REGION — The Yukon, a retired Canadian Navy ship, sits on the ocean floor offshore of Mission Beach.
The ship, which was sunk on purpose in 2000 to draw recreational divers, generates an estimated $5.7 million for San Diego’s diving and hospitality economy every year.
To bring more divers to the region, the nonprofit group California Ships to Reef would like to submerge more ships. A new process called marine spatial would help them identify the best spots to do so.
“You want to find a place that’s relatively barren, close to a major port and won’t interfere with a fishery,” said Eleanore Rewerts, the executive director of the nonprofit.
“You take all of these things into consideration, and this is why marine spatial planning is so important, so you know the ideal location for a ship,” Rewerts added.
Marine spatial planning would enlist stakeholders to determine the best use of the ocean, on the surface of the water and deep below. A new report authored by graduate students at UC San Diego states a variety of “blue” industries could benefit from the approach.
Some of those businesses include aquaculture farms, desalination plants and maritime construction, according to the report.
With more competing for ocean space, it’s necessary to identify ideal spots for ocean businesses and activities through a science-based process. In many ways, it’s similar to how land is divvied up for different uses, according to the report.
Currently, businesses like the Carlsbad Aquafarm, which raises and sells seafood to local vendors and restaurants, contribute to the $14 billion annual marine economy. But there’s room for much more growth, the report states.
“Effective planning could increase the gross product of ocean and water-related industries in San Diego dramatically — billions of dollars annually,” the report states. “By establishing needed rules and regulations and pre-approving sites, that would encourage investment and industry growth.”
There’s a lot of money in the ocean, even in small patches.
In just one-square mile, Hubbs-Sea World Research Institute estimates a business could farm 150,000 metric tons of white seabass annually using the latest open-cage technology, generating up to $900 million in economic activity, according to the report.
Marine agriculture, a new technique that involves growing land and sea plants on a floating platform, is another area with big potential, the report states. The price of building a one-acre floating platform is $20,000, along with other costs to grow the produce. Yet that same platform could create up to $200,000 in revenue a year.
Desalination plants, like the one that’s being constructed in Carlsbad, also represent an opportunity for the blue economy, according to the report.
“Having reliable, drought-proof water supplies could represent a major competitive advantage to San Diego in the decades to come,” the report says.
Michael Jones, president of the San Diego-based Maritime Alliance, has headed efforts to promote marine planning and advised the report. He noted it’s costly to import water, leading more to turn to the ocean as a drinking source.
And marine planning would help sort out the best spots for desalination plants, Jones added.
“If you’re not by the ocean, you don’t have desalination potential and fortunately San Diego does,” Jones said, adding that San Diego has more economic opportunities than landlocked places.
He said it’s still too early to say what the marine planning process will look like. San Diego is one of the first places to consider the idea, and it’s gaining traction among local leaders, Jones added.
Elisa Chang, one of the report’s authors, noted the researchers interviewed a host of marine-technology business leaders and sustainability experts as part of the report. Most expressed that marine planning could result in a significant economic boon, with the potential to increase environmental sustainability.
“They said it could balance everyone’s needs and desires,” Chang said.
But potential pitfalls are cited in the report. Chang noted that some expressed concern over groups being marginalized during the marine planning process. To counter that, a wide range of stakeholders should be consulted, she said.
Additionally, planning fatigue is a threat to marine planning, she said. For nearly a decade, various stakeholders took part in crafting local marine reserves, which have been in effect for two years.
Many felt meetings dragged on and they weren’t listened to during that process, Chang added.
“Ideally you create a platform where people can communicate and hopefully reach solutions, recognizing that sacrifices will need to be made,” Chang said.