Our Regenerative Ocean Economies are the Solution

Jonathan DeLong
17 min readAug 4, 2020
Regenerative Ocean Economies and the Blue New Deal by Jonathan DeLong

Finding My Way

I believe Regenerative Ocean Economies at scale can be the hero of the story to combat Climate Change, while also addressing aspects of social, racial, and environmental justice. As such, there is an intersection for humanity, equity, and profitability. Working toward this triple bottom line can and must be expedited to meet the urgent needs of our planet and our fellow humans, while constructively leveraging existing capital markets and legislative bodies. There is massive investment sitting on the sidelines simply awaiting leadership. Later I will touch more upon why it is pragmatically and strategically important to highlight The Ocean as the hero, and don’t worry, we can have other heroes as well.

Within some confines to be explained, my objective and work in progress is to identify the entirety of the Regenerative Ocean Economy space, from policy (sometimes lacking) to existing investment, to accelerators & mentors, to startups & big companies, to innovation & obstacles, and much more. I hope to balance optimism with urgency, while also giving a glimpse into the absurdity of many of our existing frameworks and behaviors.

I Made an Interactive Tool: Just for me, then I was asked to share.

While going down this path in general, I’ve been encouraged to share my work along the way, and not let ‘perfect be the enemy of progress’ by waiting to release a finished product. So, please consider this a ‘doodle’ that yields a glimpse into my perspectives as they unfold in real-time. If you are time-constrained, stop reading, and go check out my interactive tool. It is where the actionable-data and most learning can be found. It will continue to grow, so please feel free to revisit it or share it as a standalone invitation to collaborate.

Regenerative Ocean Economy Ecosystems by Jonathan DeLong

This article mostly focuses on the context around and my motivation for creating the interactive tool, which is simply the result of me being curious and trying to determine where I can help. It was largely to assure that my next pursuit will most effectively amplify my impact socially, economically, and environmentally. In doing so, I started seeing circular and complimentary relationships between different ecological challenges, adjacent technologies, and disparate legislation. I also realized that while many experts in the space ‘invite others to join’, there is a gap in finding where and how to do so. My ancillary hope is that my interactive tool will also help others find their way. I hope people are inspired to finally get off the sidelines, like myself.

The Big Picture Needs Structure: An Ecological Approach to Prosperity

To focus my efforts and provide a framework, I have been using The Blue New Deal (BND) as a backdrop, but it is largely semantic. This actually highlights a need for an inclusive holistic approach to yield the most value for all stakeholders.

We once thought the ocean was too big to impact, then we quickly swung to saying it was too big to fix. Neither is true. As a lifelong sailor who lives on the water, I often think of my love for the ocean as I witness firsthand its pain and its abundance. As a technologist, an entrepreneur, and a (former, non-climate) policy expert, I hope I can find a way to make a difference.

Of course, the Blue New Deal is US-centric, but in practice, it is a global framework for a global challenge. It is also elegant in its streamlined approach to growing ocean economies and addressing climate change. There are three core premises that neatly nest 17 overall initiatives:

  1. Rebuilding our Blue Economy: “Oceans already support millions of jobs, underpin our food system, and contribute $304 billion to our national GDP. They also have the potential to be one of our strongest tools in the fight against climate change. Three billion people around the world depend on wild-caught and farmed seafood as a major source of protein. Yet decades of overfishing, pollution, and climate impacts have pushed our oceans to the brink of collapse. We know that we can have a highly productive ocean. In fact, ocean-related jobs have grown at three times the rate of the national average. It’s time to restore our oceans and harness the potential of the Blue Economy.”
    1.1. Build Climate-Smart Ports & Blue Highways
    1.2. Expand Offshore Renewable Energy
    1.3. Build Climate-Ready Fisheries
    1.4. Expand Community-Based Seafood Markets
    1.5. Invest in Regenerative Ocean Farming
  2. Protecting & Restoring Ocean Habitat: “Coastal and marine habitats are our best natural defense system in the fight against climate change, storing up to 5 times more carbon per acre than tropical forests — while also often acting as cheaper and more effective sea walls. In fact, coastal wetlands reduced damages during Superstorm Sandy by $625 million. It is imperative that we restore our marine habitat to safeguard against future climate impacts, especially as climate change continues to hit our most vulnerable communities first and worst.”
    2.1. Restore Marine Ecosystems
    2.2. Expand Marine Protected Areas
    2.3. Collective Management of Our International Waters
    2.4. Invest in Marine Carbon Sequestration
    2.5. Hold Big AG Accountable for Upstream Pollution
    2.6. Reduce Ocean Trash & Pollution
    2.7. End Offshore Drilling
  3. Adapting in a Changing Climate: “We cannot hold the ocean back — it is rising and rising rapidly. The world faces an increase of about 1 foot of sea-level rise by mid-century if we do not curb global emissions, putting the homes of more than 50 million people at risk. And here in the United States, the picture is just as bleak. Isle de Jean Charles, a coastal island in Louisiana, has lost 98% of its landmass to sea level rise since 1955. In the coming years, it could be gone — which is why for the first time ever the federal government is paying an entire community to move inland to higher ground before it is too late. Despite efforts by the state and federal governments, climate change has displaced several Alaska Native communities. For the Quinault Indian Nation in Washington, the rising sea level has made community relocation necessary. As our ocean continues to expand and rise as a result of climate change, we must mitigate the damage that has already been done and prepare for what will only get worse — sea level rise, storm surges, and extreme weather events.”
    3.1. Pre-Disaster Mitigation
    3.2. Post-Disaster Mitigation
    3.3. Flood Insurance Reform
    3.4. Management for Drought
    3.5. Investing in our Great Lakes

The biggest constraint to the Blue New Deal is actual policy, and particularly the policy framework integration at multiple scales. Making it easier to research, permit, and implement new tech is essential to making it profitable across the various dimensions of human welfare and economic viability. However, on its own, there is a flatness. It is not yet actionable. Which initiatives affect which of the triple bottom lines of humanity, equity, and profitability? If the benefit is to multiple, how is it distributed?

If still using conventional GDP to measure the success of an ocean economy (which of course misses essential human and environmental needs), will we align with the emerging global standards for a GDP subset of satellite accounts, like the National Accounting for the Ocean and Ocean Economy? This is a fun puzzle to solve.

Further still, and to get gleefully complex, what is the relationship between these initiatives? For example, if progress is made toward (2.5) Hold Big AG Accountable for Upstream Pollution, how does that foster (2.1) Restore Marine Ecosystems. These both support (1.3) Build Climate-Ready Fisheries and (1.5) Regenerative Ocean Farming, which in part (2.4) Invests in Marine Carbon Sequestration by rapidly growing kelp forests that can remove carbon at 2x a tropical rainforest, and a wetland at 5x that.

Holistic Inclusion, Repurposing, and a Path Ahead: Design Centric Communication

Don’t worry, Big AG does not need to be a big loser here. There are also paths to keep them engaged and their massive resources properly repurposed, but that is too much to get into here. If you want an adjacent ‘repurposing case study’, check out how IDEO helped $7B/yr MexiChem reinvent themselves as Orbia, then stood up the accelerator Lighthouse Labs to align all 13 business units with one of The UN Goals for Sustainable Development — it’s a work in progress. We focus so much on innovation alone, yet accelerators & incubators focused on redirection may be the key. Communication oriented, human-centric design, and inclusion based change. You get the idea. I digress…

We must also think holistically when drafting policy and funding innovation. For example, GreenWave checks a lot of boxes with their vertical regenerative ocean farming by utilizing the entire water column for a small surface footprint, earth-friendly polyculture, bivalve mollusks for consumption and water filtration, plus seaweed growth for consumption and carbon capture. Yet still, not all carbon capture is the same, so for more permanent solutions look to startups like Project Vesta. They use “green sand” on beaches with high wave energy to speed up olivine rock weathering to remove gigaton-levels of CO2, and then natural processes bury it in the seafloor (see image below). The point is we must evaluate the Regenerative Ocean Economies in their entirety and adjacent to each other and policy.

Project Vesta Carbon Dioxide Removal — Regenerative Ocean Economy Ecosystem

This is partially why I say my interactive tool is a V1, Ocean Economy Ecosystem (really it was just for me). Not just because there is still a lot to fill in (and YES help would be nice if you also find these things important), but mainly because I have not yet integrated weighted averages and one-to-many relationships to determine the cross benefits of the initiatives and entities involved. Truly, this should be gamified for the benefit of legislators, capital markets, and ocean advocates, but now I’m getting ahead of myself.

I should also note it’s V1 because there is now the Ocean Climate Action Plan (OCAP), released by the fine folks at The Middlebury Institute’s Center for the Blue Economy and the nonprofit Blue Frontier. It’s a great read. In fact, variants of many of the policies outlined in the OCAP have already been introduced in legislation in the US House of Representatives or Senate, but have yet to become law. For my purposes and where I personally have alignment work to do, the OCAP frames the Blue New Deal slightly differently, with four “issue areas”:

  1. Coastal Adaptation and Financing
  2. Clean Ocean Energy
  3. Ports, Shipping, and the Maritime Sector
  4. Sustainable Fisheries, Aquaculture, and Marine Biodiversity Conservation

I like it and will be working to incorporate the OCAP framework with the initial BND outline. The intention still being to support policymaking, resource allocation, and execution to increase the likelihood of a holistic approach. My focus beyond policy is largely around what startups, industries, products, and support systems are in place or needed to achieve these goals. Again, understanding the dynamic interrelatedness of all aspects of our global Regenerative Ocean Economies plus their adjacent natural and economic ecosystems are not only critical. It is also an opportunity for a fun interactive game, or dashboard, or integrated dataset. It must feel accessible for all stakeholders, with dials to turn, and knobs to tweak, and results to display. Food for thought.

The Challenge of Decoupling: Spoiler Alert — Don’t. Just Lean In

Let’s start with the premise that Humanity is not separate from Nature. Nature’s organic interconnected living systems and Humanity’s constructed interconnected dynamic systems are fully entwined, economic-policy and the built-environment, for better or worse. We need not and cannot with the ‘flip of a switch’ abandon all that currently exists to get to where we need to be. But we can be bold. This is a message of collective wins and democratization. This is about alignment and redirection. This is not about punishment, but rather inclusion. If restorative justice is needed, that will have to be incorporated too, inclusively.

Taken from the back of my sailboat outside the San Francisco Bay Gate

This is also not about continuing to think that monoculture or single-purpose replication is the only means to prosper and scale. Especially in the context that Humans are only a single element within a living system. Our models, simulators, and integrated datasets need to account for our subordinate nested hierarchy within the greater environmental context. Personally, I think of ocean-swimming from the beach, through big breaking waves. There are moments to swim, but there are also moments to ‘duck-dive’ down and stay horizontal below the surface and relax while forces that would otherwise be crushing simply move through you. Rigidity is not an option. This is both skill and surrender with a healthy respect for the larger forces at work.

Take for example the Agroforestry practice of Silvopasture that incorporates trees, pasture, and livestock into a mutually beneficial system that also sequesters carbon. While this challenges conventional farming, it embraces working with nature as a connected living system. As it turns out, living in harmony with nature can over time take less energy and effort, as playfully shown in the movie The Biggest Little Farm. Nature prefers the path of least resistance, and when we get out of her way, she can also largely heal herself. This can be profitable and support aspects of social, racial, and environmental justice.

I have been looking at Regenerative Ocean Economies and The Blue New Deal through that same ‘silvopasture-like lens’. Except as noted above, I’m adding the layer of “Humanity’s constructed interconnected dynamic systems, economic and built”. The path of least resistance is to work within nature and to be inclusive by aligning and redirecting people and existing resources while distributing and democratizing access, opportunity, and abundance. My hope is to expand GDP to include social, racial, and environmental justice. In doing so, we can more accurately calculate the value of human life and extend the timeline of our impact models. Yes, obviously there is more to it, but this is a start. In short, we need to redefine success, and could probably afford to release Ego, but that’s a longer discussion.

Nothing Happens in Isolation: Everything Affects Everything

Truly. While it would be hard to convince me otherwise, I will readily agree that some of the relationships are incalculable and less relevant than others. Helping people see and understand this interconnectedness could be my personal single greatest pursuit. We can even leave aside larger constructs of chaos theory and the butterfly effect, or Charles Eisenstein's The Ascent of Humanity. I simply propose that we strive to understand ALL the connections, dependencies, and relationships, and then acknowledge on the front end that we won’t.

We’ve never been better positioned as a species to finally connect these dots. Much of the economic data is available and often accessible via APIs, earth observation plus biophysical data is abundant, machine learning resources are seemingly everywhere, and AI might even reveal some blind spots. The list goes on–energy markets are maturing, genius is being cultivated through targeted fellowships like Cyclotron Road, there are countless venture funds now solely dedicated to impact and environment, the world is largely supporting The UN Goals for Sustainable Development, and Google just released an oversubscribed $5.75B in sustainability bonds. These convergences finally make immersive predictive modeling and simulation possible–both technically and altruistically.

In the above simple example of Big Ag Pollution, we could explore ‘up-channel effects’ on funding for local schools if there is a reduction of property values from less profitable farms that pay ‘true’ operational costs. We could then turn the dial back and see the increased value and ROI from implementing silvopasture instead, + water table benefits, + health improvements, etc.… Conversely, ‘down-channel’ decisions could be informed where perhaps investment in fisheries will only provide returns up to a point, and thereafter only put capital allocation toward legislation and awareness. Again, these are simple examples, but you hopefully get the idea. This is just a massive interdisciplinary simulation. It needs to be interactive and near real-time. However, it also bears mention that in the age of integrated data for democratized reporting, algorithmic transparency must also be enforced.

In the process of trying to make my own decision of where I could achieve the greatest impact for The Blue New Deal with its 17 initiatives, I began categorizing ‘entities’ into various ‘buckets’ under each initiative. Again, I’m thinking about policy and execution. There are sometimes technologies, solutions, sectors, startups, etc. that work toward a single initiative, but may benefit others. Or there could be a fund, foundation, accelerator, etc. that serves many different initiatives by design. This is the one-to-many relationship mentioned earlier, with a need for weighted-associations. It has been both fun and daunting aggregating this research and creating these buckets. I welcome feedback and collaboration on this as well. There are 8 buckets so far:

  1. Products, Technologies, Solutions
  2. Startups, Established Companies, EDU Research
  3. Venture & Funds, Foundations & Grants, Accelerators & Incubators
  4. Trade Organizations, Conferences, Panels, Community Groups
  5. Regulations, Policies, Incentives
  6. Potential Threats, Competitors, Acquirers, Strategic Partners
  7. Allies, Advocates, Organizers
  8. Content Channels, Research, Noteworthy Efforts & Examples

Again, there is so much I don’t know, and truly invite others to join. I seek good questions as much as I seek answers. I suppose this is along the same lines that I have learned more from my past failures than from my successes.

The Ocean is The Hero: Flip the Script

It seems fitting that I first learned of this idea from one of my climate heroes, marine biologist Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson. The simple concept is that we need to flip the script from the ocean being the victim to the ocean being the true hero that it is. The ocean is actually saving us and is perhaps the main reason we are alive since it has sequestered about 30% of the carbon dioxide we’ve emitted. It has also absorbed 90% of the excess heat in our environment. Also, despite the fact that we have only protected 2.5% of the ocean and have no protection in international waters, diversity of life continues to thrive in many areas. With just a little support the ocean can be a great source of abundance, from offshore renewable energy to regenerative ocean farming, to algae biofuels (maybe), to intelligent fishery management, and more. These are incredibly exciting opportunities that should inspire and motivate people to get involved in amazing ways. Let’s be honest, people like to root for the winning team. Framing the ocean only as a downtrodden victim is not accurate and counterproductive. Of course, the ocean needs advocates, but it also needs agents to promote the potential.

As I said above, “we once thought the ocean was too big to impact, then we quickly swung to saying it was too big to fix. Neither is true. As a lifelong sailor and someone who lives on the water, I often think of my love for the ocean as I witness firsthand its pain and its abundance”. I want to invite people to invest in and thrive with the ocean’s regenerative resources. I want to dispel the inaccurate afterthought that the ocean can be a small policy byline in an overall solution and impact-oriented society. Covering 70% of the earth’s surface, it dwarfs the land. When considering the depth and the water column as a z-factor the total area and opportunities are almost unfathomable (pun intended). Yet, understanding that total area is paramount when appreciating this through the lens of Natural Capital Accounting.

However, most people may never visit the ocean, but they are greatly affected, nonetheless. It is the duty of those of us who understand this to bridge that gap. Also, by democratizing the understanding of and access to regenerative ocean economies, we can begin to rebalance wealth and opportunity in our pursuit of social justice. Having clear simulations and models that show the disproportionate harm that policies and practices cause to communities of color, we can begin to work toward racial justice. I argue that none of the above can be accomplished in full without the other. In short, we cannot fix what we cannot see.

We must create translation layers that contextualize the opportunities and what’s at stake for policymakers, innovators, titans of industry, community scientists, and anyone else who will listen. We have the tools. It will be fun and incredibly challenging to integrate all the necessary data and build a fully interactive simulator. It is not about the availability of data, it is about the distribution and democratization of that data, and interrelating it programmatically for decision-makers. To appreciate the enormity of the challenge and the absurdity of our current structures, everything must be seen in its entirety and adjusted in concert. Regenerative Ocean Economies can be the enticing backdrop for varied stakeholders needing humanity, equity, and profitability — all with elements of social, racial, and environmental justice.

Let’s Be Clear: The problem and solutions are obvious. Investment is available.

Capital often awaits certainty and innovation often awaits permission. Both of these can be addressed by legislators filling in the gaping holes surrounding our ocean and energy-related policies. Legislators often await public opinion and/or financial contributions. These can simultaneously be solved with clear communication to individuals regarding health and risk, while conveying the clean market opportunities to industry. The challenge may be equal parts technical as it is communicative. Again, think of the IDEO example above.

Let’s also not repeat our same mistakes by not looking far enough down the field with our policy decisions. For example, we continue to grant access and enable the oil and gas industry, which triggers investment, thus creating (future) stranded assets that entrench resistance to change. Therefore such policy decisions create significant ROI incentives for the development of misinformation strategies to stifle progress. While this can be infuriating to those working to improve the health and prosperity of the planet, it is really quite simple to see how we got here. Are we about to do the same with Ocean Mining and future stranded assets there? Not to mention it potentially triggering down-current ecosystem collapse… Before we can truly look in the mirror, we must create the mirror.

Science is the pursuit of Truth. The Pursuit Of Truth is also a science. The dependencies of these disciplines and the need for investment in both is becoming undeniable, much like a surgeon depending upon an anesthesiologist to accomplish her task. These related metrics must be measured in real-time as we strive to clarify the interconnectedness of all the moving parts.

What do you want to do?

Maybe check out the interactive tool and try to identify a way to help. This could be simply finding a company or sector to work for, or a grant to apply for. Or maybe you want to contribute to the research or the dynamic structure. This is a big data challenge that I started on a small data platform for my own initial purposes and proof of concept, so perhaps to have thoughts there as well. This belongs to all of us, as does The Earth. Thank you for taking the time to read this. PS — I could clearly use an editor as well…

***These efforts will never be ‘done’. It’s not a project to finish, but rather a dynamic interconnected understanding. That said, to build models and interactive data sets, having a framework of consistent labels/tags is important. This is one area I would love assistance. I was so excited when I first learned about the Blue New Deal because there was finally an actionable structure around which to focus my understanding. Data normalization is hard work: i.e. getting the ‘buckets’ right as we line up policy, financing & funding, mentorship & education, existing resources & assets, startups, innovation pipelines, and measures of humanitarian justice. If you have advice or know other sources, please reach out. I’m not affiliated in any way, but so far I have been relying on these sources and others:

Project Drawdown
The Blue New Deal
Ocean Climate Action Plan (OCAP)
Blue Frontier
Energy Innovation
High-Level Panel for A Sustainable Ocean Economy
World Research Institute
Data for Progress
The UN Goals for Sustainable Development
Evergreen Action

Want to find me?

Twitter: @JonathanDeLong
LinkedIn: /jonathanbdelong



Jonathan DeLong

Our regenerative ocean economies can be the hero of the story to combat Climate Change while addressing aspects of social, racial, and environmental justice.