Backyard Buoys to Help Support Blue Economy

Staff of the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission hold Sofar buoys used to capture wave data during an Ocean Energy Management workshop. Photo by James Kendall/ Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

A new effort to gather wave data to enhance the blue economy, including maritime activities, food security and coastal hazard protection, is underway to improve ocean data access for Indigenous communities.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials said the Backyard Buoys project, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), would empower Indigenous and other coastal communities to collect, steward and use wave data that complements their existing knowledge to support their blue economy.

Innovations in the works currently include a modular, sustainable process for community-led stewardship of affordable ocean buoys. In addition, there will be co-designed web-based applications that render data easy to access, with a bridge to Indigenous knowledge.

The NOAA-led U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System effort is being financed via a $4.98 million NSF cooperative agreement announced in late October with three regional associations, and the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission.

The associations include the Northwest Association of Networked Ocean Observing Systems in the Pacific Northwest (NANOOS), the Alaska Ocean Observing System (AOOS) in Alaska, and the Pacific Island Inventory and Monitoring Network (PacIOOS).

The initiative is one of six Phase II projects aligned to what NOAA calls the Networked Blue Economy, funded through the NSF Convergence Accelerator, a program created to find solutions, via innovation and partnerships. to large-scale societal challenges related to climate. They include sustainability, food, energy and pollution. 

In partnership with the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission and the Barrow Whaling Captains Association, AOOS recently co-hosted a workshop in Utqiagvik (formerly known as Barrow) to deploy wave buoys in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas to expand marine safety tools for hunters.