Canada Is a Powerhouse in Ocean Expertise

Contributed by Paul Kent, President & CEO, Greater Halifax Partnership

From tiny ocean microbes to mighty naval destroyers, Halifax’s economy is driven by the ocean. Ideally positioned as the eastern gateway to North America, the full use of its oceans’ potential cannot be underestimated.

The oceans sector includes a broad range of enterprises from defence and security, to weather and climate forecasting, to food and dietary supplements.  In economic terms, the global market for oceans-related industries is $3 trillion annually and growing[i].  As much of the ocean remains unexplored, it presents significant opportunities for Canadian companies and for foreign investment.

Beford Institute, Halifax

Beford Institute, Halifax

Halifax is leveraging its maritime assets to expand Canada’s ocean economy.  The city has established a marine industry cluster with anchor companies – like Irving Shipbuilding, Meg-3 (a Royal DSM N.V. company) and Clearwater – major universities, and government labs. 

Per capita, Nova Scotia has the highest concentration of oceans technology companies in North America. There are more than 200 local, ocean-based companies developing new technologies and unlocking the resources that lie within the ocean{C}[ii].

Oceans-related industries employ about 315,000 Canadians and contribute more than $26 billion a year to the nation's wealth[iii].  In Nova Scotia alone, the oceans sector has created 60,000 direct and indirect jobs[iv].  Jobs created by companies such as Survival Systems, Acadian Seaplants, and ODIM Brooke Ocean, recently bought by Rolls Royce. The oceans sector also includes those working at Canadian Forces Base Halifax, the Port of Halifax and those in the fishing, shipbuilding, tourism and the offshore oil and gas industries. In fact, ocean technology companies account for one third of all business R&D performed in Nova Scotia.[v]

Oceans project, Dalhausie University

Oceans project, Dalhausie University

Additionally, Halifax is an international centre for marine research and technology development. It is home to two federal research labs: Bedford Institute of Oceanography (BIO), Canada’s largest centre for ocean research; and DRDC Atlantic, world leading experts in anti-submarine, mine, and torpedo defence. It is also home to Dalhousie University, a global leader in oceans science which houses the Institute for Oceans Research Enterprise, Canada’s Excellence Research Chair in Ocean Science and Technology (CERC.OCEAN), the Ocean Tracking Network (OTN) and the Marine Environmental Observation Prediction Response Network (MEOPAR).

As such, Canada can boast about having the highest concentration in oceans-related PhDs in the world.  With 450 Nova Scotians having marine science doctorates, we have the expertise necessary to access our global ocean resources.[vi]

Looking ahead, Canada’s economic growth depends more and more on innovation and technology. Halifax’s ocean economy has proven its ability to deliver both.

Companies such as Akoostix, Geospectrum, Pro-Oceanus, Ocean Sonics, Ultra Electronics and Vemco are pioneers in underwater acoustics, sensors, surveillance and marine monitoring.  These businesses are built on high specialization and high value products.  

Even Hollywood recognizes Halifax for its ocean expertise.  It was MetOcean’s NOVATECH beacon that allowed Titanic Director, James Cameron, to reach the deepest parts of Mariana’s Trench by providing real-time GPS positioning of the submarine.

Following Port Days in September, Halifax will host the International Conference on Ocean Energy (ICOE) conference from November 4-6, 2014.  With approximately 800 participants representing utilities, project developers, device suppliers, investors, government, and researchers from nearly 40 countries, ICOE is the world’s pre-eminent marine renewables event.  It is the first time the event has come to North America and there’s no doubt that having ICOE in Halifax is part of keeping Canada a front-runner in this sector.

While other countries, like China, are just beginning to explore the broad potential of the oceans sector, our companies are ready to provide them with their technology, services, and expertise.  Our marine industry cluster plays to Halifax’s strengths – its proximity to the ocean that includes a modern port built for speed and volume.  It brings people together to increase innovation and create long-term economic opportunities.

Like the oil industry cluster in Alberta, the technology triangle in Waterloo, the auto industry in Southern Ontario, and the pharmaceutical and aerospace clusters in Quebec, Halifax’s ocean economy is truly a national asset.


Paul Kent, President & CEO of Greater Halifax Partnership

Chair of the Consider Canada City Alliance


[i] Province of Nova Scotia, (March 2014), Defined by the sea: Nova Scotia’s Ocean Technology Sector present and future p.1

[ii] Ibid

[iii]  Fisheries and Oceans Canada, (Cat. No. Fs23-544/2009-paper) Our Oceans Our Future

[iv] Gardner, M., MacAskill,G., Debow,C., (March 2009), Economic Impact of the Nova Scotia Ocean Sector 2002-2006

[v] Province of Nova Scotia, (March 2014), Defined by the sea: Nova Scotia’s Ocean Technology Sector present and future p.4

[vi] Ibid p.1