(San Diego, California; 15 Feb. 2015) California’s future is intimately tied to the Pacific. This vast ocean determines our coastline, influences our weather, boosts our tourism economy and provides great opportunity to further develop our “Blue Economy.” This is certainly true for San Diego, discovered by sea, built on a bay that brought the Navy and industries serving the Navy, and home to world-class ocean research institutions and the largest maritime and water technology (BlueTech) cluster in the United States.
San Diego and the state of California are powerhouses of ocean and water technology research and industries, yet it goes unnoticed.
Water covers more than 70 percent of the Earth’s surface. This generation and following generations will increasingly deal with the combined forces of a burgeoning world population, famine, drought, rising sea levels, and migrating diseases… yet there is no maritime vision for San Diego or the state.
Californians have a choice. We can either import the world’s problems or develop and export solutions.
Some believe that space is the “Final Frontier,” but there is much to discover in the oceans that can more immediately address pressing Earth problems like climate change, hunger and need for potable water and new medicines. Yet NASA’s fiscal 2013 budget was $17.8 billion versus $5 billion for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA’s exploration budget was roughly $3.8 billion while NOAA’s Office of Exploration and Research received just $23.7 million.
More than 500 people have journeyed into space and 12 people have set foot on the moon, but only three people have reached the deepest spot in the oceans. Space is important, but so are the oceans.
The Blue Economy can be defined as the sum of economic activity — from traditional industries like fishing and shipbuilding to BlueTech — having to do with coastal waters, harbors, oceans, rivers, seas and fresh water resources. It covers a broad spectrum of industries … from aquaculture and fishing, to biomedicines, boat and shipbuilding, cables and connectors, desalination and water tech, floating infrastructure, marine recreation, maritime robotics, maritime telecom, ocean energy, ocean observation, ports and marine transportation, professional services, and weather/climate change.
Blue Tech can be defined as the subset that is focused on innovation of technology and services in the maritime and water industries.
Understanding the size of the Blue Economy and BlueTech is critical. Yet we don’t know in the U.S. and globally how big ocean and BlueTech industries are. The San Diego Maritime Industry Report 2012 — a first-of-its-kind U.S. study — showed (based on 2011 data) 46,000 direct jobs and $14 billion in direct revenue annually. The Maritime Alliance represents BlueTech, which was the largest sector in the report with 19,000 jobs and $6.2 billion in revenue. Many of our BlueTech companies are growing 15-35 percent per annum, adding good-paying blue-collar and white-collar jobs.
BlueTech has been “invisible” because companies typically sell 98 to 99 percent outside of wherever they are located and typically aren’t members of local industry organizations.
On an institutional level, economic industry codes — particularly the NAICS [North American Industry Classification System] codes for Canada, Mexico and the U.S. in NAFTA — sweep BlueTech companies into larger land-based categories so there is no baseline Blue Economy to assess.
California has an opportunity to be a world leader in developing sustainable, science-based ocean industries that balance conservation and economic development. This is particularly important today, as extraordinary advances in maritime technology now permit access to all parts of the ocean, including the deep ocean that we are just beginning to understand. Other countries are more focused on this opportunity than the U.S., so it is critical that conservation, education, government and industry sectors collaborate if California wants to lead the world instead of follow.
We need funding to study and promote the Blue Economy and BlueTech clusters, including for maritime workforce development. Government agencies should offer test bed opportunities and be early customers for breakthrough technologies. And funding is needed for a statewide Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) process that allows regions to develop comprehensive, nonbinding proposals for “best and highest” ocean usage for the 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone off their coast. MSP should cut red tape versus becoming yet another barrier, or else we will never create world class ocean industries in the state.
And great tools are available like the SeaSketch program that permits an infinite number of stakeholders to review and comment on multilayer development options in the three dimensional ocean, and the Ocean Health Index which represents an important scorecard that can be weighed by regional preferences to scientifically measure key elements of the ocean’s health — biological, physical, economic and social — to assess how sustainably people are using the ocean over time.
Carpe diem — it is time to “seize the day” to create a maritime vision and promote the Blue Economy and BlueTech in California.
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