Big Ocean Button Challenge

Mobile apps to turn ocean data into the products and services we need.

This challenge is closed


This challenge is closed




A wealth of ocean data has been and is being collected. Many of the datasets are open, yet very few are being used for resource management, business, or conservation. Most businesses, let alone individuals, do not have the time or ability to translate ocean data into actionable information, yet large industries and millions of people rely on the ocean for their livelihoods and well-being.

So long as ocean data remain disconnected from services that people and markets can use, we will be unable to engage the numbers of actors needed to address critical ocean challenges. Data collection is not evenly distributed across the ocean — some regions are in need of data acquisition, a need that could be addressed through the development of demand for data services, which will in turn drive demand for data collection tools. Overall, there is a market failure for meaningful data services, and the time is ripe for market development.

COMPETITION OVERVIEW— Developing Mobile Apps to Unlock Ocean Data.

What: A competition to develop mobile apps using ocean data sets. A total of $100,000 in prizes will be awarded for apps in the following categories: Fishing, Shipping and Trade, Ocean Acidification, Public Safety, and Exploration.

Why: Bring app developers to the trove of available ocean data in order to catalyze the growth of a potentially multi-billion-dollar industry in ocean data products.

How: Develop a mobile app that unlocks ocean data for public and/or private benefit, ideally while supporting responsible use and protection of our ocean.

When: Prize launches 9 November 2016. Teams register and submit app concepts by 31 March 2017. Semifinalists submit apps by 31 August 2017. Finalists submit second version of apps in Winter 2017. Winners announced in early 2018.


The goal of the Big Ocean Button Challenge is to advance development of and investment in ocean data products and services. Many sectors can benefit from solutions for organizing and standardizing ocean data. Some applications that are in need of ocean services include:

  • Monitoring and enforcement (of laws, regulations, or protected areas)
  • Resource management (biological, mineral, habitat, etc.)
  • Education and awareness
  • Sustainable seafood and fishing or aquaculture/mariculture activities
  • Navigation and shipping
  • Recreation
  • Public health and ecosystem health
  • Safety and security
  • Climate, weather, and hazards
  • Energy production


  • Catalyze development of an economic sector around services utilizing ocean data, thereby generating exponentially more demand for ocean data, and the curation of such data into accessible databases and resources.
  • Ensure valuable information about the ocean becomes accessible to millions more people than it is today.
  • Bridge gaps among entities and sectors that can make use of ocean data, including the scientific community, the tech community, ocean resource managers and governments, and the private sector.
  • Engage new participants and foster new collaborations to move this field forward.
  • Accelerate the transition of ocean data collection from a parochial activity performed by only end-users and into a broader information technology paradigm.
  • Identify gaps in data and challenges in data accessibility.
  • Most broadly, to create a vision of an ideal future ocean data services industry that can catalyze the sustainable economic valuation of our ocean needed to drive toward ensuring healthy oceans.


  • Click "Follow the Challenge" above to be notified of any status updates to the challenge.
  • Click "Yes Sign Me Up!" above to register for the challenge. You will be notified of any status updates and be able to create an entry to the challenge when it opens.
  • Click on the "Share" button or social media icons above to share this challenge with your friends, your family, or anyone you know who has a passion for discovery.
  • Leave a comment in our Comments Thread to join the conversation, ask questions, suggest available data sets or connect with other innovators.


For general dialogue about this challenge please start a discussion on the comments thread for the Big Ocean Button Challenge HeroX page.

For questions about registering or using the website contact HeroX.

For adding additional datasets you want listed email or leave a comment in the Comments Thread. 

Challenge Guidelines are subject to change. Registered competitors will receive notification when changes are made, however, we highly encourage you to visit the Challenge Site often to review updates.



The mobile apps must focus on one or more of these five broader categories – Fishing, Shipping and Trade, Ocean Acidification, Public Safety and Exploration – though note that the use examples below are far from comprehensive. Teams are challenged to be creative, and think of additional uses for ocean data that fall within these broad challenge categories.

1. Fishing — Apps focused on sustainable use and management of fishing, seafood traceability, species identification, combating illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing, or enforcement of marine protected areas.

2. Shipping & Trade — Apps focused on ship tracking, efficiency of trade routes, port information, available docks, citizen science, and uses for empty shipping containers.

3. Ocean Acidification — Apps related to an early warning system about changing pH levels and the potential impacts to local biology and marine resources. This is a follow on to the Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health XPRIZE awarded in 2015 to develop breakthrough ocean pH sensors.

4. Public Safety— Apps related to public health, safety, and recreation, water quality, tsunami and tide warnings, jellyfish or harmful algal blooms, and beach closures.

5. Exploration —Apps related to bathymetry (seafloor maps), bio-prospecting for medicines, species discovery, education, and biodiversity.


Category Winners - $15,000 to the winner of each category – Fishing, Shipping and Trade, Ocean Acidification, Public Safety, and Exploration.

Judge's Award - $10,000 to the app that impresses judges with its particularly creative or elegant use or visualization of ocean data.

Bonus Prizes — $5,000 each:

  • Best app for conservation
  • Best app for education
  • Best app integrating multiple data sets

Notes: All finalists are eligible for the bonus prizes and judge’s award, teams are eligible to combine and potentially win mutliple categories with one app. 


  • 9 November 2016: Competition launch
  • 31 March 2017: Register and submit app concept and mockup. A team may submit up to 3 concepts.
  • 31 May 2017: Expert evaluators and public voting selects top 50 concepts as semifinalists.
  • 31 August 2017: Semi-finalists submit app prototype (v1.0) and narrative.
  • October 2017: Judges select 15 finalists.
  • 21 December 2017: Finalists submit v2.0 of app and narrative.
  • Early 2018: Judges select winners (1 per category, bonus prizes, and judges award).
  • Early 2018: Winners announced.

Note: The above dates are subject to change and competitors will be kept informed.


There are thousands of potentially useful data sets that teams can utilize. To begin, data sets can be obtained from the websites below. Teams may also use other available data from reliable sources, and/or their own data. Teams should use observational data, not modeling data. To contribute datasets for use in the list below, please contact us or leave a link in the comment thread. Please check back regularly for more links to useful data sets.








Innovation: Is the solution novel? Does it solve a problem, fill a gap, or start a solution in a creative and/or never-seen-before way? Does it provide added value over what is currently available through existing applications? If you have an existing app product, how are you improving it within the scope of the competition categories?

Impact: What is the potential impact of your solution? What are the potential benefits to communities, the economy, industries, the environment, or human well-being? Where and how would these benefits be realized? Judges will consider number of users, market size, and potential price/market value.

Popularity: Popular votes on the concept during public voting.

Note: Entrants submit a short narrative to explain the “solution” and “impact.”


Innovation: (See “Innovation” section above.)

Impact: (See “Impact” section above.)

Technical Achievement: Is the app accurately representing the data? What is the quality of the coding? Did the participants solve a hard technical problem? Could it adapt to/incorporate new data streams? Does it run quickly and crash rarely?

User Interface (UIX): Describe the practical usability of your solution. How can it be used by specific users to achieve the goals you've identified?

Service: How will the app provide an actionable product or service to users? What will that service enable users to do? How will the service circumvent the need for interpretation of data by providing decision support, actionable information, specific direction, or other (E.g., a weather app gives the likelihood of rain, which is actionable information)    

Note: Entrants will submit a short narrative to explain the “solution” and “impact.”


The Judging Panel will be made up of individuals that represent a diversity of expertise, such as oceanography, marine conservation, app development, economics, information technology, ocean law and policy, public health, and ocean industries.

No Judge, nor any member of Judge’s immediate family, shall participate, nor have any financial or other material interest, in any Team or Team Member. All members of the Judging Panel shall promptly disclose to HeroX any such current, former, or expected future conflict of interest with HeroX, XPRIZE, and/or any Team or Team Member.

Each Judge will enter into a Judging Agreement with HeroX that will: (i) outline the Judge’s duties and obligations; (ii) require each Judge to maintain confidentiality of HeroX’s and Team’s Confidential Information in accordance with the Competitor Agreement; and (iii) require each Judge to acknowledge that he or she shall make no claim to any Team’s Intellectual Property.

Official decisions made by the Judging Panel will be approved by a majority vote of the Judges, following careful consideration of the criteria, results, and scores, and these Guidelines. If any vote of the Judges results in a tie, then the Judging Panel shall determine the mechanism to settle the tie.


Who Can Participate: The Challenge is open to individuals and teams from all backgrounds. To be eligible to compete, you must comply with all the terms of the Challenge as defined in the Challenge-Specific Agreement.

Voting: All votes are subject to review. Any competitor using unfair methods to solicit votes will be automatically disqualified from the challenge.

Submission Format: Must be mobile apps which can be developed for Android 4.4 (KitKat – API version 1) or higher, or using iOS SDK to be downloadable on iOS compatible products from Apple.

Submission Deadlines: No submissions will be accepted after the deadlines. All submissions must be received online, via the Challenge website.

Concept phase: Deadline 31 March 2017 at midnight UTC.

Semifinalist phase: Deadline 31 August 2017 at midnight UTC.

Finalist phase: Deadline TBD

Note: Challenge Guidelines and Rules are subject to change. Registered competitors will receive notification when changes are made. However, we highly encourage you to visit the Challenge Site often to review updates.

SUPPORT PROVIDED — What are the benefits for participating teams?

Data: Finalists will get access to expert “ocean data mentors.”

Feedback: Expert judges will evaluate and validate concept.

Community: Fostering of and access to community of practitioners in this new field. Networking with experts and potential future collaborators.

Publicity: Finalists and semifinalists receive recognition via online repository of concepts. Finalists and semifinalists receive PR as a leader in this new and burgeoning field.

Prize Money: $15,000 for each category, $5,000 bonus prizes for conservation, education, and integrating multiple data sets, $10,000 judges’ award.

Intellectual Property: Participants will retain all intellectual property for the apps.

Etc.: Additional benefits/support depending on development of partnerships or advanced market commitments.


This challenge was designed in coordination with Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and her consultancy Ayana Elizabeth Consulting LLC. 


This HeroX challenge builds on the success of the Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health XPRIZE, and is part of the XPRIZE Ocean Initiative with the vision to make the ocean healthy, valued and understood. This challenge is made possible through generous contributions to XPRIZE by Wendy Schmidt.


Challenge Updates

Announcing the Winners - Big Ocean Button Challenge

Feb. 20, 2018, 2:06 p.m. PST by Matthew Mulrennan

Hello All,

Thanks to the participating teams, and all of you for supporting the Big Ocean Button Challenge sponsored by the XPRIZE Ocean Initiative. We have seven winners announced in this piece in Scientific American - 7 Award Winning Apps Launch a Mobile Age for the Ocean Economy - who will split $100,000 in prizes. 14 finalists submitted working apps on the app store, and the competition was tight, due to the quality and diversity of the ocean app submissions. 

Three steps you can take to help support the teams: 

1. Download the apps and use them! Provide feedback.

2. Spread the word, by sharing the article 7 Award-Winning Apps Launch a Mobile Age for the Ocean Economy on social media. #bigoceanbutton @xprize @iamherox

3. Support the teams with connections, funders/investors, public relations, and speaking opportunities. Reach out and connect with the app developers, both winners and non-winners, to offer your help as they continue to grow their solutions.

XPRIZE is now kicking off a road show to promote the apps, and have been making connections with ocean tech accelerators, impact investors, data scientists, and securing talks and panels. If you have an opportunity to help, please feel free to reach out to the teams, or to us at XPRIZE. 

Thanks again for all of the community support for this challenge in turing ocean data into the ocean services we need, and for supporting the innovators along their journey. Onward! 

For the oceans,

Matthew Mulrennan

Director, Ocean Initiative, XPRIZE


Final Reminder - Close of Public Voting Tomorrow

Oct. 18, 2017, 6 a.m. PDT by Matthew Mulrennan

Hello Teams and Supporters,

Get those votes in! This is a final reminder that the public voting will close tomorrow on 19 October at 5PM PST. Judges are providing their scores, and this will be combined with the public voting score to determine the finalists. You will be notified next week if you are, or are not, moving on to the next round. Your team will receive feedback from the Judges either way.

If you are chosen for the next round, you will be required to submit to the app store and make any updates by mid-December. Thank you for all your hard work on this challenge, and best of luck!

Matt Mulrennan

Timeline Updates and Next Round Logistics

Sept. 28, 2017, 2:26 p.m. PDT by Matthew Mulrennan

Hello Teams,

Great work on promoting yourselves during the public voting, keep it up! A reminder that the public voting will close on 19 October at 5PM PST. Soon afterwards, 15 finalists will be chosen to move on to the next round, and both non-finalists and finalists will be notified.

In the next round, finalists will be required to submit to the App Store - Google Play or Apple Store. The deadline for submitting V2 of the apps has been extended to 14 December 5PM PST. Please get in touch and let us know your team's needs, and how XPRIZE can best support your solutions during and after the competition!


Matt Mulrennan 

27 Hours Left to Submit Ocean Apps by 31 August 5PM PDT!

Aug. 30, 2017, 1:45 p.m. PDT by Matthew Mulrennan

Hi Teams!

This is the final reminder. The deadline is tomorrow 31 August 5PM PDT to submit your ocean apps! Thanks for all your work to complete the submission form, and for competing in the Big Ocean Button Challenge. We look forward to reviewing your entries, and we will provide more details next week about the next steps for public voting!


Matt Mulrennan

Director, Ocean Initiative, XPRIZE

2 Days Left to Submit Ocean Apps - 31 August 5PM PDT!

Aug. 29, 2017, 4:36 p.m. PDT by Matthew Mulrennan

Hi Teams,

There are two days left to submit your ocean apps by 31 August 5PM PDT! If you are using TestFlight please share the link with me as an External Tester: 

Matt Mulrennan

Director, Ocean Initiative, XPRIZE



Exploration and Education Winner: SeaSee

SeaSee App shows us what the world would look like if the oceans were drained of water, using bathymetric (seafloor depth) data to generate 3D views. This app allows you to explore the ocean floor, from shipwrecks to marine habitats.

“If our app helps inspire a few young people to find out more and become scientists, engineers or oceanographers then it will have done its job.” – SeaSee team



Public Safety and Integrating Multiple Datasets Winner: SeaStatus

SeaStatus delivers personalized marine weather data to anyone with an internet-connected mobile device. This app translates super complex datasets into a simple interface, and helps mariners navigate safely.

“With incredible weather, nautical communities and access to everything the Pacific Ocean has to offer, the impetus for this app was to empower [Southern Californians] to take advantage of what they have.” – SeaStatus team



Fishing Winner: FishAngler

FishAngler enables anglers (aka recreational fishermen, of which there are over 45 million in the US) to log fishing experiences, discover new spots, and access NOAA and USGS weather and water data. This app could be a platform to crowdsource fish catch data, which would help fisheries managers, the scientific community, and the fishing community to better understand and protect fish stocks.

“I got bored being retired and I wanted to bring technology to the fishing industry and build something unique that captures one's fishing memories across family generations!” – FishAngler team



Ocean Acidification Winner: SOpHIE

SOpHIE was designed to serve those working in aquaculture, fisheries, and coastal monitoring, by delivering daily metrics of ocean acidification.This app lets users know if a site that matters to them is at risk from ocean acidification.

“Having SOpHIE to take publicly available data and transform it, to create completely new data and offer some kind of interpretation will hopefully go a long way in addressing the needs of stakeholders.” – SOpHIE team    



Shipping and Trade Winner: Navisea

Navisea is designed for planning and tracking ocean voyages, and includes data on traffic, ports, docks, navigation, and weather. This app can make navigation tools accessible to smaller vessels and marry data from the economic-focused shipping industry with the environmental-focused government and NGO datasets.

“There's no reason that we can't begin to develop practices in the shipping industry that take environmental factors into further account.” – Navisea team  



Judges Award Winner: Chile es Mar

Chile es Mar aims to bridge the information gap between science, fishermen, and seafood consumers. The app connects local catch data from artisanal fishers with seafood purchasers, and promotes fair compensation for local, sustainable, and traceable seafood. The developers hope is to export this model to support small-scale fishing communities in other Latin countries.

“We bridged four different sectors: from artisan fishermen to consumers and from scientists to chefs in one place.” – Chile es Mar team



Conservation Winner: Endangered Waves

Endangered Waves can empower and incentivize surfers (there are 24 million worldwide) to monitor the health of their coastlines through crowdsourced data. Surfers can use this app to create crowdsourced data to identify and then reduce hazards in their local surf breaks. In the US, tourism and recreation comprise 72% of employment in the ocean economy and 31% of its gross value. Creating apps that cater to this market isn’t indulgent, it’s good business sense.

We have relied on a number of great partners to get where we are it really is the story of the surfing and technology communities coming together to create a tool to protect what we love.”  - Endangered Waves team