Dr. Edel O’Connor discusses Ireland’s rapidly expanding subsea industry.
Ireland’s ocean economy is a growing and vibrant part of the overall Irish economy, with up to 9 percent blue growth reported over recent years. The vision set out in the Irish Government’s ‘Our Ocean Wealth’ strategy has ambitious targets to increase the turnover from the country’s ocean economy to exceed €6.4 billion by 2020 and to double the value of its ocean wealth to 2.4 percent of GDP by 2030.
Ireland’s GDP from the marine sector at 0.8 percent represents significant opportunities for growth given that the international average is about 2 percent and Ireland is a maritime nation with significant marine resources. The Our Ocean Wealth strategy has a target to grow this to 2.4 percent of GDP by 2030 based on economic analysis and identified opportunities for growth across a broad range of industrial and related sectors.
Key economic trends identified by the Socio-Economic Marine Research Unit at one of the country’s leading universities, NUI Galway, are that the ocean economy is performing better on average than the general economy. Growth in GDP was up to 5 percent between 2010 and 2014, while growth in the ocean economy was up to 9 percent in the same period. Over the period 2010-2012, the sector experienced an increase of 33 percent in turnover and a 5 percent increase in employment. The indirect effects of growth in the ocean economy on the growth of other sectors are also significant: for every €100 turnover from Ireland’s ocean economy, a further €78 is created in other sectors as a knock-on effect, and for every 100 marine jobs, a further 75 jobs are created indirectly in other parts of the economy.
From tourism, to bioresources, to transportation
The top three marine sectors in terms of employment and turnover are marine tourism and leisure; seafood and bioresources (fisheries, aquaculture, seafood processing, biotech/seaweed); and shipping and maritime transportation (including international shipping services). However, R&D-intensive industries such as high-tech marine products and services and ocean energy saw substantial increases over the period 2010-2012. In addition to the people directly employed in marine industries, a further 13,000 are employed indirectly across the wider economy, providing an additional €3.3 billion in turnover to the economy in the established industries alone. Hence the direct and indirect value of Ireland’s ocean economy is a turnover of €7.4 billion with employment of more than 30,000 and GDP of 1.3 percent.
Taking its seabed area into account, Ireland is one of the largest EU states, with sovereign or exclusive rights over a 220-million-acre marine resource and a coastline of 4,650 miles. However, the country has always seen the land as the primary provider of food and fuel and has often overlooked its ocean wealth. In 2010, following a period of severe national and global economic downturn, the Irish Government reviewed Ireland’s existing assets and explored sectors that represented significant opportunities for growth. During this period there was a realization of the significant national asset that existed off the coast with the potential to be harnessed sustainably in new ways to tap into a trillion euro global market for marine products and services, including seafood, tourism, shipping, oil and gas, renewable ocean energy and new applications for health, medicine and technology.
Determined to demonstrate Ireland’s real ambitions and intent and recognizing significant opportunities for growth, an interdepartmental Marine Coordination Group set up by the Irish Government launched an integrated marine plan called ‘Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth’. The Group consists of senior representatives across a number of Government Departments and is chaired by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, is convened by the Department of the Taoiseach (Ireland’s Prime Minister), and now oversees the implementation of the strategy. Hence the strategy is being driven from the highest levels of Government and represents a unique and joined-up approach for growing the country’s blue economy. It is a coordinated approach with specific actions outlined for growing more established sectors of the marine economy such as aquaculture, fisheries and tourism, while also recognizing Ireland’s unique value proposition across a number of emerging marine sectors such as marine renewable energy, marine biotechnology, marine ICT and maritime commerce.
“Our most recent move has been the launch of a Marine Development Team to put into effect measures to realize the business development and enterprise ambitions of the strategy,” stated Dr. Edel O’Connor, Business Development Manager at the Irish Maritime Development Office. “This team will have dedicated resources to work with all the relevant government agencies and organizations to support the implementation of a strategic framework for delivery that will strengthen established marine sectors and also ‘marinize’ sectors outside the marine area where Ireland has existing strengths, including ICT, life sciences and financial services.
“Ireland already has expertise across a number of the key enabling technologies required to develop products and services that will support growth in emerging areas of the global blue economy while creating efficiencies and supporting sustainability across more established markets. For example, expertise in areas such as sensors, platforms, communications, robotics, informatics, computer vision and advanced materials can be harnessed in new ways to drive innovation in global marine markets with high growth potential. The international links and supporting mechanisms are being put in place so that technology companies, entrepreneurs and researchers will use Ireland as a test-bed to develop, test and validate these technologies through leveraging its geographical location, world-class expertise and infrastructure,” she said.
In 2008, Ireland began to make key investments in these areas in the context of ‘Sea Change: A Marine Knowledge, Research and Innovation Strategy for Ireland 2007-2013’. One of the priority areas was marine sensors and communications systems for the marine environment: the National Centre for Sensor Research (NCSR) at Dublin City University (DCU) was awarded €2.4 million as part of the Beaufort Marine Research Awards and the DCU consortium developed national capacity in areas such as biosensors, analytical science, remote sensing, high-speed separations, optical sensors, biochip platforms, video imaging, image processing and information extraction. A number of follow-up investments have since been made by the Marine Institute through both joint national and EU funding calls.
In addition, the SmartOcean innovation cluster was established consolidating Irish expertise in ‘ICT for the Sea’ and the Irish Maritime and Energy Resource Cluster (IMERC) established its partnership and world-class campus which coordinates expertise and infrastructure from University College Cork (UCC), Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) and the Irish Naval Service. Most recently, the Entrepreneur Ship was launched on the campus as the world’s first blue-tech incubator. Significant national physical and digital infrastructure has been put in place to support and drive innovation. The SmartBay national test and demonstration infrastructure was established to support the test and validation of novel marine technologies and marine renewable energy devices in a real-world environment in Galway Bay and a subsea cabled observatory has been deployed as a significant addition to the existing infrastructure available on the site for academic researchers and industry. The Marine Institute has also put a team in place to develop its Digital Ocean data platform to collate data from a number of public sector sources and support the development of innovative products and services.
“In recent years, the Irish Government has made significant targeted investments in research and innovation expertise and infrastructure across the spectrum of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies that is being leveraged to develop critical marine IoT capacity in Ireland,” said O’Connor. “Since 2012, Science Foundation Ireland has invested in multi-institutional and multi-disciplinary research centers of scale that are at least 30 percent funded by industry. These centers operate in addition to and complement industry-led research centers in the areas of sensors, embedded systems, mechatronics, data analytics, photonics and composites materials.”
Ocean observation and seabed mapping
Significant investments have been made in the area of ocean observation and seabed mapping. The Marine Institute and the Geological Survey of Ireland operate INFOMAR, the largest civilian seabed mapping program in the world. Ireland is also significantly involved in ocean observation and seabed mapping initiatives in an EU and broader international context: in particular, the Galway Statement, signed in 2013, established a formal Atlantic Ocean Research Alliance (AORA) between the EU and its Member States, the US and Canada and other partner countries that builds on existing initiatives and programs to increase cohesion and coordination of ocean research cooperation.
One of the priority areas that has been identified is seabed mapping in the Atlantic Ocean. The Marine Institute research vessel, the Celtic Explorer, has conducted a number of seabed mapping transects across the ocean in collaboration with European, Canadian and U.S. scientists, and the Institute is leading a consortium of European Research partners, the Atlantic Ocean Coordination and Support Action, to support the implementation of the Galway Statement on behalf of the European Commission.
“It can be seen that Ireland has invested heavily in building research and innovation capacity in ocean observation and other areas in order to underpin a dynamic and growing blue economy both nationally and internationally,” commented O’Connor. “This is complemented by government investments in other key areas where Ireland has significant existing capabilities and competitive advantages that can be leveraged into the marine. “The Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth strategy and its associated vision and ambitions create the urgency and vision required to mobilize relevant stakeholders and resources and, by recognizing the continued need to communicate this vision, a number of national initiatives dedicated to ensuring that it reaches the widest range of stakeholders possible have been taken. For example, in the past three years, a large-scale national annual conference and festival dedicated to the blue economy, called ‘SeaFest’, has taken place, supported and funded in the context of the strategy. SeaFest was held in Galway last year and attracted a large number of business professionals to various events. SeaFest 2017 will be even more ambitious attracting a national and international audience across a number of sectors: more than 90,000 people are expected to attend. An industry event and trade show focused on opportunities in the Digital Ocean will take place on June 29 followed by the Marine Industry Awards that evening. The Our Ocean Wealth Summit takes place on June 30 and will be followed by a weekend of activities in Galway Harbour.
Growing the blue economy
“Recently, the IMDO has started to act as a base for the Marine Development Team,” said O’Connor. “This is a significant development that puts into action the Irish Government’s ambitions for extensive growth in Ireland’s blue economy. It is a specific-purpose government-funded taskforce established to work in collaboration with a number of development agencies and other parties with interests in the marine economy in Ireland and will provide a joined-up approach across agencies to support investment and growth in the blue economy. The Marine Development Team will be tasked with delivering on two primary objectives – increasing the value of the marine industry to Ireland’s economy and job creation.”
The Marine Development Team will act as an entry and contact point for businesses with interests in any area of Ireland’s marine economy and will channel suitable business prospects to the relevant development agencies. The team will also have a role in supporting the development of very-early-stage start-up businesses with a marine interest up to the point at which they are prepared to engage further directly with agencies in terms of accessing funding and other supports.
Existing and future activities that the Marine Development Team, the Irish Maritime Development Office and the relevant agencies will be engaged in include mapping and consolidating existing expertise across the research and enterprise landscape; developing critical capacity in key areas through the development of national networks, clusters and incubation programs; developing dedicated funding programs; and creating knowledge-sharing opportunities and running a series of events to coordinate resources and activities in key areas.
“Other activities will include developing a ‘Marine Ireland’ brand and online portal and marketing message that will promote and facilitate access to opportunities in Ireland’s blue economy,” said O’Connor, “as well as supporting and developing flagship projects of scale that can really deliver the jobs and economic growth required to meet targets. There will also be participation in international trade shows and conferences, as well as international trade missions, and a focus on developing opportunities for international collaboration.
“A number of activities are well underway or at the planning stages,” she added. “At the end of 2016, Enterprise Ireland and relevant agencies launched the Irish Marine Industry Network and there will be a series of networking events launched this year, including the opportunity to participate in an Ireland Pavilion at international trade shows such as Nor-Shipping. We also attended Oceanology North America as a follow-up to San Diego Blue Tech Week hosted by The Maritime Alliance last November.”
Finding the money
“Under the new European Maritime and Fisheries Fund Operational Programme, new dedicated funds of €10.6 million targeted at integrated maritime policy initiatives have supported the establishment of the Marine Development Team to operationalize the enterprise and business development aspects of the Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth strategy,” said O’Connor. “In addition, the Marine Coordination Group provides the joined-up approach required to operationalize initiatives across Government Departments. Since the launch of the strategy, the Industrial Development Authority of Ireland, the body responsible for attracting inward investment to Ireland, has established a marine pillar to its strategy as part of its ‘new forms of investments’ team.
“This partnership approach, with the support of the Marine Development Team, ensures that suitable projects will move more smoothly from concept to reality for international businesses and local enterprises through having the best team available drawn from the different organizations and with the required expertise. These business opportunities are also being underpinned by a new marine research and innovation strategy as outlined in Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth and the new national innovation strategy – Innovation 2020 – supporting Ireland’s ambitions to be a world innovation leader. This identifies the interventions required to build research and innovation capacity across key areas based on a maturity model of expertise in the identified sectors,” she said.
At EU level, there has been considerable support for Irish researchers and SMEs involved in the marine sector through Horizon 2020 (H2020), the financial instrument that is implementing the Innovation Union, a Europe 2020 flagship initiative aimed at securing Europe’s global competitiveness. In 2016, based on the latest information available, Irish researchers and SMEs obtained almost €6.7 million in funding for marine-related H2020 projects ranging from algal biorefineries, tidal turbine technologies, marine technology co-funds and shared access to marine renewable facilities across Europe.
“Irish researchers won 3.6 percent of the available funding for Blue Growth topics in the 2015 results announced by the European Commission for Horizon 2020 Societal Challenge 2, and this rises to 4.6 percent when marine-related topics in sustainable food security are considered. This is becoming a consistent pattern, with Irish marine researchers winning more European competitive funding than would be expected from a country our size. Ireland also has the highest success rate in Europe for the Horizon 2020 SME Instrument with a 16 percent success rate compared to a European average of 6 percent. In total since the beginning of H2020, Irish innovative SMEs have received €26.2 million from the SME Instrument which places Ireland first in Europe for successful participation in this part of Horizon 2020,” stated O’Connor.
Irish researchers are also leading Coordination and Support Actions in areas such as the Atlantic Ocean Research Alliance and in strategic marine renewable infrastructure projects such as Marinet 2 and Marinerg-i, hosted by the SFI-funded Marine and Renewable Energy Centre in Cork. Expertise in algal biorefineries is funded though the GENIALG project, with researchers in NUI Galway and Aqua TT participating. Under the Fast Track to Innovation instrument, companies such as Open Hydro have had success in developing tidal turbine industrial capability.
“2017 will be a pivotal year for Ireland’s marine economy, with core elements of our national marine plan, Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth, coming together to create an unprecedented collaborative drive to transform our ocean economy,” asserted O’Connor. “We are determined to demonstrate on a world stage that Ireland’s marine economy is very much open for business, and that we have the expertise, infrastructure and business environment to offer a compelling case for international businesses across the marine sector to look more closely at Ireland as a partner for growth.”
Brexit & the Irish Marine Economy
The full extent of the potential implications of Brexit remain unknown. As the U.K.’s largest trading partner, Ireland has experienced knock-on effects in terms of the devaluation of sterling, but the wider implications will only become clear following the formal notification of intention to withdraw by the U.K. and new trade discussions between the U.K. and the EU begin.
The re-imposition of borders and customs controls, for example, will likely negatively impact bilateral trade flows between Ireland and the U.K., and the movement of goods from Ireland to wider locations through the so-called U.K. ‘land bridge.’
Ireland’s marine economy could also be affected due to the fact that overall Irish GDP may suffer in the period after the U.K. leaves the EU. This may impact demand for Irish shipping services in the areas that are most exposed to Irish consumption, such as RoRo and LoLo traffic.The IMDO is working closely with Ireland’s shipping industry to identify any likely impacts and ensure that industry is prepared.
Conversely, it may also present opportunities for Ireland. For example, Ireland’s existing reputation in international financial services may prove attractive to businesses involved in maritime commerce wishing to continue to avail of EU passport rights for ship finance and marine insurance services. Ireland has also established itself as a leader in aircraft leasing, an expertise that is transferable to ship leasing. There is also potential for the country to become more successful in attracting other new supply chains in the post-Brexit European marketplace as buyers seek to avoid paying higher tariffs and associated customs charges.