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Is ocean conservation the next climate technology? 7 investors explain why they’re all-in

For an ecosystem covering much of the planet, the oceans have basically been ignored by startups and investors alike.

Sure, a lot of money is spent on ocean-based industries, but most of today’s marine investment goes into extractive industries like fishing or oil and gas, or activities like shipping, which are not extractive but don’t really benefit marine ecosystems.

In recent years, however, there has been a turnaround in perspectives. Founders and investors have been looking for opportunities to conserve and even enhance the ocean’s resources rather than exploit them.

“There is tremendous potential for the ocean to provide more food, more efficiently, with less environmental impact and even regeneratively,” said Reece Pacheco, a partner at Propeller.

Because the oceans take up such a large portion of the planet and space is relatively unknown, there are plenty of opportunities for investors to find niches that are ripe with financial and environmental benefits.

“Our systems are at a point where it is more productive to work with nature than against it,” said Sanjeev Krishnan, chief investment officer at S2G Ventures. “While energy and agriculture are further down the J curve, the oceans sector is more up and coming, but presents an investment opportunity that impacts nearly every sector of the global economy.”

In that way, ocean conservation technology mirrors climate technology, which has grown so fast that some have called it “recession-proof.” Of course, some question whether a sector is truly recession proof and that includes ocean conservation technology.

However, that doesn’t mean investors aren’t bullish. “I’m not sure I would characterize the ocean economy as recession-proof, but the investment opportunity is real from a venture capital perspective,” said Tim Agnew, general partner at Bold Ocean Ventures.

Even some of the most persistent and high-profile problems facing the world’s oceans, such as plastic pollution, are inspiring investors to dive in.

“People have been solving these problems the wrong way,” said Daniela Fernandez, managing partner at Seabird Ventures. “Profitability and scalability depend on the approach and business model implemented to solve the plastic pollution crisis. We need to think beyond community beach cleanups – there are actually extremely investment-friendly approaches to solving the plastic problem.

Investors like Fernandez are looking with fresh eyes at both new problems like plastic pollution and old problems like aquaculture and fisheries management. In doing so, they are betting that innovative approaches to solving those problems will not only generate revenues, but also create disruptions and innovations that spill over to neighboring industries.

“Part of our thesis is that ocean conservation technologies can solve big problems for major ocean industries and adjacent industries,” said Kate Danaher, general manager at S2G Ventures.

But, she added, there is still more room to grow. “We need to make the case for even more climate-focused and generalist investors.”

To get a better idea of ​​how startups and investors think about ocean conservation technology and the opportunities therein, we spoke to:

Tim Agnew, Managing Partner, Bold Ocean Ventures

What is your investment thesis for ocean conservation technology in 2023? What growth do you expect in the sector?

Our investment thesis focuses on innovations that modernize the seafood supply chain, expand production in a sustainable way, and address the impacts of climate change. We believe this investment opportunity is in its early stages and will be a major theme in the next decade as it becomes clearer how important the ocean can be in addressing the climate crisis and feeding a growing, more urbanized population.

Ocean related companies are in the early stages of adopting new technologies to increase efficiency and productivity.

Is there a meaningful distinction between the technology used by startups targeting coastal regions and the technology built for the open ocean?

Answer is yes and no. Ocean shipping and ocean wind are, of course, very different animals than kelp aquaculture and climate resilience, but both are migrating to more technological solutions, including digital technologies, artificial intelligence, data collection and analysis.

Many of the problems facing the oceans, such as plastic pollution, do not seem to have much profit potential. Is that a fair assessment, or have we been looking at these issues the wrong way?

We just looked at a company that has a thriving business collecting plastic bottles from beaches, separating the types of plastic and selling them to companies eager to offer recycled bottles or other products.

A lot of research is being done into the transition from plastic packaging to biodegradable packaging. There is a lot of potential for profitable businesses, although the process of cleaning up the oceans will take time and money.

What technology are you excited about that has the most potential to create new markets?

Seafood traceability solutions; ropeless traps; microalgae and seaweed are a huge untapped resource with multiple market opportunities; collection and analysis of ocean and weather data.

The ocean today only accounts for 15% of the world’s protein and 2% of its calories. What is the potential of the oceans to offer more, and what should that look like?

The oceans will provide more food that has a much lower carbon footprint than animal protein on land. Shifting demand from beef to seafood could have a major impact on greenhouse gas reduction. Seafood aquaculture, both onshore and offshore, is growing much faster than wild-caught fish and will become an important source of high-quality protein.

What are some of the major issues facing an ocean-based food system?

Societal concerns about aquaculture, species sustainability and the need to broaden consumer tastes to reduce pressures on overfishing.

From aquaculture to kelp farming, there are a variety of options for getting more food from the oceans. Which do you think is the most promising?

RAS and closed aquaculture.

Peter Bryant, Program Director (Oceans), Builders Initiative, and Kate Danaher, General Manager (Oceans and Seafood), S2G Ventures

What is your investment thesis for ocean conservation technology in 2023? What growth do you expect in the sector?

Peter Bryant: We invest in technologies and business models that enhance the conservation, regeneration and resilience of ecosystems, optimize the production and use of ocean resources and provide consumers with sustainable, traceable and safe food.

kate danaher: Part of our thesis is that ocean conservation technologies can solve big problems for major ocean-going and adjacent industries. Innovations that create deflationary solutions, such as saving fuel, reducing water consumption or generating diverse revenue streams across multiple industries, will be best positioned to weather this economic winter, raise capital and gain traction in the market.

As these kinds of innovations begin to deliver commercial results and have a positive impact on the environment, we expect investment in the sector to continue to increase, leading to more ocean-focused funds and greater interest from broader climate funds.

What role have impact investors played in ocean conservation? Investor networks?

Bryant: Within conservation of the ocean, there are technologies and entire sub-sectors that are still evolving and need patient capital for R&D, achieving product-market alignment, and in some cases creating new markets. Patience capital enables commercially viable companies to save themselves risk and provide them with the runway they need to hit milestones to raise more traditional capital.

Impact investors have also catalyzed the growth of the ocean investment landscape by providing the first capital in ocean funds. Before 2018, there were only a handful of ocean-focused funds; however, more than 18 ocean-focused funds have launched in the past 18 months.

This is exciting not only because it will lead to hundreds of millions of new dollars being invested in the oceans, but also because it demonstrates that venture capital and growth capital investors have seen the potential of oceans and are willing to set up funds that focus on the target oceans. Impact investors willing to invest early in these funds play a critical role in raising the capital needed to grow the ocean investment landscape.


Shreya has been with australiabusinessblog.com for 3 years, writing copy for client websites, blog posts, EDMs and other mediums to engage readers and encourage action. By collaborating with clients, our SEO manager and the wider australiabusinessblog.com, Shreya seeks to understand an audience before creating memorable, persuasive copy.

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