Driving Innovation in the New Blue Economy through Government-Industry Collaborations in Southern California

abstract background image with blue overlay


New ocean industries like offshore aquaculture and energy production offer exciting possibilities, but competing priorities and challenging environmental conditions exist in the ocean. As the U.S. looks to increase sustainable food and energy production in national waters, collaboration between government agencies and New Blue Economy industry leaders becomes increasingly important. This project demonstrates the economic viability and environmental benefits of offshore kelp cultivation, offering a scalable domestic source of low-input biomass to enhance sustainability across industries.


With support from the Department of Energy, Ocean Rainforest—an innovator in sustainable seaweed aquaculture—has paved the way for offshore seaweed farming in Southern California. During phase one of the project, Ocean Rainforest obtained a permit for a pilot-scale kelp aquaculture demonstration farm in U.S. federal waters, which is part of the groundbreaking MacroSystems, an international collaboration initiative. NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) played a key role in phase one of the MacroSystems project, supporting the site suitability study required in the context of Ocean Rainforest’s permit application to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Data sets like AIS vessel transit data, danger and restricted zones, habitat of particular concern, and unexploded ordinances, obtained from MarineCadastre.gov, were essential in identifying potential locations for offshore seaweed farms and providing insight for the suitability study.

The National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science offered guidance throughout the entire permitting process. The permit is now being used to test a variety of technologies that could have wide-reaching effects on the scalability and economic viability of seaweed cultivation across the country.


Kelp forests offer a multifaceted sanctuary for various marine life, while also serving as a natural nutrient sink and a critical tool in mitigating climate change by capturing carbon dioxide. Together, the efforts of these groups extended beyond harnessing the potential of macroalgae for biofuel production; they also emphasized the crucial role of marine spatial science in encouraging the success of these initiatives. By supporting an effective and comprehensive spatial planning process and robust early stakeholder and interagency coordination, such collaborations minimize risks to sensitive marine environments, support compatibility with existing industries, and encourage the long-term development of a sustainable industry. To accomplish big climate goals, we must work together. (2023)

Open water dotted with yellow buoys with mountains and puffy white clouds in the backdrop
Drone shot over Ocean Rainforest’s giant kelp cultivation demonstration project off the Santa Barbara Coast. Photo courtesy of Ocean Rainforest.