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16 December 2019 4 min read

The Blue Economy CRC is exploring offshore aquaculture to deliver economic, social and environmental benefits. ©  Copyright: Eugene Sergeev

A 10-year, $330 million Blue Economy Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) initiative aims to address these challenges by bringing together world leaders from 45 leading organisations to unlock the potential of our marine resources.

It is expected that it will transform the way we use our oceans.

Growing population, growing appetite

“Aquaculture is the fastest growing food producing sector in the world and dependence on our coastal resources will only increase,” explained CSIRO’s Dr Beth Fulton, who is the Blue Economy CRC’s Environment and Ecosystems Program Leader.

“With more than three billion people across the globe relying on seafood as their main source of protein, we need to consider how to meet demand, best manage our marine resources, create job opportunities and drive new and innovative industries to deliver benefits for Australia and the world’s growing population.”

Australia’s aquaculture industry is worth billions of dollars and is currently confined to inshore sites. The Blue Economy CRC aims to expand scientific knowledge and capabilities for operating in the offshore environment.

With three billion people worldwide relying on seafood as their main source of protein, the Blue Carbon CRC aims to address future food security.

“Establishing sustainable offshore aquaculture sites, powered by renewable energy resources, could deliver economic growth in line with the $100 billion annual revenue target set by Australia’s National Marine Science Plan, while ensuring sustainable seafood production,” said Fulton.

This is no drop in the ocean.

Robust science to manage environmental impact

To ensure the best marine management, effective tools and frameworks will be developed to meet environmental guidelines.

“The CRC will deepen our knowledge and understanding of the environmental impacts from any offshore development, and provide robust science to establish best practice,” Fulton added.

“The program has just started but there’s lots to deliver. Infrastructure will need to be able to withstand open ocean conditions, we need to map the logistics of the supply chain and deliver excellence in animal husbandry and biosecurity management.”

Renewing offshore development

Shifting aquaculture operations further offshore requires reconsideration of how energy and water demands of their operations are met. Presently, coastal operations allow a connection to land, or relatively affordable barge servicing costs. Offshore, this connectivity is more challenging and associated costs will increase. This presents an opportunity for an offshore energy market driven by the development of innovative renewable technology solutions.

Testing and pioneering new renewable energy technologies could support new marine industries

Lead of the CRC Offshore Renewable Energy Systems Program, Dr Mark Hemer explains:

“Our aim is to ensure any offshore aquaculture is set up to run using sustainable, lower cost energy, with the capability of exportable energy carriers.

“We’re lucky that Australia’s marine estate has some of the world’s best wind, wave, tidal and solar resource options. We can turn this into power to support offshore operations, while also potentially generating exportable renewable energy, such as hydrogen.”

Transitioning offshore industry from fossil fuel-powered operations towards renewable energy solutions offers an opportunity for emerging offshore energy technologies; along with potential pathways from market to maturity.

Supporting an offshore industry will include designing and delivering energy storage solutions, and off-grid infrastructure. Any solutions generated need to have excellent commercial potential.

“Hydrogen can be integrated back into the energy system to ensure better stability for energy supply. We’ll also be working with industry to test performance and reliability of new technologies to ensure renewable energy approaches are effective, reliable, scalable and competitive.

“This will reduce costs, through building an energy supply chain and boosting investor confidence, while enabling these emerging technologies to become more cost competitive in larger existing energy markets,” Hemer added.

Sustainable and regulated pathways for Australia

Harnessing expertise from the global scientific community to generate sustainable offshore solutions is a key focus for the Blue Economy CRC.

Any design options for offshore development will be supported by policy and regulatory frameworks to set the highest environmental standards. This will build confidence and trust in activities for the blue economy and establish social acceptability for the long-term use of ocean space and resources for commercial purposes.

To unlock Australia’s Blue Economy potential, regulated policy frameworks and environmental guidelines will be developed.

Costs to run, maintain and monitor aquaculture and power generation activities offshore, spatial overlaps with other industries and sectors, and compliance issues are also important considerations for industry investment. This will ensure the delivery of leading marine ecosystem management, social licence to operate and tried and tested capabilities for industry investment.

Read more about the Blue Economy CRC.

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