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California is building career pathways into its next major economic sector: the ocean

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Despite its labor market and future workforce challenges, California offers a huge job creation opportunity just west of the coast: the ocean.

It's true that the ocean and its resources are increasingly seen as a solution to the planet's biggest problems – food insecurity, energy shortages and even the storage of carbon emissions. While the ocean's potential is significant, we must ensure we support ocean jobs in a sustainable way.

Enter the “blue” economy: one of the fastest-growing economic sectors in California. From marine research and regenerative aquaculture to underwater robotics and renewable energy, the blue economy is expected to create new jobs of all kinds and provide opportunities that can benefit diverse communities. Before the pandemic, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development predicted that the blue economy would reach a global value of $3 trillion by 2030.

Just as the dot-com boom and the rise of the Internet affected California, something similar is about to happen in the blue economy. That's why it's only smart to ensure our next generation has the education and skills they need to ensure they can take advantage of these opportunities.

All of this starts with education.

Recently, California community colleges launched the Blue Economy Climate Action Pathways program (BECAP) to connect universities with businesses and help our students find sustainable, well-paying jobs in ocean-related fields. This unique partnership will help develop new curricula and programs to fill the next generation of ocean-centric jobs.

Read more: Harnessing a Windfall, a series about offshore wind.

California community colleges are an ideal place to explore this work because they have accessible pathways to economic mobility and skilled education. With over 2 million students at 116 colleges, the next Jacques Cousteau or Sylvia Earle may be sitting in these classrooms.

In 2022, Santa Monica College and AltaSea introduced an aquaculture certificate to meet local labor needs in the industry. Aquaculture represents an increasingly larger share of the global seafood market. To prevent overfishing and overfishing, the industry—particularly in Los Angeles—is committed to developing sustainable aquaculture systems to produce oysters and mussels for restaurants and to grow seaweed for everything from food and fuel to pharmaceuticals and industrial dyes.

Regenerative aquaculture will help us meet the growing demand for seafood while protecting ocean ecosystems and biodiversity. In addition, it provides a sustainable alternative to traditional fishing practices, reduces pressure on wild fish stocks and habitats, and is a reliable source of proteins and other essential nutrients that contribute to global food security.

This is just one example of how the blue economy and education systems focused on creating next-generation jobs can impact every person on the planet. It also shows that economic prosperity and ecological responsibility are not mutually exclusive.

For California to maintain its footing, it must stay on the cutting edge of innovation. We must start leveraging our greatest assets: our ocean and our untapped talents.

Financial support for this story was provided by the Smidt Foundation and the James Irvine Foundation.

Anna Harden

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