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Blue Economy

The Port of San Diego is committed to foster the development of a sustainable ocean economy by acting as a catalyst for the region’s Blue Economy.

San Diego Bay Fisheye aerial view

Aquaculture & Blue Technology Program 

In 2015, the Port established the Aquaculture & Blue Technology Program, recognizing the growth opportunities of the Blue Economy sector and its strategic position within one of the world’s leading Blue Technology clusters. The program is conducting planning and predevelopment (see bottom of this page) work to support and inform aquaculture and blue technology opportunities in and around San Diego Bay.

In 2016, the Port established its Blue Economy Incubator to assist in the creation, development and scaling of new water-dependent business ventures on San Diego Bay focusing on sustainable aquaculture and Port-related blue technologies. The incubator acts as an innovation launch pad by providing early-stage companies with key assets and support services focused on pilot project facilitation including subject matter expertise, permit-ready infrastructure, entitlement assistance, marine spatial planning tools, market access, and funding.

To date, the Port has approved nine projects through its Blue Economy Incubator including shellfish nursery operations, copper remediation technology, a drive-in Boatwash, a smart marina application, a marine debris removal vessel, seaweed aquaculture, bio-enhancing shoreline armoring technology, and a new approach to soil remediation in marine environments.

Blue Economy Incubator Proposal Process

Blue Economy Pilot Projects

  • FLUPSY

    FLUPSY

    A FLUPSY, or Floating Upweller System, is a floating barge that circulates water through compartments or bins holding shellfish, in this case oysters, as they grow from seed (about the size of a red pepper flake) to juvenile stage (about the size of a quarter). The circulated water enables the seed to grow more quickly and uniformly than in natural habitats because they receive a constant supply of food and oxygen. The Port, in partnership with San Diego Bay Aquaculture, is growing them until they are about three or four months old and then exporting them to a final grow-out location in northern California and other Pacific Northwest location as far north as Alaska. San Diego Bay’s warm, nutrient-rich water is a competitive advantage over northern shellfish nursery sites because seed-to-harvest time is reduced up to one year as compared to northern growers. Our goal is to demonstrate that shellfish nursery operations in San Diego Bay can support a viable new shellfish aquaculture business.

    Download San Diego Bay Aquaculture Scorecard
  • Zephyr Debris Removal

    Zephyr Debris Removal

    As part of a pilot project in the Port's Blue Economy Incubator, Zephyr Debris Removal LLC aims to demonstrate the effectiveness and scalability of its custom-made, debris removing vessel in San Diego Bay. The vessel uses skimming technology and is designed to remove marine debris, such as plastic bottles and other trash, and solve a variety of logistical hurdles including efficient removal of small debris, such as microplastics, and access to shallow and/or rough water. The pilot project will also develop a database for key variables influencing marine debris accumulation in San Diego Bay - such as seasons, weather events and tidal swings.

    Download Zephyr Debris Removal LLC Scorecard
  • Drive-in Boatwash technology

    Drive-in Boatwash technology

    In 2017, the Port collaborated with Rentunder to demonstrate whether the Boatwash technology is a feasible alternative to current in-water hull cleaning practices in San Diego Bay. Rentunder is the manufacturer, seller and distributor of the Drive-in Boatwash technology. Rentunder is led by a team of hydraulic experts and engineers from Sweden. The Drive-in Boatwash consists of driving a boat (sailboat or motorboat up to 53 feet) into an enclosed basin, then mechanically brushing the boat hull. The entire cleaning process is conducted within the enclosed basin of the Boatwash, which is designed to retain residual debris and particulate matter to assist in reducing copper released into bays and harbors. During the two-year pilot project, a water quality study was developed to assess water quality during cleaning events and to determine potential operation adjustments. This pilot project represents the first installation of the drive-in Boatwash technology along U.S. West Coast. The pilot is allowing for testing of the Boatwash effectiveness to reduce copper inputs into the bay from hull cleaning operations.

    Download Rentunder Scorecard
  • Smart Marina Technology

    Smart Marina Technology

    In 2017, the Port and Swell Advantage teamed up to advance the development of its smart marina application. Swell Advantage is a technology start-up, developing operation support tools to assist marina professionals to automate and optimize their operations and enhance customer experiences. Swell’s smart marina application provides decision making support to assist marina managers in slip allocation resulting in increased revenue. The application also manages boater communication with the goal of building stronger and safer marina communities. The application assists managers to understand how individual boaters use their facility, how efficiently operations are running, and if the marina is maximizing slip revenues. The one-year pilot project was completed in collaboration with a local marina in San Diego Bay. In 2019, Swell Advantage teamed up with payments and Point of Sale (POS) Company Square to better service marinas and waterfronts across the U.S. and Canada and meet boaters’ customer service expectations in a digital world.
     

    Download Swell Advantage Scorecard
  • Sustainable Seaweed Aquaculture

    Sustainable Seaweed Aquaculture

    In 2018, Sunken Seaweed began work to demonstrate the feasibility of seaweed aquaculture in San Diego Bay. Sunken Seaweed is an aquaculture start-up company led by two marine ecologists committed to pioneering sustainable, seaweed aquaculture in and around San Diego Bay. Sunken Seaweed established their seaweed hatchery at San Diego State University Marine Lab and installed their submerged pilot farm using assets managed by the Port.. Since the start of the one-year pilot project, the company has been cultivating, outplanting, growing, monitoring, and harvesting several species of seaweed native to Southern California. Beyond commercialization, results from the pilot project are helping assess seaweed aquaculture’s multiple co-benefits, from carbon sequestration and bioremediation to improving water quality and ecosystem productivity. Sunken Seaweed's farm design in San Diego Bay demonstrates a novel approach to utilizing docks and piers as structures for seaweed farming and other aquaculture in bay and urban settings.

    Download Sunken Seaweed Scorecard
  • Sediment Remediation in Marine Environments

    Sediment Remediation in Marine Environments

    In 2019, the Port approved ecoSPEARS for a pilot project that demonstrates its innovative in-situ technology to extract contaminants from impacted marine sediment. ecoSPEARS is a start-up company comprised of a fast-growing team of innovators, engineers, and scientists developing cleanup solutions for contaminated sediment. ecoSPEARS technology is a scalable, in-situ  remediation technology that extract PCBs from contaminated sediment. ecoSPEARS is the exclusive licensee of the NASA-patented SPEARS technology, which was invented by a team of NASA environmental scientists as a green remediation solution. Shaped like spikes, the ecoSPEARS in-situ technology is deployed into contaminated sediment, or around challenging or sensitive wetland areas, where dredging isn’t a feasible option such as bridges, docks, or pylons. Once settled into the sediment, the spikes act like sponges, passively absorbing chlorinated toxic contaminants such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) and dioxins. For the pilot demonstration, the ecoSPEARS in-situ technology will be deployed at three locations for six months to determine the efficiency of the technology for remediation of PCB-contaminated sediments, compared to baseline concentration.
     

    Download ecoSPEARS Scorecard
  • Bio-enhancing Shoreline Armoring

    Bio-enhancing Shoreline Armoring

    In 2019, the Port teamed up with ECOncrete to demonstrate a new design of its tide pool armor unit product. ECOncrete is an early-stage company comprised of a multidisciplinary team of renowned marine ecologists, biologists, geologists, concrete experts, engineers, and designers. During the two-year pilot project, ECOncrete will demonstrate their new and innovative tide pool design, the COASTALOCK interlocking tidal pool armor. The tidepools serve as a replacement for traditional riprap and provide ecological armoring and shoreline stabilization, while also creating well-defined local ecosystems that mimic natural tide pools. During the two-year pilot project, ECOncrete will install 72 Coastal Star tide pools across two sites along the San Diego Bay shoreline. 

    Download ECOncrete Scorecard
  • Stormwater Monitoring Device

    Stormwater Monitoring Device

    In December 2020, the Port approved FREDsense Technologies for a pilot project to develop a portable five-in-one field-testing sensor device to provide real-time metals analysis for stormwater monitoring. FREDsense will utilize their pre-existing titration platform optimized for the environmental remediation industry to produce an automated testing system for stormwater analysis, which will test the levels of aluminum, copper, lead, zinc and nickel in San Diego Bay. The project’s approach will help stormwater programs by providing real-time data in the field, enabling adjustments to Best Management Practices quicker than with laboratory data that can take several weeks for results. 
     

    Download FREDsense Technologies Scorecard
  • Copper Remediation Technology

    Copper Remediation Technology

    In 2016, the Port approved a pilot project with Red Lion Chem Tech’s to demonstrate their technology to remove dissolved copper from seawater using absorbent media filtration material. Red Lion is a remediation company specializing in developing environmental solutions to alleviate the impacts of oil spills, flooding or water contaminated by chemical pollutants. Red Lion has conducted laboratory demonstrations of their resin technology using San Diego Bay water with test results showing up to 85% efficiency in removing copper. The pilot project is expected to determine the efficiency, cost-effectiveness and potential baywide scalability of the technology in harbor environments for both the passive and active filtration systems.
     

    Download Red Lion Chem Tech Scorecard

Program Highlights

Since its launch in 2016, the Port’s Blue Economy Incubator has achieved key objectives as set forth in its Operating Plan: 

  • Established a unique Port-led Blue Economy Incubator to support entrepreneurship, foster sustainable aquaculture, and help drive Port-related blue technology innovation. 
  • Launched nine (9) innovative pilot projects through a community and Port-wide collaboration process.
  • Launched the first commercial shellfish and seaweed aquaculture projects in San Diego Bay and is measuring the associated environmental benefits. 
  • Launched the first drive-in Boatwash along US West coast to test the technology effectiveness to reduce copper inputs into the Bay from hull cleaning operations.
  • Removed over 33,000 pounds of marine debris and supported the development of a database for key variables influencing marine debris accumulation in San Diego Bay through the marine debris removal pilot project.
  • Accelerated smart marina management technology that benefits the marina industry, which in return has potential benefits for Port tenants to increase their revenues and customer experiences. 
  • Launched a pilot project to test a unique cleanup solution to extract toxic contaminants from impacted marine sediment.
  • Launched a pilot project, the first worldwide installation, of an innovative and scalable bio-enhancing shoreline stabilization technology.
  • Approved funding for a pilot project to develop a portable five-in-one field-testing sensor to provide real-time metals analysis during stormwater monitoring.
  • Received multiple awards recognizing its unique approach to Port-based Blue Economy innovation through pilot project facilitation.
  • Recognized by state and federal agencies, industry, and academia for providing pathways for the sustainable development of aquaculture in the region.
  • Established collaborative partnerships with numerous local, state and federal governmental agencies, academia, NGO’s, industry and the local community.

Aquaculture Planning and Pre-Development 


A strong body of scientific knowledge exists regarding aquaculture siting and science-based best management practices to reduce and/or eliminate the risk of potential environmental impacts; however, the limited number of working aquaculture farms in California presents a lack of regional and local data. To fill in some of this gap, the Port has utilized coastal marine spatial planning tools to conduct a constraints and opportunities analysis for aquaculture in and around San Diego Bay with a focus on seaweed and shellfish. This work was conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA), National Ocean Service (NOS), National Centers for Coastal Ocean Sciences (NCCOS), Coastal Aquaculture Siting and Sustainability Program (CASP), which identified nearly 10,000 acres of potential area to investigate further for a variety of seaweed and shellfish opportunities, including nutrient bioextraction.  Nearly 2,000 acres were identified inside San Diego Bay with the remaining 8,000 outside the Bay, including a large area in the Port’s southernmost jurisdiction offshore of Imperial Beach, which is frequently water-quality impacted by the Tijuana River Watershed.

Other complimentary initiatives at the Port include environmental conservation projects with a focus on wetland and blue carbon mitigation banking as a tool to protect and conserve coastal environments while simultaneously allowing for economic growth. The Port has also conducted a bay-wide infrastructure feasibility study to assess infrastructure capable of supporting pilot and demonstration projects. The Port is taking an active leadership role in the expanding domestic aquaculture industry and facilitating early development of regional marine aquaculture projects.
 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is aquaculture and blue tech?

Aquaculture encompasses the cultivation of shellfish, fish, and plants. The aquaculture sector is driven by a growing global demand for seafood and the lack of a domestic supply, representing a new business opportunity.

Blue tech is the advanced technology sector of the maritime industry, which drives sustainable innovation across emerging markets of the Blue Economy. It includes a broad spectrum of industries and innovative technologies focused on promoting sustainable ocean activities.

What is the opportunity in aquaculture?

In the U.S., we import 91 percent of the seafood that we consume, of which 50 percent is farmed, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (2012, National Marine Fisheries Service). The vast majority of farmed seafood comes from Asian countries. There is an opportunity for increased domestic supply.

What services/support portfolio does the Blue Economy Incubator offer to blue tech and aquaculture businesses?

  • Pilot project facilitation
  • Permit-ready infrastructure
  • Land and water entitlements
  • Market access
  • Strategic funding

How is the Port’s incubator different from a typical incubator?

Traditional incubators typically offer subsidized office space, shared administrative services, and start-up mentorship. However, our Port-led Blue Economy incubator is acting as a launching pad for innovative projects and new ideas by removing barriers to entrepreneurs and providing key assets and services focused on pilot project facilitation such as permit-ready infrastructure, entitlements, market access, and strategic funding.

What is the application process for the Port’s Blue Economy incubator?

The Blue Economy Incubator application process is comprised of a four step cross-departmental due diligence process, which balances each proposal’s potential social and environmental benefits; alignment with the Port’s core mission and Public Trust obligations; as well as the potential financial return to the Port. To be selected for review, proposals need to provide the required business plan information for staff to analyze the market feasibility, operational/financial viability of the proposal, and alignment with the incubator objectives. The four-step review process is as follows:

Step 1 consists of a cross-departmental review of proposals involving Port subject matter experts. The review and due diligence process includes evaluating the risks, as well as the potential financial, social, and environmental benefits of the proposals.

Step 2 consists of face-to-face meetings between the proposers and the Incubator Committee. This committee is comprised of the Port’s Chief Financial Officer, Chief Operations Officer, staff from the General Counsel’s Office, Business Director, and subject matter experts. The Incubator Committee provides a recommendation – if a proposal should be advanced to the next step.

Step 3 consists of a review of proposals advanced by the Incubator Committee to the Board’s Blue Economy Investment Ad-Hoc Committee. The Ad-Hoc Committee provides direction and feedback regarding forwarding the proposals to the Board for consideration.

Step 4 consists of a staff recommendation to the Board of Port Commissioners to begin negotiating agreements and/or requesting Board approval of agreements with specific proposers.