Going blue in 2022: Greater Victoria positioned to make waves in blue economy: advocates

Environmental sustainability, plant-based food and First Nations participation come together at Cascadia Seaweed, an innovative new food brand. (Courtesy of Cascadia Seaweed Corporation)Environmental sustainability, plant-based food and First Nations participation come together at Cascadia Seaweed, an innovative new food brand. (Courtesy of Cascadia Seaweed Corporation)
Julie Angus, CEO of Open Ocean Robotics, at the company’s Vancouver Island Technology Park location.(Photo: Open Ocean Robotics)Julie Angus, CEO of Open Ocean Robotics, at the company’s Vancouver Island Technology Park location.(Photo: Open Ocean Robotics)
Kate Moran, president and CEO of Ocean Networks Canada. (Photo courtesy of Ocean Networks Canada)Kate Moran, president and CEO of Ocean Networks Canada. (Photo courtesy of Ocean Networks Canada)
Colin Angus, chief technology officer and co-founder of Open Ocean Robotics at the company’s Vancouver Island Technology Park location. (Jake Romphf/News Staff)Colin Angus, chief technology officer and co-founder of Open Ocean Robotics at the company’s Vancouver Island Technology Park location. (Jake Romphf/News Staff)

As industries evolve, advocates of the ‘blue economy’ say the region’s existing knowledge of harnessing coastal potential can help Greater Victoria become a hub of ocean-based sustainable industries and job creation.

University of Victoria researcher Kate Moran was recently involved in a study looking at six ocean-based carbon removal technologies. It’s something she said should be top of mind with B.C. coming off environmental disasters and with a federal government committed to putting a price on carbon emissions.

“As we advance these research opportunities, then these could be industrial sectors in the future (and) some of them could be based here,” Moran said.

As new marine industries surface and aquatic-carbon removal strategies grow, they’ll need support – something Moran said this region can provide.

“Already on Vancouver Island and in this region, we have a rich ecosystem of small and medium-sized companies that are some of the best ocean sensor companies in the world.”

Some technologies that showed promise included using electrolysis to alter ocean acidity and using nutrient fertilization to increase life on the ocean’s surface – both aimed at helping the seas be more productive at removing greenhouse gas emissions. Local exploration into these strategies could mean economic benefits down the road.

“When you put a stake in the ground and say we’re going to advance this research, you become the know-how centre for the future,” said Moran, who’s also the president and CEO of Ocean Networks Canada.

The depths off Vancouver Island’s west coast could also mean big things for future carbon-cutting industries. Moran is involved in a project looking at capturing carbon from the air and injecting it into basalt beneath the Cascadia Basin. When tested in Iceland’s waters, the concept showed CO2 mineralized into rock within two years – making it very tough for emissions to escape.

It’s an encouraging result for Moran, who said the Cascadia Basin has the capacity to hold 20 years worth of global CO2 emissions.

Pulling off these innovative strategies will require many of the same skills used in extractive industries, meaning there’s potential for a seamless worker transition.

“I see these as really clear bridges of moving the workforce from extractive to more sustainable (industries),” Moran said.

READ: Saanich-based robotics company charting new course for ocean exploration with autonomous boats

Ocean Networks Canada is a member of the Centre for Ocean Applied Sustainable Technologies (COAST), a Greater Victoria-based hub trying to make sure the area doesn’t miss out on the $1.5-trillion global blue economy that’s expected to double by 2030.

As a coastal capital, the marine sector already makes up a huge amount of the local economy, said Dallas Gislason, COAST’s director of economic development. He, along with Moran, said local companies like Sidney’s Cascadia Seaweed, Saanich’s Open Ocean Robotics, ASL Environmental Sciences and many more show how Greater Victoria can make waves in the blue economy.

“We have these competencies that can actually help us position ourselves as part of that $3-trillion opportunity that’s right in front of us,” Gislason said.

Calling climate change one of the biggest problems humans face, Gislason said larger industries are feeling the pressure to decarbonize. An example, he said, is BC Ferries’ push to eventually electrify its fleet. While the current technology and high costs make it difficult to convert its fossil-fuel-powered vessels, Gislason said “that creates an industry challenge that demands innovation.”

One of COAST’s goals is to identify larger industries that are facing big problems and link them to the right start-up companies and research teams that can help.

READ: Sidney’s Cascadia Seaweed partners with Tsawout First Nation on James Island farm

READ: Sidney’s Cascadia Seaweed hopes to float to the top of a growing industry

Using the seaweed marketplace as another example, Gislason said it’s niche now but is projected to be a massive protein and nutrition source for a world facing food scarcity and a quickly growing population. He added the South Island suits the seaweed industry well as companies will want to do business in places that value the environment and partnerships with Indigenous stakeholders.

Cashing in on kelp could also mean job growth as offshoot research and product development companies pop up, he said – name-dropping Sooke’s Seaflora Skincare.

“If you just apply all of these individual opportunities, you’re going to start to see employment numbers grow in all of those areas.”

READ: UVic, U-Calgary researchers investigate possibility of CO2 storage in ocean basalt


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