Throughout America’s history, the majority of products we import have arrived by ship. For much of the last two centuries these ships have been powered by coal and diesel. This past Saturday in San Diego, California, TOTE Maritime launched the first cargo ship to use liquid natural gas (LNG) as the primary fuel, which will meaningfully reduce shipping emissions relative to other traditional fuels. This is just one of many rapid and significant changes we are seeing in the operations of the age-old shipping industry.
Another new technology that has the potential to significantly change the footprint of human uses in the ocean is being developed by offshore wind companies. For example, Principle Power, based in Seattle, Washington, is designing a floating wind turbine foundation that will allow for the siting of offshore wind installations regardless of water depth. Until now, offshore wind has been constrained to areas closer to shore because of the need for foundations connected to the ocean floor.
As companies like these develop new technologies, they are helping to drive changes in the ocean footprint of their industries. Shipping routes and port access demands may change thanks to LNG-powered ships needing to use ports where they can refuel. Floating wind platforms will allow for areas that are too deep for traditional fixed turbines to be accessed for development. These are just two of many ocean-based industries where rapidly changing needs and technologies are resulting in an increasingly busy and crowded ocean.
Not only are ocean-dependent industries experiencing change, the ocean itself is changing. For example, as waters are getting warmer, impacts such as ocean acidification and species shifts are altering the traditional map of areas important for biodiversity and conservation.
All of this begs the question: how do we address these rapidly changing conditions and find a way to successfully balance the many competing demands we put on our oceans? Our answer: Only by using an ecosystem-based approach that utilizes the best available data, involves ocean stakeholders, and coordinates the many state and federal agencies with responsibility for managing ocean resources, can we adjust to these changes and promote both sustainable ocean development and a healthy ocean. To learn more about smart ocean planning, click here.