The Ocean Economy: Canada Could Be A Global Superpower

North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) off Grand Manan Island, Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick, Canada.


Kate Moran is chief executive officer of Ocean Networks Canada, Canada’s national ocean observatory.

Innovation has always propelled humans to reach higher, work smarter and dream bigger in search of new approaches to obstacles before us. Like the space race decades ago, there is another frontier at our doorstep that, despite having all the tools to unlock its potential, remains vastly underutilized. The ocean’s economic bounty is limitless, and while we continue to look up, a new race has begun below, and the world is beginning to notice.

At roughly 202,080 kilometres, Canada owns the world’s longest coastline. New discoveries from the Franklin Expedition, along with the Northwest Passage’s opening for the first time in human history, have thrust our Arctic waters, and all the potential this uncharted area brings, into the spotlight. This global interest, and the investments Canada has made in marine innovation, provides an opportunity for us to significantly move forward and harness the true potential of our ocean and coasts.

Canada can lead the “blue economy.”

By 2030, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development estimates the value of the world’s ocean economy will more than double, reaching $3-trillion (U.S.). Anchored by investment in Maritime and coastal tourism, resource exploration, shipbuilding and port activities, this blue economy will also be built through innovative ocean data analytics, ecosystem-based fisheries management, aquaculture and ocean renewable-energy systems.

Building a smarter ocean creates sustainable ecosystems, and Canada is already exhibiting leadership in ocean observation, bringing government, industry, conservation and recreational interests together for informed policy decisions about our coastal resources. But in order to advance a truly innovative national agenda, we must continue to invest.

With approximately 90 per cent of international freight carried by sea, our position on the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic passages sets us apart. Global trade is projected to triple by 2050, and to meet the demands of countries with growing middle classes such as China and India, port facilities and marine industries will require logistical expansion through initiatives such as short sea shipping to facilitate loading cargo onto megaships (the Panama and Suez Canals were expanded for a reason), intelligent shipbuilding that reduces underwater noise for marine life such as belugas in the St. Lawrence and orcas in the Salish Sea, and sea state monitoring systems that help ships make calculated course plans to minimize fuel use and CO2 emissions battling ocean currents, such as in the Bay of Fundy.

Renewables such as ocean tides and waves are not new, yet remain underutilized in coastal communities. Offshore wind energy potential is so great that large turbine farms along the East Coast could power the entire North American seaboard. Prior investment has enabled some of this work to take place in Canada, but through increased investment, we can continue to innovate, create new technology and leverage data to improve sustainable practices, sell and transfer our expertise, and serve as international models.

By striking a balance between economic growth and sustainability, Canada stands to not only reap the dividends of the blue economy, but lead the armada. We promised the world at COP21 that climate change would be a national priority and an opportunity to build a low-carbon economy that will serve as a model for the world. Unlocking the ocean economy is essential to fulfilling this promise.

The Indian government has already laid out Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s strategy to tap into the blue economy, called Sagarmala, which identifies 173 port-led initiatives to increase the country’s shipping volume fivefold, while creating 10 million jobs and saving an estimated $6-billion a year in logistics costs alone. With rising global demands on our ocean for food, shipping, tourism, energy and sustainability, India, whose coastline is nearly 27 times smaller than Canada’s, is already setting their course by the stars.

By investing today, Canada will be the biggest beneficiary of the ocean economy. But if we do not take the helm now, others quickly will.

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