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Ocean Conference Hopes To Ripple Out Solutions To Large-scale Water Issues

By Jenny Callison, posted Sep 15, 2023
In a year that, so far, has produced a 190-nation agreement to protect the world’s oceans and has also recorded historically high ocean temperatures, the University of North Carolina Wilmington is hosting its inaugural Ocean Innovation Conference.
 
The one-day event Tuesday, Sept. 19 aims to bring together thought leaders, innovators and agents of change to “spark more blue technology around the problems in our waterways and oceans,” organizer Heather McWhorter said Friday.
 
McWhorter, director of UNCW’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, said the conference was envisioned at the start of 2023 to build on UNESCO’s Ocean Decade, an initiative that has identified seven outcomes it hopes to achieve by 2030, through “transformative ocean science solutions for sustainable development, connecting people and our ocean,” its mission stated.
 
To bring those goals closer to home and find solutions that make sense for this region, the CIE and its Alliance for a Blue Economy organized the conference as a forum that would attract innovators, investors, scientists and ocean advocates to explore ways to launch large, scalable businesses that will respond to problems such as overfishing, pollution and impacts of climate change.
 
Three keynote speakers will highlight issues from different perspectives. U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Laura Dickey will talk about future projects of her armed services branch and how its activities will affect coastal North Carolina.

Jake Kheel, author of "Waking the Sleeping Giant," will share what he has learned in confronting societal and environmental challenges in the Dominican Republic’s tourism industry, and his experience working with companies to drive sustainability.

Wallace J. Nichols, author of the best-selling book “Blue Mind,” has been called a water warrior. He will discuss his visionary ideas about human and water interactions as they relate to ocean and aquatic ecosystems, migratory species, marine protected areas, fisheries management and plastic pollution.  
 
Four panels addressing innovation, technology, sustainability and investment will take place throughout the day.
 
The response to the new conference has been better than McWhorter had anticipated.
 
“We began in January planning for 150 people and 10 booths in our Innovation Fair,” she said. “We are sold out with 20 booths, and our attendance is at 260 thus far. We’ve had an incredible response from the business community, investors and local government. We have also heard from high schools: Hoggard High School is bringing a busload of students who are enrolled in a class that’s about solving big problems.”
 
Solutions to big problems often start with small initiatives, she continued. Represented at the conference, in addition to the CIE, will be the UNCW branch of the Small Business and Technology Development Center (SBTDC), as well as the Cape Fear Community College Small Business Center. The SBTDC often has access to funding for promising ventures.
 
“We know how to get things started,” McWhorter said of the three centers. “That is what we do every day. We help [entrepreneurs] understand their value proposition: why would someone buy something from you?”
 
The Ocean Innovation Conference takes place from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at UNCW’s Burney Center. It includes networking opportunities and lunch. Registration and more information is here.
 
Following the conference is a meet and greet event featuring keynoter Nichols at Blue Mind Coworking, located at 301 Government Center Drive. Michael Donlon, owner of the coworking space, said that Nichols’ book, “Blue Mind,” was transformational for him; he wants to give others the opportunity to hear from the marine scientist and ocean conservationist.
 
To register for the event, click here.
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