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Ocean technology hub AltaSea blooms on San Pedro waterfront

Roger Vincent, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

A moon shot to make Southern California an international leader in the “blue economy” is taking shape in San Pedro as a $30-million renovation of three historic waterfront warehouses nears completion.

AltaSea at the Port of Los Angeles, as the complex is known, is home to sea-centered businesses such as the headquarters of explorer Robert Ballard, who located the wrecks of the Titanic and the German battleship Bismarck. His research vessel the Nautilus docks there, as does Pacific Alliance, a vessel for farming mussels far out at sea.

On barges docked on AltaSea’s wharf, scientists from USC, UCLA and Caltech are developing methods of reducing ocean carbon dioxide and technology to scrub ships’ exhaust stacks. Other tenants in the former warehouses include startup firms that are building a new generation of remote undersea cameras and 3-D printers to create parts for offshore wind, wave and solar farms.

“AltaSea is education, research and business all working together,” said Jenny Krusoe, executive vice president and chief operating officer. The size and waterfront location, she added, make AltaSea “a unicorn piece of property that is basically made to be the mother ship for the blue economy.”

Mayor Karen Bass and others who played a part in AltaSea, including City Councilman Tim McOsker and Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka, are expected to officially open the facilities at a ceremony Wednesday.

AltaSea is bringing new purpose to a previously moribund wharf that once played a rich part in the evolution of Southern California.

 

In the early 20th century, Los Angeles merchants and city leaders set out to capture a share of the increased global shipping trade expected to pass through the Panama Canal, a link between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans that opened in 1914. They created a municipal wharf on the waterfront of what has become the sprawling Port of Los Angeles, with a long stretch of warehouses where ships were loaded and unloaded into trains, carts and trucks by burly longshoremen.

The growth of containerized shipping after World War II gradually rendered City Dock No. 1 obsolete for moving goods, and the wharf was little used for decades. By 2011, advocates, including port officials, saw it for what it was: a choice 35-acre site for a research center and tech companies focused on sustainable uses of the world’s oceans.

A key part of the mission of the nonprofit enterprise is to create jobs with pioneering companies. Among them is the nonprofit AltaSeads Conservancy, the largest aquaculture seed bank in the United States. Like their terrestrial counterparts, aquaculture seed banks are meant to preserve genetic diversity in plant life for the future. AltaSeads is also advancing the use of kelp as an easily grown resource.

“It’s a super versatile crop,” said AltaSeads scientist Emily Aguirre, that can provide food for humans and livestock while removing carbon from the atmosphere. “It can also be used to fertilize terrestrial agriculture, and it’s fantastic because if you grow it out in the ocean, you’re not taking up any land.”

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