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Column: A sustainable economy from the ocean

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                                Open-ocean aquaculture cages are used to raise seafood.


    Open-ocean aquaculture cages are used to raise seafood.

Structural changes to Hawaii’s economy, in a world after the Great Pandemic of 2020, could be centered around developing an economy more focused on the ocean. Policymakers, local communities and the private sector can restructure our economy in a way that uses our natural assets, technological know-how, and comparative advantage as a large ocean state, to transition and grow a diversified sustainable economy.

If done properly, Hawaii could strike the right balance between expanding our oceans’ economic potential with the need to safeguard the longer-term health of our ocean.

Many believe that the ocean will dominate the global economy of the 21st century. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) estimated the size of the so-called “blue economy” at over $1.5 trillion in 2010 and on track to double that by 2030. There are several areas of innovation and new technology that offer opportunity for us. These include world food security, ocean technology and ocean conservation.

The global aquaculture sector is expanding rapidly around the world. The global population keeps growing but the abundance of wild fish is not keeping pace and overfishing is increasingly worrisome. As such, marine aquaculture will play an increasingly important role in food security and supply. There is a recognition of this demand for farmed seafood by the federal government and willingness to support fish farming to mitigate the trade deficit. Venture capitalists are starting to recognize the potential opportunity in this sector and providing much-needed capital.

Hawaii is already a center of global aquaculture expertise in a wide variety of species, such as shrimp broodstock. One of the only aquaculture accelerators in the world was recently established in Hawaii, by HATCH. This effort is leveraging the world-class physical assets available to aquaculture companies at the Hawaii Ocean Sciences Technology (HOST) Park in Kona with the mentoring resources available from the successful aquaculture companies in Hawai‘i.

While building on the successes of existing ocean technology companies and the extensive world-renowned ocean science research from Hawaii’s universities, we should focus on establishing international networks for the exchange of views and experience in establishing centers of excellence. New ocean technology accelerators can focus on demonstration and innovation of deep-sea exploration, ship automation, surface and underwater drones and navigation, ocean energy, remote sensing, and naval architecture.

Hawaii can be at the forefront of assisting to reverse the cycle of decline in ocean health by supporting the development of technology, which will provide better information related to ocean conservation. Now, more than ever, we need a healthy ocean. Our oceans are under considerable stress and some say they are dying.

At the moment, only around 10% of the ocean’s makeup is understood by science. Innovation to address ocean-related environmental challenges are needed in the areas of ocean health monitoring, natural hazards and early warning systems, ocean observation and instrumentation, ocean data visualization, coral reefs and marine archaeology.

We have done it before, and we can do it again. Govs. John Burns and George Ariyoshi saw the need to focus on ocean resources and they had advisers in the Governor’s Office for ocean resources and later created the Natural Energy Laboratory in Kona to grow ocean technology. U.S. Sens. Daniel K. Inouye and Spark Matsunaga led critical efforts to secure hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding for the development of ocean energy and grow ocean technology. Our current congressional delegation gets it: Sen. Brian Schatz introduced groundbreaking legislation to grow offshore aquaculture in the U.S.; Sen. Mazie Hirono, Rep. Ed Case and Rep. Kai Kahele all have talked about the importance of protecting our oceans.

We can all work together to renew our focus on the oceans as a tool for a sustainable economy and help us build global dominance in ocean innovation and conservation technologies.

Gregory Barbour is executive director of the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority (NELHA) in Kona.

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