This is Part 3 of a 4 post series on the Sustainable Oceans Summit held in Halifax from Nov. 29-Dec. 1st 2017.

From November 29th to December 1st, the World Ocean Council held the 5th iteration of the Sustainable Ocean Summit in Halifax, Nova Scotia. This summit brings together actors from across the ocean business community with the goal of reinforcing the need for cross-sectoral collaboration in the management of the world’s oceans. In merging business and sustainability, the summit focused on the ocean business community’s efforts and progress towards achieving the United Nations’ “Ocean” Sustainable Development Goals, commonly known as SDGs. Notably, of the 169 targets for achieving these SDGs, nearly 2/3 of them are related to the world oceans. Over the course of the three-day summit, some notable themes were:

  • The growing role of aquaculture in addressing global food security and population growth;
  • The digital ocean: developments in global satellite ocean monitoring, underwater robotics, the use of GPS-enabled vessel monitoring, and the pros/cons of open data;
  • The need for continued financial and organizational support for research and development in the ocean sector;
  • Sustainable shipping measures, by retrofitting, implementing new technologies, and employing voluntary vessel initiatives (e.g. port fee reduction) and certification programs (e.g. Green Marine); and
  • The uncertainties inherent in species- and ecosystem-level impacts of ocean noise pollution; and
  • The need for science-based regulations on noise pollution that balances the needs of multiple stakeholders.

From these topics, we were particularly impressed by several sessions. Here are our must “seas” from the 2017 Sustainable Oceans Summit:

#1: Ocean Investment Platform: Financing Ocean Sustainable Development
A key takeaway from this session was that, on the road to 2030, one of the major speedbumps will be financing new and innovative ocean technology. Part of the problem is a lack of awareness of the risks and opportunities associated with emergent ocean technologies. Bill Staby from Resolute Marine Energy, developer of a wave-powered desalination technology, emphasized the need for natural infrastructure to be considered on par with man-made infrastructure when financing is concerned. In particular, small and medium enterprises struggle with raising much-needed capital for technologically complex, fast-burning, or ‘first mover’ projects (e.g. offshore renewable energy, port infrastructure, and sustainable aquaculture projects).

As highlighted by Marc-André Blanchard, the Representative of Canada to the United Nations, industry must be bolder in its blue economy approach. In line with the idea of a united and bold blue economy, the World Ocean Council’s ocean investment platform incentivizes financiers to invest in solutions-based technologies and ocean research. The council intends to continue pushing this platform during the Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute’s Investor Forum, coming up in February 2018. Ultimately, the financing of sustainable technology and research not only drives positive change, but can also re-invigorate economies at local and even national levels. First, we just need to convince wealth fund managers and equity firms that it’s worth their time and money….

#2: Ocean Industry Projections and the Future of the Ocean Economy

As the title suggests, this session looked at the future of industry activity in key ocean economic sectors, focusing on the trends, assumptions, opportunities, and constraints that will impact each sector within the next 15 years. The panel included representatives from the standard ocean industry sectors: shipping, seabed mining, oil and gas, offshore wind energy, fisheries, and aquaculture. However, in a refreshing shift from this standard dialogue, the last panelist, Rutger-de-Graaf van Dinther, spoke about his company Blue 21 and the future of human habitation on the ocean.

Blue 21 is a social enterprise that believes that floating developments, or even cities, can help combat some of the biggest challenges facing our society today, such as land scarcity, climate change, deforestation, and urban growth. Although this all sounds like something out of a science fiction movie, all of the technology and innovations that are needed to make these floating cities a reality already exist. The issue now is bringing them all together so that they can be applied, and this is what Blue 21 is striving to do. In other words, the main challenge Blue 21 is facing right now is how to inspire collaboration amongst various stakeholders so that these developments can become a common reality.

#3: Conservation and Ecosystem-based Management: Ship Strikes and Marine Mammals

What really made this session stand out was the distinguished and diverse panel, with representatives from research, policy, and business. Kathy Metcalf, longtime shipper and CEO of the Chamber of Shipping of America, stressed the need for global mitigation of marine mammal strikes, but with region-specific solutions.

This is what makes management so difficult - once we all agree that we need to act, we must consider the many unique shipping routes, climate, geographies, and migration patterns of individual regions. And let’s be honest, getting people to ‘save the whales’ isn’t the hard part. Having economically viable, year-round shipping co-exist with these large, highly migratory species is the hard part. Take for example, the twelve endangered right whale mortalities in the Gulf of St. Lawrence this year - while the shipping sector isn’t solely to blame, many of the whales had vessel strike trauma.

Reducing vessel speed is the most common measure to reduce ship strike fatalities, and this was one of the recommendations put forth by American and Canadian authorities regarding the right whale mortality events. NOAA even hands out certificates of achievement to vessels that have a good track record in speed reduction (and apparently captains really do value them!). However, Metcalf claims strikes that happen under reduced speed can still result in mortality, we just don’t know it because it is not immediate.

Although not perfect either, a seemingly more consistent solution is the re-routing of shipping lanes in high-impact areas. This task is not nearly as daunting as it may seem - successful instances of re-routing have only added on a few minutes to shipping routes, but have significantly reduced strikes.

Dr. Christopher Taggart from the oceanography department at Dalhousie University, claims an integral part of strike mitigation is enforcement. In general, voluntary efforts in speed reduction or re-routing are not nearly as effective as those regulated by states or international bodies, like the International Maritime Organization. When used in tandem with real-time whale alert technology (like the ‘Automatic Identification System’, or AIS), vessels are more likely to avoid whales. And yes, there’s an app for that.

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