The depths of the ocean remain one of the last great mysteries on Earth. What is the precise composition of the seafloor? What flora and fauna inhabit it? Where has the delicate balance of the ecosystem been seriously disrupted? We still don’t have complete answers to any of these questions, but four young scientists from Bremen are aiming to change that. They are bringing new seafloor-monitoring technology to the market via their company PlanBlue GmbH (formerly HyperSurvey GmbH) and are currently working flat out to develop prototypes, gain customers from all over the world, and find investors.
Is there such a thing as coincidence? Dr Joost den Haan would prefer to describe it as ‘things coming together nicely’. Looking back over the past ten years, the 35-year old Dutch marine biologist can see that all the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle have gradually fallen into place. Still, he would never have dreamed a decade ago that he would one day be starting a company in Germany. Joost den Haan has been involved in the monitoring industry since 2007 and is passionate about diving, which he does both for scientific purposes and for pleasure. His doctoral thesis was written in Amsterdam and Curacao on the subject of coral reefs, but he found that documenting plants and assessing the situation under water was “ridiculously time-consuming, and processing all the data was a lot of work.”
His epiphany came eight years ago while on a dive with some students. They were meant to be objectively assessing the dive site. “It was at a spot where the coral reef was only about one per cent intact. There was virtually nothing there apart from microbial mats and algae. But when the students assessed the condition of the reef as ‘good’, it was immediately clear to me that we had to find a completely new method of analysing the seafloor and presenting the information in such a way that even people with little background knowledge would be able to see what a poor state the underwater world is in,” explains Joost den Haan. The idea stayed with him and when his path - or happy coincidence - took him to Bremen and the Max Planck Institute (MPI) three years later, his vision became reality. One day while he was in the library, working on an article for a scientific publication, he was contacted by a research group who needed a specialist in coral reef species to contribute subject expertise to an intelligent software application. Joost den Haan was introduced to a new technology, and spotted its potential immediately.