Buoys will (Not) be Buoys – Marine Safety, Climate Resilience, and The Unlikely Location of Canada’s Newest Fleet

Welcome to the “Road Trip Across BC” series from the BC CORE Cleantech Cluster, where we explore innovative companies across various regions in British Columbia.  In this week’s article, we head to Vancouver Island to highlight MarineLabs, a cleantech/watertech company at work in a number of BC’s most beautiful ocean corridors and located on the shores of the Salish Sea in Victoria, BC. 

Beyond the Buoy

They’re called “CoastScouts”  – solar-powered boxes mounted to buoys that collect and deliver real-time coastal intelligence data to marine specialists, port authorities, coast guards, and municipalities across Canada.  

Designed and manufactured by MarineLabs in Victoria, BC, these advanced sensors turn a buoy from a simple navigational tool into a sophisticated real-time wind and wave measurement device. 

“A typical buoy has characteristics that don’t make them good wave measurement tools, but our CoastScoutTM units have integrated advanced Maritime IoT tech that we know is able to transmit persistent, reliable, long-term data … and they are easy to install on any standard buoy.” – MarineLabs CEO Dr. Scott Beatty

BC’s Precarious Coastlines – Decisions Driven by Data

We’ve verved off the road, hopped on a boat, and decided to get our sea legs for this part of our travels through BC – and for good reason! Watertech and oceantech are vital and growing sectors in BC’s economy. Much of our future prosperity and security relies on BC’s coastal and marine industries.

Changes in sea level and weather volatility brought about by climate change means that government and industry leaders all along BC’s coast must address high priority ocean issues related to hazard mitigation, resource management, safety, and security. With the threat of increased flooding and coastal erosion coming from rising sea levels and increased storm intensity, they must move to action and make decisions today that will impact the province for decades. 

In a situation where conditions are changing rapidly, and significant, long-term decisions must be made, the quality and usability of the scientific data is paramount.

(see “The Road to 2050: Bridging the Gap Between Challenges & Solutions in the Water Sector” for a discussion about the importance of data in watertech).

MarineLabs understands this imperative, and have built their business model around not only reporting data, but also helping to understand it. The CoastScoutTM devices are not simply listening and reporting equipment – they transmit every wave and gust of wind to their cloud-based CoastAwareTM platform,  an analytical and decision-making tool with powerful processing algorithms.

“In BC, on the aggregated data and analytics side, we have a climate resilience problem where a place like Port of Vancouver in 50 years could be underwater periodically throughout the year.

There is an issue with uncertainty around that and how high sea level rises are going to affect infrastructure.  So what we need is long-term datasets from multiple locations around all of this infrastructure in order to solve that problem.” 

MarineLabs CEO Dr. Scott Beatty from the Cleantech Talks” podcast

One client of MarineLabs that understands the importance of scientific data is the  Tsleil-Waututh Nation (TWN) on the Burrard Inlet.  The Tsleil-Waututh have observed erosion impacts to their shoreline for decades, including eroding cultural and archaeological sites, and there is a perception that marine vessels contribute to that erosion. With impressions of a perceived unwillingness from regulators and others to entertain that notion, the Tsleil-Waututh Nation set out to investigate this problem and made a connection with MarineLabs. 

With TWN’s marine team, MarineLabs deployed a fleet of CoastScoutTM and used their specialized vessel wake detection algorithms to not only detect and measure vessel wakes but also identify the vessel types that generate the most energetic wakes over time. With the advanced vessel-wake analysis service provided by MarineLabs, TWN were able to prove that vessel wakes are significant to coastline erosion and will be able to make data-informed decisions around infrastructure and marine use planning.

The Ocean Data Revolution

Companies like MarineLabs (and other BC-based ocean data companies such as Open Ocean Robotics or Ocean Diagnostics Inc) are part of the “Ocean Data Revolution” – a flood of innovative technologies with new data collection capabilities and advanced processing, analysis and visualization techniques.

They are a driving force behind what we’ve named the “Proactive Age of Watertech” – an exciting, disruptive time where innovation is accelerating, timelines are being reduced, and the water and ocean tech industries are stepping into action.

The vision behind both the ocean data revolution and MarineLabs, is to drastically improve marine safety, provide a level of certainty to sea level rise and climate resilience planning, and use the narrative provided by the ocean itself to ensure the protection, production, and prosperity of our future marine industries.

In the past, when we wanted to understand the ocean, we built fleets of scientific vessels and sailed out on dangerous journeys with long reporting timeframes.  Thanks to MarineLabs’ technology, Canada’s next ‘fleet’ of data-collecting vessels will significantly reduce reporting timeframes (from days or hours to minutes or even seconds),  may not be based on a single location, and may not be sailing off on long journeys.

In fact, the scientific vessels of the future may not be vessels at all – they may be solar-powered, distributed networks of smart, IoT-enabled devices that will provide the actionable information we need to ensure Canada remains a leader in resilient and productive water and ocean ecosystems.

Want to explore Canada’s water industry? Check out the waterNEXT Ecosystem Map, a data-driven, searchable map of Canada’s water organizations, companies and solution providers.

Download  “The Road to 2050 – Bridging the Gap Between Challenges and Solutions in Water” for a snapshot of the roadmaps and approaches that are guiding the water sector in BC.