Words Jamie Rowles & Rupert Hayward
March 16th 2023 / 5 min read
For low-lying island nations like the Bahamas, climate change has become very real.
In 2019, the Category-5 Hurricane Dorian ravaged through the Abaco Islands and Grand Bahama, killing more than 200 people. The resultant damage to these islands was catastrophic and ran to the multiple billions of dollars; most structures were flattened or swept to sea, leaving at least 70,000 people homeless.
Whilst hurricanes have always been an existential risk in the Caribbean, their frequency and intensity will undoubtedly increase due to climate change. And this is just one of many threats posed by our planet’s rising temperatures to island nations, coastal communities, and other ocean-dependent populations.
As sea levels continue to rise, on top of increasing storm surges, nations like The Bahamas face persistent coastal flooding, erosion, and saltwater intrusion, damage to infrastructure, and displacement of communities. Meanwhile, coral reefs, mangroves and other coastal marine ecosystems that provide vital services are at continued risk of decline due to ocean acidification from warming waters.
The time for action has never been more pressing. And yet, in comparison to the broader surge of investment around climate tech (which accounted for 25% of all venture capital invested in 2022), oceans and coasts receive a minute piece of the pie—less than 1% of total climate funding.
How can something so critical to the health of our planet have been so significantly left behind? And how can we expect tech entrepreneurs to solve these challenges, as they are doing with climate change, when financial incentives simply don’t align?
The numbers show how critical oceans are for planetary health. Covering 70% of the planet, oceans create 50% of our oxygen, whilst absorbing 25% of CO2 and 90% of the world’s heat.
And they are also directly vital for human health, providing food for 3 billion people.
But our oceans are facing a growing list of challenges outside of climate change-driven effects. This is a true tragedy of the commons. These problems range from the scourge of plastic pollution, to overfishing, habitat destruction, acidification and the accelerating loss of biodiversity.
There are still too few investment dollars and actions focused on innovations that will support our oceans. While hard to accurately measure, best estimates believe that the oceans receive less than 1% of total climate finance available, according to the Blue Marine Foundation. Of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), ‘Life Under Water’ is among the least funded.
Progress is afoot. In March 2023, the UN announced the historic High Seas Treaty, placing 30% of the world’s oceans under protection to ‘safeguard and recuperate marine nature’. Yet this leaves a huge job to be done, in particular failing to account for protecting low-lying coastal communities.
There are ample opportunities to accelerate technology development to enhance the ‘sustainable Blue Economy’. The concept of the sustainable Blue Economy is based on creating economic opportunities and climate change solutions while preserving the ocean's ecological integrity, without compromising the ability of future generations to use and benefit from the ocean's resources.
We are building a blueprint for mitigation and adaptation through technology-led resilience and searching for transformational technologies that can not only protect coastal and island communities but create new growth, jobs and prosperity.
The Bahamas, whilst still having significant climate-related challenges, has the resources and will to create a natural testing lab for technologies that can deliver these much needed solutions.
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To answer these needs and opportunities, we have launched Blue Action Accelerator: a pre-seed and seed impact investment program for technology startups working at the ‘climate x ocean’ nexus. Our offer is deliberately designed to dramatically increase the odds of success for companies at the earliest of stages.
We provide a $150,000 investment alongside a six-month program of bespoke support from expert operators and access to a global network of investors, corporate partners,technologists, as well as public and private markets. And most distinctively, we provide a real world opportunity to come and test technologies and systems so that they might be more rapidly proven, structured, financed, and applied at meaningful scales.
We're combining two sets of expertise. On the venture building side: Founders Factory has experience building over 300 companies globally, including a number in the climate and sustainability space. These include Notpla, recent winners of the £1m Earthshot Prize, Solivus, a leading disruptor in the solar energy sector, and Again, building key infrastructure for reusable packaging.
Blue Action Lab, meanwhile, brings years of experience in the ocean and coastal health space to add scientific rigour and local strategic relationships to Blue Action Accelerator's investments. Since 2020, Blue Action Lab has built a sophisticated testing ground for innovators in the ocean space in Grand Bahama.
This strategic relationship with the Grand Bahama Port Authority, and the world-class industrial maritime infrastructure within the free trade zone of Freeport, brings significant advantage to founders working in this space. We know how challenging it is for startups to obtain licences, navigate regulatory requirements, and win procurement contracts. Our program will focus on helping portfolio companies demonstrate the validity of their solutions in the natural environment and with governments.
We’ve been doing this already with Earthshot Prize winners, Coral Vita (pictured). Based in Freeport in Grand Bahama, they’re taking micro fragments of coral reefs, regrowing them through accelerated evolution, and replanting them in surrounding reefs.
In addition to our hubs in The Bahamas, we are building a global network of public-private partnerships to facilitate rapid real-world testing for our portfolio, from Miami-Dade County to San Diego and the Port of Los Angeles, the Sea of Cortez to Monaco and beyond.
If we’re going to turn the corner on ocean and coastal health, there’s a huge demand for infrastructure like ours that will help accelerate innovative solutions and apply them quickly and at meaningful scale. If the solution to climate change really does lie in our oceans, there is no more time for delay.
We see a range of thematic areas where we will concentrate our efforts:
Coastal Carbon Capture e.g. commercially viable ocean-based sequestration models (including Ocean Alkalinity Enhancement) and blue carbon systems to create new revenue streams for coastal communities
Marine Ecosystems e.g. intelligent, natural capital restoration across coastal and marine habitats, from reefs to mangroves to seagrass beds
Island Infrastructure e.g. resilient, modular housing, distributed and clean desalination and advanced waste management technologies delivering true circularity
Ocean Energy e.g. renewable energy and decarbonization technologies to provide a cleaner and more resilient energy mix for island nations
Aquaculture e.g. sustainable and regenerative ocean-based food systems - increasing the production of sustainably sourced proteins such as mollusks and finfish, but also seaweed and other salt-tolerant staple plant foods
Maritime Transport e.g. clean and zero emissions maritime and transport technologies
Horizontal / Enabling Technologies e.g. Software, data, Fintech and Insurtech solutions to amplify and accelerate solutions and create intelligent resilience.
We look forward to hearing from you.
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Jamie Rowles is an investment committee member at Blue Action Accelerator. He is also co-founder & managing partner of Planet Fund, a seed stage climate fund investing in planet positive technologies. Prior to this, Jamie led investments at Sky Ocean Ventures and is part of the founding team of Tropic Biosciences
Rupert Hayward is a founder of Blue Action Accelerator, as well being the President & Co-Founder of Blue Action Lab. A Bahamian national, he was formerly Executive Director of the Grand Bahama Port Authority. He is also an official nominator for the Earthshot Prize.
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