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From Pasir Ris to Washington- Blue Economy’s role in Revitalizing the deep blue

Updated: May 17

Ocean Purpose Project was invited to deliver a keynote address at the Oceans@Duke Blue Economy Summit 2023 and share our suite of regenerative ocean projects to Duke University’s prestigious gathering of ocean specialists.

The Blue Economy, also known as the ocean economy, refers to the sustainable use of the world's oceans, seas, and coasts to promote economic growth, improve livelihoods, and enhance ecosystem health. Common Blue economy sectors are maritime transport, offshore fuel and related industry as well as fisheries and aquaculture, and the processing and trade of these resources. This was the backdrop to Ocean Purpose Project’s exciting trip to meet American oceanauts on the Eastern seaboard of America and discover the vast opportunities for economic development and environmental sustainability, especially in the United States and globally.

It was a mad rush to the airport, travelling with our intern Vishnu who was bubbling with excitement, his first trip to the US in his lifetime. Although our 31 hour trip chalked up the carbon footprint which we offset with our partner Greensteps, purchasing 12 trees in Indonesian forests, I realised the length and breadth of this country from watching outside the plane window- The Alaskan cold right down to the western seaboard of San Diego and California and then crossing the wide expanse of multiple states, through mountains and plains, rivers and lakes that the world hears about on a daily basis but seeing it throughout a day of travelling takes a different meaning.

Mathilda and Vishnu in the plane, on the way to North Carolina

America after all, has the world's largest exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of 13.5 million square kilometres, which offers enormous potential for the development of Blue Economy sectors such as aquaculture, marine renewable energy, and maritime transport. According to a report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the US ocean economy contributed $373 billion to the nation's gross domestic product (GDP) in 2018, supporting 2.3 million jobs.

While the OPP Team of me and Vishnu were up in the air, a landmark bill was introduced in Congress calling for a federal study on the possibilities of coastal seaweed farming, and creating a new seaweed farming fund to push First Nations people, especially those in Alaska to “reduce cost barriers for indigenous communities, emboldening them to participate in coastal seaweed farming,” according to sponsors of the bill Reps. Jared Huffman, D-California, and Mary Peltola, D-Alaska who incidentally is from the Yup'ik peoples of Western Alaska. This combined with the American aquaculture industry, one of the fastest-growing sectors in the Blue Economy utilize abundant marine resources while potentially increasing the production of seafood, reduce imports, and create new jobs. Additionally, aquaculture can reduce the pressure on wild fish stocks and provide a sustainable source of protein.

Eager to learn more about the contributions of the First Nations communities of the Eastern states, I turned the inability to sleep into a free fall into learning about the eight (8) state-recognized tribes located in North Carolina: the Coharie, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the Haliwa-Saponi, the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, the Meherrin, the Sappony, the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation and the Waccamaw Siouan. In my opening address, I wanted to give thanks to these original custodians of the land, something that I had learned during my time at Murdoch University in Western Australia where every single speech always gave respect to the Nyoongar people before beginning.

Mathilda and Vishnu sharing cool insights with other attendees

The trip was spectacular in realising the amazing innovations on display- from seaweed textiles to investment funds to meeting with amazing representatives pursuing their masters from around the world who were focused on marine renewable energy, another emerging sector in US Blue Economy highly dependant on bi-partisan support especially with its significant offshore wind energy potential and several large-scale projects in development along the Atlantic coast. Maritime transport is another critical sector in the Blue Economy, with the United States having some of the busiest ports in the world. The maritime transport sector supports trade and commerce, and the development of new technologies can improve efficiency and reduce the environmental impact of shipping. Sharing our work in ocean plastic derived hydrogen to power shipping left a few jaws on the floor- a reaction that made me giggle.