The Future of Ocean Tech & Talent

(Image credit: MTS)

The marine technology sector has reached an inflection point, with a critical mass of companies, consumers, and innovators advancing automation, autonomy, miniaturization, and digitalization. This community of practitioners has found a professional home within the Marine Technology Society (MTS) for the past 60 years.

Serving as a convenor, thought leader, and common forum for the exchange of information and ideas, MTS enables our members to succeed at the leading-edge of technology design, development, and application. Their efforts have allowed us to gain a deeper collective understanding of our oceans than ever before in human history. As we look to the next few decades of ocean science, technology, and stewardship, several applications of marine technology are shaping our path forward.

    1. Ocean Exploration

While our knowledge is vast, there is still much we do not know. More than 80% of the ocean floor is unmapped, 90% of ocean species have yet to be classified, and an untold number of discoveries are waiting to be made. Ocean exploration, despite being part of the human social narrative for thousands of years, is still in its infancy. Today, technologies like AUVs, ROVs, USVs, and profiling floats—equipped with advanced mapping, biogeochemical, and imaging sensors—allow us relatively quick and affordable access to the depths of the ocean with unprecedented precision and efficiency. Whether mapping the seafloor, identifying and characterizing new mineral and energy resource capacities, or providing non-extractive mechanisms to monitor marine biodiversity and measure species abundance; these technologies are opening a new era of ocean exploration and human knowledge.

    1. Sustainable Energy from the Deep

Our global energy landscape is evolving. Social and market forces are driving a transition from non-renewable fossilized sources towards non-carbon and renewable sources of power. The ocean can potentially serve as the largest power reservoir on Earth—if only we can economically and responsibly tap into it. The cost of production is rapidly falling while advances in grid integration are reducing barriers to consumers buying ocean-derived electricity. Floating solar, OTEC, offshore wind, tidal turbines, and wave energy systems present viable options to meet, and exceed, the current global demand for power. Adjacent innovation could leverage these technologies to deliver sustainable and affordable desalination, marine debris removal, and seafood production.

    1. Climate Change Mitigation

Rising global temperatures and increasing ocean acidity have spurred a global push for carbon capture and removal technologies. The ocean serves as the largest carbon store on Earth and has the potential to sequester and store more carbon than terrestrial solutions. The ocean already acts as a buffer against rising atmospheric carbon. New approaches seek to expand that buffering capacity through biological (iron fertilization, kelp forests, and micro-algae cultivation), physical (pumped storage), and chemical means (alkalinity enhancement, electrochemical processes).

  1. Conserving Biodiversity

Biodiversity is a cornerstone of ocean productivity. Billions of people rely on productive fisheries, abundant coral reefs, and healthy estuaries for food, economic stability, and cultural reinforcement. As a growing global population strains the capacity of our ocean to sustain that economic impact, marine technology offers insights into sustainable management. AUVs and satellite-based tracking systems are being employed to monitor and safeguard marine species and ecosystems against illegal fishing. Environmental DNA (eDNA) techniques are being used to understand population dynamics and biodiversity of critical ecosystems. Additionally, new technologies and methods are reducing bycatch, enhancing aquaculture, and supporting species resilience and recovery.

Investing in the Future

To fully realize the potential of marine technology, governments, research institutions, and the private sector must sustain investments in R&D while supporting rapid technology transition across the bench-to-market spectrum. Traditional programs like the UK Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) and the US Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs are being complemented by a rapidly growing spectrum of privately financed venture funds, ocean incubators, and accelerators.

Defense-oriented investments in autonomy at scale, such as the US Replicator Initiative, and in dual-use technology innovation like NATO’s DIANA Initiative, have the potential to catalyze rapid market opportunity for our industry.

Providing inclusive training and alternative credentialing pathways for the next generation of oceanographers, engineers, and marine technicians is equally crucial. MTS and partners are building a stackable microcredential framework to support this new approach to competency-based experiential learning. This expansion of a new learning paradigm, alongside traditional higher education and vocational training will enable a broader pool of talent to support the growing workforce needs of our ocean economy.

Technology and talent are necessary, but alone insufficient, to support the future of our marine technology sector. The power of people and technology, deployed together, allow us to gather data and information that increases our knowledge and informs solutions. Yet data capture is often done in a vacuum—disconnected from priorities and potential synergies across industry, academia, and government. While the ocean is recognized as critical to life on Earth, ocean data and the Ocean Enterprise that generates it are not yet seen as essential to managing our global economic system, geopolitical engagement, and social welfare. Through our Ocean Enterprise Initiative, MTS and partners are working to close this gap.

The ocean offers vast potential to deliver solutions to humanity’s pressing problems—the future of marine technology as a sector will center on a talented workforce that leverages innovative marine technologies to unlock the data and information that informs those solutions.

This story was originally featured in ON&T Special Edition 2023. Click here to read more.

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