By Mark Friedman, RL contributor and LA Maritime Institute marine science educator.

A crowd of 125 innovators, entrepreneurs, environmental activists and marine biologist turned out for the first ever Rising Tide Conference at AltaSea’s City Dock No. 1 campus on March 28. The two-day conference included keynote speakers such as AltaSea’s new chief executive officer and executive director Tim McOsker and Jenny Krusoe, the co-founder of the nonprofit organization fighting plastic pollution 5Gyers, Marcus Eriksen.

McOsker opened the conference by noting that “ 90 percent of the ocean is unexplored [and] AltaSea will expand our knowledge. And Pedro was the center of the tuna industry and in the future it will be the center of aquaculture and develop many jobs.”

McOsker noted that the Southern California Marine Institute (SCMI), a collaborative of 23 universities, is moving to the AltaSea site to expand their research and highlighted other collaborations.

“We have a new alliance with the Boys and Girls Clubs, whose membership is thousands and the continued collaboration with Robert Ballard’s “Nautilus” research vessel,” McOsker said.

AltaSea’s new executive director reviewed the stages of development of the multiple components of AltaSea construction including the business, education and innovation centers. Including the Catalina Sea Ranch, which has the first permit in federal waters for 1,000 acres to develop mussel production on floating “farms.” McOsker said that this is a model for businesses the blue tech incubators wants to attract and have secured new grants for kelp research.

AltaSea’s executive director, Jennifer Krusoe reinforced this view with the quip, “Building the Blue Economy, making the Golden state blue.” She noted that changing environmental conditions, like global climate change, the prevalence of marine plastic pollution and other factors have forced technology (new undersea robotics) to move rapidly and force humanity to look for solutions.  

“We want to inspire the next generation…Now is the time for everyone to contribute to the future, together.  Let us do it now,” Krusoe said.

Marcus Eriksen, a co-founder of 5Gyres, delivered a presentation on ocean plastic pollution.

Plastic fibers and particles coming from high atmosphere, down in rain, found within arctic ice, within 1200 species of marine organisms, in every area of the world’s ocean. They carry their own toxicity, PBA’s that are integrated into organisms. Then we eat them…and incorporate these toxins.

A study of the Great Lakes in 2013 showed even more plastic per sampling than in the ocean…and so many were microbeads. Through collaborative efforts by many organizations and social pressure, President Obama signed a ban on microbead use.

Referencing the top 20 polluting plastic items in the US; the biggest polluters… ( Eriksen addressed the question of bio-plastic products.  

“We took 20 different types and buried them in the ocean and same types in soil for two years. Cups, straws, bags. Wipes disappeared…not diapers,” Eriksen said. “Paper cup with liner ―paper gone in 2 years, liner not so much. Cornstarch utensils-did not degrade at all. “Bioplastics are not a functional alternative to plastics.”

“Going after single product bans is not a solution…like straws, plastic bags, we need to bundle the top 20.” Let’s go after brands most often found in the ocean and landfills.…McDonalds, Burger King, Subway…

Heal the Bay representative, Sarah Sikich, gave a presentation on producing seafood on a sustainable basis for the  restaurant industry. Others spoke of innovations to remove plastic from landfills or the ocean ―from plastic eating worms to floating plastic catching devices.

Others spoke of convincing businesses to support ocean-friendly legislation.

Algalita Marine Research Foundation leader Katie Allen presented a panel of youth from local high schools and explained how plastic pollution on the beaches and in the ocean inspired them to get involved. Some heard of Algalita through their school outreach program or attended the recent International Youth Plastics Ocean Pollution conference. Members of the San Pedro LA Maritime Institute Youth Crew presented their microplastics project at the conference.

The first Rising Tides conference ended on a positive note with acknowledgement of scores of business innovations, public campaigns and protest actions to help end plastic pollution.

Interested individuals can participate in AltaSea’s “Make Earth Day Blue”, Saturday April 21, 10 am: with a focus on “Robots and Sharks” featuring Dr. Chris Lowe from CSULB and Dan Pondella, S. Ca. Marine Institute. The event is free and will take place at AltaSea, Berth 58, 2456 S. Signal St. San Pedro.