How California is building career pathways to its next big economic sector: the ocean


MAY 10, 2024

Guest Commentary Written By

Sonya Christian
Sonya Christian
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Sonya Christian is the chancellor of California Community Colleges.
Terry Tamminen
Terry Tamminen
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Terry Tamminen is president and CEO of AltaSea. He served as the secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Despite its job market and future workforce challenges, California has a massive job-generating opportunity just west of the coastline: the ocean.


It’s true that the ocean and its resources are increasingly being seen as the way to address the planet’s most challenging issues – food insecurity, energy shortages and even storing carbon emissions. While the potential of the ocean is significant, we need to make sure we are cultivating ocean jobs in a sustainable way.


Enter the “blue” economy: one of the fastest growing economic sectors in California. From ocean exploration and regenerative aquaculture to underwater robotics and renewable energy, the blue economy is expected to create new jobs of every kind, bringing opportunities that can benefit diverse communities. Prior to the pandemic, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development projected the blue economy would reach $3 trillion in global value by 2030.


Just like what the dot-com boom and rise of the internet did for California, something similar is on the cusp of happening with the blue economy. So, it’s only smart that we make sure our next generation has the training and skills necessary to ensure that they can seize these opportunities.


All of this starts with education.


Recently, California’s community colleges launched the Blue Economy Climate Action Pathways program, or BECAP, to align academia with businesses to help our students get sustainable, good-paying jobs in ocean-related fields. This first-of-its-kind partnership will help developing new curriculum and programs to fill the next generation of ocean-centric jobs.


California community colleges are an ideal place to pilot this work, given their accessible pathways to economic mobility and skilled training. With over 2 million students attending 116 colleges, perhaps the next Jacques Cousteau or Sylvia Earle are sitting in those classrooms.


In 2022, Santa Monica College and AltaSea launched an aquaculture certificate to meet a local workforce need within the industry. Aquaculture makes up an increasingly large percentage of the global seafood market. To prevent overfishing and overharvesting, the industry relies on the development of sustainable aquaculture systems – especially in Los Angeles – to produce oysters and mussels for restaurants, and to grow seaweed for everything from food and fuel to pharmaceuticals and industrial colorants.


Regenerative aquaculture will help ensure that we can meet the growing demand for seafood while preserving ocean ecosystems and biodiversity. It also provides a sustainable alternative to traditional fishing practices, reducing pressure on wild fish stocks and habitats, and a reliable source of protein and other essential nutrients to help contribute to food security worldwide.


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


For California to maintain its footing, it has to remain on the cutting edge of innovation. We need to start harnessing our greatest assets: our ocean and untapped talent.


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

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