Ocean of Opportunity: How Canadian Innovators Can Reduce Maritime Waste

Ocean industries—fishing, aquaculture, transportation, energy—are key drivers of Canada’s provincial and territorial economies. However, we are only beginning to truly understand how the waste from these activities affects our three coasts and two ocean ecosystems: natural and economic.

The status quo is unsustainable. Climate change acidifies our waters, with dire impacts on marine species. Plastics, effluents and vessel noise pollute the entire ecosystem and threaten some of the world’s most important fish stocks. Prevention, monitoring and remediation are clearly necessary to ensure the long-term health of the world’s longest national coastline.

However, these efforts also represent a growing commercial opportunity for Canadian companies developing innovative technologies for the maritime marketplace.

Canada is among the countries pledging to pursue a blue-economy strategy that will allow for economic growth while restoring ocean health. If the global ocean economy were a nation, it would be among the world’s fastest growing.

The commercialization of new technologies and innovations is a key plank in this effort. We should be looking at maritime waste not just as a problem to be cleaned up, but as a a global export opportunity for Canadian technologies.

Of course, these efforts will face the same kinds of hurdles that have slowed our efforts to address climate change, particularly political resistance and industrial inertia. Meanwhile, coastal communities are often seen as the front line for beach cleanups and oil spills. In fact, they are just the tip of the spear; they cannot solve the problem of ocean waste alone. We require economy-wide solutions that recognize it’s no longer possible to simply disgorge carbon dioxide (CO2), effluents and plastic waste into into the atmosphere and oceans. Solutions need to be implemented widely and at scale.

The good news is that this work is under way.

There is a wave of young companies working to innovate in the ocean waste space—producing biofuels, reducing shipping pollution, sequestering carbon, collecting data about ocean conditions and much more. They are supported by a vibrant network of research institutes, technology clusters and accelerators that aim to increase the commercialization of groundbreaking research and technologies in our ocean sectors.

“There is not an industry right now that isn’t under pressure to demonstrate sustainable outcomes,” says Kendra MacDonald, CEO of Canada’s Ocean Supercluster, which is spearheading industry-led projects to catalyze maritime innovation across the country. “We’re trying to build a digital, sustainable and inclusive ocean economy.”


Canadian tech companies working toward reducing ocean waste. Dozens more ventures are monitoring the ocean, work that could be applied toward locating and analyzing waste.


Ocean entrepreneurial support organizations each assisting an average of five Canadian companies that are working toward reducing ocean waste.

$2 billion

The federal government’s commitment to ocean protection over the next nine years.

  • Author: Shawn McCarthy |
  • Data and analytics: Nigel Biggar, Sana Maqbool
  • Editor: Guy Nicholson
  • Executive editor: Karen Mazurkewich
  • Research associate: Heather O’Brien