Whether it’s protecting endangered whales off Canada’s coasts or preventing illegal fishing in Hawaii, Open Ocean Robotics saw its technology have real-world impacts on making the seas more sustainable in 2021.
The company’s solar-powered and autonomous boats beam real-time data back to Saanich’s Vancouver Island Technology Park. In the last year, the company has gone from a start-up to delivering for customers.
Open Ocean’s fleet is up to five boats referred to as Uncrewed Surface Vehicles (USVs), with three operational and two in development. CEO and co-founder Julie Angus said it takes about three months to build a USV from scratch and they’ve tried to improve their technology with each new vessel.
The ocean-tech company is looking to grow its team from 20 to 30 employees this year. It hopes to take on more engineers to expand the fleet, but also needs more people to operate the boats and analyze data.
“It’s exciting to shift into this area where we’re actively providing services and we’re able to see the positive impact our boats can make on the marine environment,” Angus said.
Among those impacts was helping deter illegal fishing by patrolling a Hawaiian marine sanctuary non-stop for 25 days. That was the longest deployment yet of an Open Ocean USV, and it still had power to spare after almost a month.
“It performed really well in some strong winds and big waves,” Angus said. “We were able to show how our boat can patrol a region, how it can monitor for other vessels in the area and how it can collect oceanographic data so we can better understand the marine sanctuaries.”
Open Ocean Robotics knows its boats can be valuable for Canada after its vessels plunged into waters on the east and west coasts last year.
“We have the longest coastline in the world, so there’s a big need to better understand our oceans in order to protect them and operate on them safely.”
Within the last year, Angus said their boats helped study marine mammals for Defence Research Development Canada in the Maritimes and they worked with Fisheries and Oceans Canada to monitor the Southern Resident Killer Whale population.
In late March, the team launched a boat to monitor marine mammals in Southern Gulf Islands waters and the boats will be enforcing interim Southern Resident sanctuaries around Vancouver Island this summer.
“We’re looking to see what kind of marine mammal activity we have in those regions so we can understand how important that area is, how they utilize that area.”
Angus has noticed heightened awareness around the vital roles oceans play, but challenges facing the seas – such as plastic pollution and the impact of climate change – are also catching people’s attention. As Earth’s largest carbon sink, oceans can also play a larger role in preventing the climate change that impacts them, Angus said.
“That is turning an eye to the ocean.”
It also comes as technological advancements in sustainable ocean industries are driving economic interest. With Greater Victoria organizations being global leaders in ocean data collection, Angus said the region is positioned to take advantage of the rapidly expanding blue economy.
“It’s very exciting, I think we’re seeing more of a focus on oceans than we really have in any time in the past. People are increasingly aware of the important role oceans play in protecting our environment, but also in providing sustainable economies.”
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