University of North Carolina Wilmington aquaculture facility in Wrightsville Beach shown from above.: Photo: UNCW/Jamie Moncrief

The Alliance for the Blue Economy, a multidisciplinary initiative launched Tuesday by the UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship is to establish southeastern North Carolina as a national and global leader in the blue economy.

Blue economy is “the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods and jobs, while preserving the health of the ocean ecosystem,” according to The World Bank.

The blue economy delivered in the United States nearly $400 billion to the Gross domestic product, or GDP, in 2019, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

The Alliance for the Blue Economy, also known as All Blue, will support blue economy entrepreneurs and innovators, promote the region as a blue economy innovation hub, assist in the creation of blue economy-ready infrastructure and attract blue economy investment capital, according to the university.

The alliance plans to work on being awarded federal, state and regional grants with government agencies, educational institutions, nonprofit organizations and private sector partners.

“The collaboration between All Blue and the CIE (Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship) offers UNCW and the region a significant opportunity to leverage resources to attract, support and sustain Blue Economy businesses,” Stuart Borrett, associate provost for Research and Innovation, said in a statement.

In addition to region being home to UNCW, which has more than 100 faculty engaged in marine sciences and ocean/coastal preservation, Cape Fear Community College and the Port of Wilmington, the southeastern region is positioned to become a viable blue economy leader because of its extensive coastline and river estuary, its coastal access to open water and its growing reputation as a leader in technology-focused businesses that employ highly skilled workers, university officials said.

Advisory board of science and business leaders from the region and UNCW are leading All Blue that will focus on five strategic sectors: sustainable aquaculture and fisheries; marine biopharma; regenerative tourism; coastal resilience; and ocean engineering and marine robotics.

The launch Tuesday is the culmination of 18 months of planning, research and strategy development with more than 180 local business, science and academic leaders involved as volunteers and consultants. All Blue was initiated by former CIE Director Diane Durance, who remains a consultant.

“The United Nations’ declaration of 2021-2030 as the Decade of the Ocean has put a global spotlight on the critical challenges facing marine and coastal environments,” said Durance. “Federal and state support for programs and infrastructure to promote innovation and new ventures in the Blue Economy has never been stronger. This is a pivotal moment – and one we want to capture for North Carolina.”

With the launch of the Alliance, southeastern North Carolina will join the ranks of a growing number of Blue Economy hubs in the U.S. and internationally, including Boston, San Diego, Seattle and Gulfport, Mississippi. In fact, the hub in North Carolina will be the only one on the East Coast between Boston and Florida.

The Alliance for the Blue Economy will make its local debut during “All Blue Week” Nov. 1-6.

More than a dozen events are planned around Wilmington, on the university’s main campus and UNCW’s Center for Marine Science. These events will include an opening keynote address by Deborah Westphal, author of the new book “Convergence,” a blue economy hackathon co-sponsored with Cape Fear Collective, and recreational opportunities such as boat tours from the Blockade Runner resort.

More information, including details on sector leadership and initiatives, can be found at All Blue’s website and Facebook page.

UNCW’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship works to identify and nurture high-growth, high-impact companies and to accelerate the entrepreneurial ecosystem in southeastern North Carolina.

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