Halifax Prepares to Showcase its Ocean Tech Know-How

As a project engineer, Christopher Whitt already had his hands full working on a range of ocean acoustic monitoring initiatives. But when the opportunity to bid on OCEANS 2024 came up in 2018, he couldn’t pass on bringing one of the most esteemed oceans conferences to Halifax. The city’s capabilities in the sector had been rapidly expanding — and this was an excellent way to spotlight just that, he thought.

“Back then, I was starting to really see the potential for Halifax’s oceans sector in both the near- and medium-term future,” Whitt said. “So, I decided to lead the bid for OCEANS 2024. Ocean technology is a massive growth sector for many places around the world — and I knew that Halifax was matching or exceeding this growth potential.”

To do that, Whitt developed a letter of intent to host the conference. The following year, he submitted a formal bid — a collaborative effort that involved partners with Discover Halifax, the Halifax Convention Centre, Halifax Partnership, Nova Scotia Business Incorporated and a host of companies within the local oceans sector. Inspired by the possibilities outlined within it, the conference organizers selected Halifax as the host destination.

Christopher Whitt
President, IEEE Oceanic Engineering Society

Uniting global ocean experts

As the world’s flagship ocean technology conference, OCEANS attracts a diversity of maritime professionals — from scientists and engineers to innovators and end-users — who come together to share research, ideas, developments and applications across all areas of oceanic science and engineering. The conference is organized by two co-sponsoring societies, the Marine Technology Society and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Oceanic Engineering Society.

OCEANS is held twice per year, in September or October in North America and between March and June in the rest of the world. It was previously hosted in Halifax in 1974, 1987 and 1997.

A prime host destination

While the conditions for hosting OCEANS in Halifax were strong decades ago, they’re even stronger today. “The critical mass of work within our local ocean technology community stands out more than ever, from a large pool of skilled talent to our deep resources and world-class R&D capabilities,” Whitt said.

Among its acclaimed facilities, Halifax is home to the Bedford Institute of Oceanography, the largest ocean research centre in the country, and the Centre for Ocean Ventures and Entrepreneurship, which empowers marine experts to develop novel ocean technology solutions. There are also over 50 ocean sector companies in the province, specializing in areas ranging from underwater acoustics to autonomous vehicles.

“The timing is right to once again bring the conference to Halifax,” added Whitt. “When we submitted the bid, a number of advances across various sectors — from government to academic to private and small businesses — were showing tremendous growth in ocean technology. Today, these capabilities are more apparent than ever.”

A few years ago, the city also got a major boost to its conference infrastructure: a new, state-of-the-art convention centre. At over 120,000 square feet, the Halifax Convention Centre provides a perfect size venue for an event of this type and size — giving delegates and organizers everything they need in one central location, not to mention panoramic ocean and harbour views.

Showcasing its depth of ocean capabilities

OCEANS 2024 will take place from September 23 to 26, 2024, drawing some 1,500 ocean technology professionals from around the globe. The event program will feature keynote presentations, panel sessions, technical talks and professional tutorials, along with award ceremonies, receptions and social activities that provide ample opportunities for industry peers to connect.

Attendees will also be able to meet with local experts and tour facilities and companies that are among the most advanced in the industry. For instance, they can hear from the brilliant minds at IBM’s DeepSense, an innovation environment at Dalhousie University that partners with ocean-related companies on artificial intelligence and machine learning projects.

In addition, they can learn from the top thinkers at the Ocean Tracking Network, also at Dalhousie University, which uses cutting-edge ocean monitoring equipment and marine autonomous vehicles to track aquatic animals. There will also be an exposition where over 100 exhibitors will showcase the latest advances in marine technology.

“Halifax is a great combination of so many factors,” Whitt said. “It’s an exceptional place to hold a conference for technical and business reasons — with the right size facilities, and good connectivity for travel and flights. It also happens to be a working port with a lot of variety of ocean technology right in front of you, as well as a great waterfront where you can see the ships and have ocean-based cultural experiences.”

An enduring impact

OCEANS 2024 will no doubt have significant tourism benefits, with direct spending expected to be close to $2.4 million. Its legacy will, however, go much deeper. Delegates will discover first-hand the strides happening within the city, including the breadth of the research, exceptional technological innovations, and unparalleled collaboration between industry, academia and government.

All of that, as Whitt says, will have a powerful ripple effect.

“Hosting the conference in Halifax will add to the energy and growth in the sector,” he added. “It will lead to better connections between researchers, entrepreneurs and industry. It will mean that companies have access to potential employees – while giving students from around the world a glimpse at the career opportunities available. And it will offer entrepreneurs the chance to learn about possibilities to invest and expand here.”

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