, how long they are used, and what happens when they get discarded. For a long time, very few people cared about the end of that life cycle. There was little money to be made there, and as a result we are quite literally trashing our planet. If we can impart this message to younger generations (and even to older ones who influence public policies…) I think we will have more “closed loop” economies in the future that work for society and the environment.

-Jessica Gottdank

Currently, Clear Blue Sea’s number one priority and focus is on FRED. However, running a nonprofit, raising awareness, and even supporting FRED makes their work very interdisciplinary.

The truth of the matter is that this isn’t just a small team effort, this is a world effort. If each one of us takes these words of encouragement and helps spread the message, we can make a difference.

Here’s what you can do to help:

  • Be active in your community by supporting organizations working towards healthy oceans.
  • Refuse single-use plastic and reduce the amount of waste you produce everyday. If you’re looking for tips to help you get started, check out the Plastic Free Foundation’s campaign for ideas!
  • Speak up about the issues surrounding plastic pollution and the marine community. People will be more motivated to do something about it when they’re aware of the problem, even if it’s just in their own life. Social media, schools, workplaces, and events are all great places to start.
  • Donate or volunteer by visiting clearbluesea.org to sign up! Clear Blue Sea is a 501c3 nonprofit so any donations are tax deductible.

To catch the latest updates from Clear Blue Sea, be sure to follow them online. You can find them on Instagram and Facebook to track their projects and get involved. The bigger their network, the more progress this amazing organization can make. Let’s spread the word and be a part of this movement together!

Founder of Enjoy The Eco Things

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