Port of SD Releases Blue Economy Report

Jun 28, 2023

The Port of San Diego has released the fourth edition of its Blue Economy Incubator (BEI) Highlights Report, which outlines a new partnership with the NavalX Southern California Tech Bridge and the performance of each active project based on indicators linked to environmental, social, and financial benefits. The report covers five ongoing projects, two of which were recently featured on the TODAY Show on NBC, and gives an overview of four completed projects.

As a catalyst for the region’s Blue Economy, the Port of San Diego established its Blue Economy Incubator in 2016 as a launching pad for sustainable aquaculture and Port-related blue technology ventures. The latest addition to the Blue Economy Incubator is an extension of a collaboration between the Port’s BEI and the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division Keyport that started back in 2018 and will support the relaunch of the NavalX Southern California Tech Bridge, which was established to engage and leverage the region’s collective assets to bring the most value to the partner’s community missions. The original partnership was created to promote cooperative activities with small business firms and educational institutions and help drive blue economy innovation in the San Diego region. Expanding on this partnership provides a unique opportunity to enable further collaboration, accelerate the pace of discovery, learning and experimentation, and foster regional workforce capacity for innovation and agility. Both the Port and the Navy will benefit from pipeline sharing and support their respective innovation goals.

“Through the Blue Economy Incubator, the Port of San Diego has received global attention and we’ll continue to pave the way for new projects that protect and preserve precious resources not just here locally but all over the world,” said Chairman Rafael Castellanos, Port of San Diego Board of Port Commissioners. “As our partnership with the Navy builds, we’ll do so much more and really put San Diego Bay on the map as the Blue Tech Bay.”

To date, the Board of Port Commissioners has approved nine agreements with early-stage companies, including one re-investment, to launch innovative pilot projects, four of which have been completed. The following are updates on the BEI active projects:

  • ECOncrete: In 2020, ECOncrete joined the Port’s BEI to demonstrate a new design of its tidepool shoreline armoring technology called the Coastalock. This technology serves as a replacement for traditional riprap and was installed at two locations along Harbor Island in March 2021. The interlocking tidal pool system is made from biologically-enhanced concrete as a sustainable solution to provide shoreline stabilization while simultaneously creating a robust local ecosystem that mimics natural tidepools, as well as increases local biodiversity and biological productivity. The pilot project has been monitored since installation and data demonstrates an increase in the ratio of native to non-native species, biodiversity, and species richness compared to the traditional riprap. The company conducted its final sampling event in May 2023 and a final report coming soon will provide detailed results to help support ECOncrete’s scaling efforts locally and globally. The Port’s pilot project has sparked much interest and, based on preliminary results, this technology is now being used in other parts of the world.
  • ecoSPEARS: Approved by the Board in 2020, the ecoSPEARS pilot project set out to demonstrate the company’s innovative in-situ soil remediation technology. ecoSPEARS is the exclusive licensee of National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)-patented SPEARS technology, which was invented by a team of NASA environmental scientists as a green remediation solution to extract contaminants from impacted marine sediment. The pilot focused on the deployment of over 450 ecoSPEARS units in three different locations around the bay where the technology passively absorbed contaminants. In December 2022, ecoSPEARS retrieved their SPEARS. Final studies are currently being conducted to measure the mass of PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, in the SPEARS that were retrieved. Data from the pilot is expected to be published soon and ecoSPEARS is now engaging other markets in the Pacific Islands, leading to multiple scaled-up deployments.
  • FREDsense: In 2021, the Port approved FREDsense Technologies for a pilot project to develop a portable five-in-one field-testing sensor device to provide near real-time metals analysis for stormwater monitoring. Under the pilot, FREDsense is developing a prototype to demonstrate the feasibility of automatically testing levels of aluminum, copper, lead, zinc, and nickel – all of which are of importance for stormwater compliance monitoring. The monitoring system is being designed to provide real-time data in the field, which is significantly faster than the several weeks necessary to receive traditional laboratory results, allowing for quicker adjustments to stormwater Best Management Practices and monitoring. The project’s current work is directed at validating the prototype using water quality samples to be collected during the fall 2023 Port standard monitoring protocol.
  • San Diego Bay Aquaculture: Since 2017, San Diego Bay Aquaculture is testing if a shellfish nursery, called a FLUPSY (Floating Upweller System), can be effective in helping address a coast-wide shellfish seed shortage. The FLUPSY is a floating barge that circulates water through compartments or bins holding shellfish, in this case oysters, as they grow from about the size of a red pepper flake to about the size of a quarter. After being in the FLUPSY, shellfish are transported to a farm where they will grow to market size. The operation of the FLUPSY, combined with the region’s mild weather and nutrient-rich water, offers a competitive advantage over northern shellfish nursery sites because seed to harvest time is reduced up to one year compared to northern locations. The project is waiting for some approvals, but San Diego Bay Aquaculture is using the FLUPSY to conduct required baseline research for oysters, abalone, and seaweeds, and production is expected to begin this year. The project was one of two BEI projects recently featured in the TODAY Show’s Earth Week coverage for NBC Climate.
  • Sunken Seaweed: Sunken Seaweed, an aquaculture start-up company led by two marine ecologists joined the Port’s BEI to demonstrate the feasibility of seaweed aquaculture in San Diego Bay. Sunken Seaweed established a seaweed hatchery at San Diego State University’s Coastal and Marine Institute Laboratory and installed their submerged seaweed pilot farm using assets, such as docks and piers, managed by the Port. Since 2018, the company has been successfully cultivating, outplanting, growing, monitoring, and harvesting several species of seaweed native to Southern California. Beyond commercialization, results from the pilot project are helping assess and quantify seaweed aquaculture’s multiple co-benefits, from carbon sequestration and bioremediation to improving water quality and ecosystem productivity. In 2022, the Port reinvested in an expansion of Sunken Seaweed's pilot which enables the company to build and continue its research in San Diego Bay, while expanding operations to Humboldt Bay where they will benefit from shoreside facilities to help them reach market scale. This project was featured in the TODAY Show’s Earth Week coverage for NBC Climate in April 2023.

The Port of San Diego is committed to the development of a sustainable ocean economy and to explore new opportunities that deliver multiple social, environmental, and economic co-benefits to the Port and the region. In exchange for funding or in-kind support provided to launch the nine pilot projects, the Port receives a royalty from the businesses’ operations or technology. To date, the Port has committed $1.7 million in funding, has attracted outside funding for blue economy initiatives, provided access and use of Port-owned property, and assisted with obtaining all necessary regulatory and operational permits, coordinated the installation of pilot projects, and collaborated on marketing and communications. 
Throughout the program, the Port has received multiple awards recognizing its unique approach to Port-based Blue Economy innovation through pilot project facilitation and has been recognized by state and federal agencies, industry, and academia for providing pathways for the sustainable development of aquaculture and blue technology in the region. Learn more about the Port of San Diego’s Blue Economy Incubator and read the full report at portofsandiego.org/blueeconomy.