Oceans 17 panel shares vision of growing blue economy

  • The RivGen Power System on its station in the Kvichak River proved the ability to supply power for the village of Igiugig. Now the village is awaiting funding for a permanent installation. Other projects by ORPC throughout the state have proven Alaska’s world class tidal activity in Cook Inlet, near Fire Island, near False Pass between the mainland and the Aleutian Chain, and in Yakutat as well as the Yukon River. (Photo/Project Manager Monty Worthington/Ocean Renewable Power Co.)

The blue economy isn’t a new concept when thought in terms of the traditional jobs and industry: fishermen need boat wrights and processors, navigation tools and data to help bring in the catch.

Rippling out, the blue economy demands a slew of new maritime trainings, greater security presence extending to the Arctic and literally thousands of new innovators to solve a multitude of science questions, according to a panel of six in “Building Alaska’s Blue Economy” Sept. 21.

The panel came together at Oceans 17, an international science conference held in Anchorage Sept. 18-21 at the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center. Hosted by Alaska’s Ocean Cluster, Director Joel Cladouhos introduced a need to define the scale of a new blue economy.

“It’s easy to see it’s emerging as the next economic frontier,” Cladouhos said.

Economic prosperity and security are intertwined, said retired Rear Adm. Jonathon White, a 32-year Naval officer who focused on the Arctic Ocean in his last three years as he helped author the Navy’s Arctic Roadmap 2014-2030.

Even in remote Alaska towns, economic security is enhanced in proximity to military bases, White said.

“You can’t have one without the other,” he said. “Your economy has to answer the needs of your security.”

The Navy and the Coast Guard are becoming more intertwined to fill a security-capability gap, he said. White, whose Ph.D. is in oceanography, has urged Congress to recapitalize the U.S. icebreaker fleet, a need recognized in the passage of the Sept. 18 National Defense Authorization Act that authorized six new heavy icebreakers to serve the Arctic.

White identified Arctic challenges ahead as the same needed to figure out technical issues in space exploration. He goes so far as to coin a new term by talking about the “blue rush” ahead, a nod to the gold rushes of old.

Mining in data will part of it, he said.

“We need to invest in the science up front. By investing in science, we will ensure that the Arctic evolves securely, and this means economic security, environmental security and national security, which includes both international events and homeland security,” White said.

The Port of Anchorage, where nearly 90 percent of the goods sustaining Alaska cross the docks, needs to be seen as the port of a coastal city concerned with maritime issues and not just as an economic center to the state, said Molly McCammon, the executive director of the Alaska Ocean Observing Program and on the Ocean Regional advisory Council.

It’s also the “gateway to the Arctic,” noted the panel’s moderator, Bradley Moran, Dean of the College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Before his 2016 appointment as dean, Moran served as acting director of the Obama Administration’s National Ocean Council, assistant director for Ocean Sciences in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and program director in the Chemical Oceanography Program at the National Science Foundation.

Moran believes more security is needed at the Port of Anchorage.

“We need to move the needle on this, the northernmost ice free port. That’s something that’s going to happen, not ‘if’ but ‘when.’ The national security aspect is critical,” Moran said.

Michael Jones, president and founder of two San Diego-based nonprofits, the Maritime Alliance and TMA Foundation, quantified the employment needs of a blue economy. His groups’ missions are to promote sustainable, science-based ocean and water industries as well as business ecosystem development, economic development and workforce development.

In a 2012 study of San Diego County, the Maritime Alliance found 46,000 people employed in maritime jobs and $14 billion in revenue was generated from the blue economy. Of those jobs, only 8,000 were in traditional blue economy jobs such as fisheries, stevedores and boat wrights. Another 19,000 were “blue tech” jobs; another 19,000 were support industries and engineering firms.

“That was our baseline study,” Jones said. The worldwide ocean economy is expected to hit $3 trillion by 2030, according to an OECD study in March 2016.

Alaska is on the way to having renewable energy systems technology to export. Monty Worthington, the director of project development for Ocean Renewable Power Co. Alaska, said just one example is an Alaska village that will soon be able to gain most all of its energy from hydrokinetic or river tidal energy provided by the Kvichak River in Southwest Alaska.

Power generation for the village of Igiugig on the Kvichak River was proven in a test project that resulted in a prototype turbine called the RivGen Power System. Now awaiting funding to install the river generator that is the size of wheat threshing machine, Igiugig has become the “poster village” project that could be replicated in many other villages to ease their dependence on diesel fuel, Worthington said.

Some 1.3 billion people in the world live without electricity, Worthington noted, meaning that many do not even have access to generators. Global communities on coastlines could use similar systems to Iguigig’s.

“This is a case where small scale becomes an advantage rather than a disadvantage,” Worthington said.

Another aspect of the project was that “blue jobs” were created in the installation, testing and maintenance of the RivGen system, Worthington added.

“These were all local contractors who are now skilled in the device,” he said.

Al Eisaian, described as a “serial entrepreneur” because he co-founded four technology companies, including IconApps, Inc., and the current IntelinAir, asked the audience of about 50 people what will it take to pull off new enterprises in the blue economy?

His answer: Crazy people.

“I don’t know about blue ocean opportunity, but I do know that none of this will happen unless we get some crazy people who will pursue these things and fight through the obstacles,” he said.

Most obstacles are personal and individual, not financial, he said. In Alaska, he sees core sciences that can build-out technology to serve those who need data.

“There’s no shortage of customers,” he said. “There’s a ton of potential here, but none will happen unless some crazy people will actually go pursue it.”

Alaska is experiencing an economic crisis in its failure to diversify beyond the rich economy provided by oil revenue, Eisaian said.

“I hope you don’t waste this crisis,” he said. “In it is a real opportunity.”

Naomi Klouda can be reached at [email protected]

09/28/2017 - 10:37am