In Los Angeles, A New Approach to Marine Science

Over a period of 20 years, AltaSea’s warehouses will evolve into a landmark for ocean science, business and education, designed by Gensler. 

Los Angeles has a longstanding and critical relationship with the ocean — most notably at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, through which nearly 150 million tons of cargo travel each year. Now, the port of Los Angeles will host a new avenue for promoting ocean-related business that will help keep the planet sustainable.

AltaSea at the Port of Los Angeles is a new ocean collaborative with a vision of “an ocean that will sustain future generations.”

AltaSea occupies a 35-acre site within the boundaries of San Pedro on the northern edge of the port of Los Angeles. The first phase of development consists of four former cargo warehouses with 120,000 feet of space, including dock space for research vessels and plans for an education pavilion.

AltaSea imagines itself as “a place where innovators collaborate to develop solutions critical to the survival of the earth and its inhabitants.”

The new multi-tenant nonprofit will operate at the intersection of business, education and science. And it bases its vision on five major pillars:

  • Economic opportunities for future generations must be created.
  • The ocean must be explored.
  • Future generations must be fed.
  • Future generations must have clean energy.
  • Future challenges must be met.

The new facility provides a place for innovators, educators and scientists to come together, with AltaSea as the convener, doing its work without duplicating the efforts of others.

Sharing infrastructure will help foster collaboration

In an interview in the Planning Report, Dr. Sandra Whitehouse, AltaSea’s chief scientific officer, said the organization does more than facilitate collaboration among other entities.

“We also look for what kind of infrastructure is necessary for some of these entities that we can encourage them to share,” Whitehouse said. “Our belief is that sharing critical infrastructure — like tanks and testing facilities — will also help foster collaboration.”

This strategy has not gone unnoticed. In addition to praise by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, AltaSea was singled out in a report commissioned by the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce as “a major economic driver for revitalization of the LA Waterfront.” The study found that AltaSea will “add more than 700 jobs and could create a green industry ‘cluster’ that will draw other new jobs and office development.”

This visualization by Gensler imagines a portion of AltaSea as a research facility. 

Those jobs will come through the development of industry clusters, and the first two are sustainable aquaculture and blue technology.

Whitehouse said she is excited that Catalina Sea Ranch is the initial aquaculture anchor tenant. The company is the first aquaculture facility to obtain a permit to grow mussels, clams and oysters in federal waters. “Mussels are inherently sustainable,” she explained. “They don’t require external feed. They don’t’ require antibiotics; they actually filter feed, so they clean the water while they’re growing.”

The Blue Technology cluster will focus primarily on underwater robotics. It also recognizes the rapidly growing field of underwater autonomous vehicles (AUVs) that travel the ocean loaded with sensors and cameras, gathering data that help scientists understand the chemical, physical and biological status of the ocean.

“There are many types of underwater robots,” Whitehouse said. “[These range] from small, two-foot-long underwater robots that take images of rockfish, to the Wave Glider — which is about the size of a surfboard and goes up and down in the top 300 feet of the ocean, measuring parameters such as temperature and pH.”

Better known as an aircraft manufacturer, Boeing has developed a 30-foot AUV, the Echo Voyager, that can venture under Arctic ice and also explore deep ocean trenches.  Boeing and AltaSea are in partnership discussions, and AltaSea hopes to execute an agreement with Boeing in early 2017

The Nautilus, Dr. Robert Ballard’s research vessel, will be based at AltaSea. 

AltaSea emphasizes research but doesn’t ignore education: It attracted a world-class tenant to help promote STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and public education about the ocean.

Ocean explorer Bob Ballard, known by many as the person who discovered the Titanic, has agreed to be the education anchor tenant and made AltaSea the home base for his vessel, the Nautilus.

Fifty percent of the United States lies beneath the sea

Dr. Ballard grew up in Southern California and attended the University of California in both Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. “I owe a lot to California; I owe a lot to the educational system,” he told the Planning Report.

Ballard said he is basing at AltaSea because “the largest ocean on the planet is the Pacific Ocean. It covers a third of Earth. And in that ocean is most of America. Fifty percent of the United States lies beneath the sea. And the vast majority of that 50 percent is in the Pacific Ocean. We have better maps of Mars than half of the United States of America.”

Even given the importance of the anchor tenants, many more organizations have either agreed to partner with AltaSea or are on the recruitment list. They include the Aquarium of the Pacific, USC, CalTech and the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium.

But having a long-term lease for a 35-acre waterfront property doesn’t make a world-class organization. In this first phase, the existing warehouses will be restored for the scientific, business and education communities to connect and collaborate. In addition, one warehouse will be upgraded and become the future home of the Southern California Marine Institute.

One of the proposed meeting rooms in the Engagement Center at AltaSea. 

An education pavilion will have outside amphitheater seating facing the ocean and will be used for lectures, demonstrations and exhibitions. An indoor classroom and a coffee or snack bar will also be included.

Gensler, a noted architectural firm, designed the AltaSea facility which will be built over the next 20 years.  Architectural Digest was so impressed with the plans that they were included in an August 2016 Architectural Digest story “These 9 Buildings Will Soon Change the Los Angeles Skyline.”

AltaSea intends to nurture both new and established companies that can take advantage of the facility’s access to the deep ocean to “produce innovative ocean- and technology-related products, services and jobs in Los Angeles.”

The vision is for a marine “Silicon Valley,” producing everything from ocean robotics and aquaculture to algae-based fuels and wave energy.

The Research and Business Hub also hopes to serve as an “ocean-inspired think tank” where collaborations can produce “nature-inspired technologies that will sustainably provide for basic human needs such as food and energy.”

The “blue economy” valued at an estimated $1.3 trillion

A Nov. 18 story in The Hill focused on the concept that the ocean and the “blue economy” could help find a win between the environment and traditional economics.

“Economic activity in the ocean is certainly growing rapidly — currently estimated at over $1.3 trillion in gross value by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a number they expect to grow faster than the global economy over the next decade,” wrote John Virdin and Pawan Patil of The Hill.

Dr. Whitehouse said the blue economy concept includes the need to value ocean health as the underpinning of much of the economic activity in the ocean.

AltaSea appears to be right on the mark in understanding this vision of a blue economy. Organizations wishing to locate at or collaborate with AltaSea should contact Shawn Jensen, the manager of government funding and program partnerships, through the AltaSea Business Hub section of its web site.

Images courtesy of AltSea

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Carl Nettleton

Carl Nettleton is an acclaimed writer, speaker, facilitator, and analyst. He heads Nettleton Strategies, an environmental policy firm specializing in oceans, all things water, energy, climate, and U.S. Mexico border issues. Carl also founded OpenOceans Global, an NGO linking people to the world's oceans. Carl also serves on the national and California advisory councils for Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), a national, nonpartisan group of business owners, investors and others who advocate for policies that are good for the economy and good for the environment. He is also active with the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce Energy and Water Committee, the international Eye on Earth initiative, and other business and environmental organizations.

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