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From the Ocean Floor to the Forbes List

January 9, 2018

by Courtney Cheng ’16

“When I found out I was on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, I was so shocked and really excited,” Amber Jackson ’11 enthused. “It’s such an honor. When I see the other people on that list, I feel very humbled to be a part of it because you have, like, a 17-year-old who just fundraised a million dollars,” she laughed.

What Amber and her business partner Emily Callahan are doing instead is changing an entire industry with their groundbreaking—or, ocean-saving—company Blue Latitudes.

Diving Into the Field

Amber Jackson
Photo by Scott Sporleder

Amber and Emily’s work with Blue Latitudes has made its mark on the oil and gas industries, not just by educating others about new strategies of ocean conservation, but also by repurposing offshore oil and gas platforms as artificial reefs.

When an oil well depletes its stores and effectively dries up, traditionally, the well is sealed, capped, and removed completely from the seafloor. This removal, however, often requires a process that is costly and detrimental to the surrounding environment. Blue Latitudes suggests an alternative to this by sealing and capping the well in the exact same way, but leaving the platform structure in place. In many cases, this scaffolding-like structure has become, over time, a thriving artificial reef that extends from the seafloor to the sea surface.

Not every offshore oil platform is a good candidate for reefing, so Amber works with oil companies and governments around the world to evaluate “how feasible it would be to ‘reef’ one of their offshore oil platforms.” This then begs the question: Should responsible rig owners remove entire structures from the seafloor, or reef them?

This is the question Blue Latitudes seeks to answer. They begin by sending remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) to conduct environmental surveys on the platform structure, using statistical analysis to determine the level of fish abundance and biodiversity that exists on the structure. “We go in, we look at what the situation is, how many platforms do they have, where are they, what depth,” Amber explained. “Then, we determine the ecological value of the structure. Is it valuable to leave it in place, or is not going to be a great reef and should it be completely removed?”

Rejection and failure happen daily… But that’s the fun of it though, right? If it wasn’t hard, why would we do it?

Amber is eager and enthusiastic as she explains her role at Blue Latitudes and the work she is able to accomplish in the field—sometimes in places as far as Mauritania—but is honest about the challenges she faces. “Rejection and failure” happen daily, particularly for herself and Emily as female entrepreneurs. “But that’s the fun of it though, right? If it wasn’t hard, why would we do it?”

The First Ripples

Before Amber became a co-founder of Blue Latitudes, she’d already become familiar with more commonplace obstacles as a student at Berkeley: figuring out what academics and extracurriculars she wanted to pursue and convincing her parents to be on board with her intended field of study.

During Amber’s freshman year, her main goals were to graduate, make friendships, and find out what her niche was going to be. “I was hoping to leave Cal feeling more confident about what I would do for the rest of my life, and have friendships and a support group to carry me through that,” she remembered. About 20 of her freshman-year floormates became her first community—whom she still sees yearly for Friendsgiving—but her sorority sisters at Alpha Chi Omega were the ones who really got the water churning. “[My sisters] helped take this larger campus, with all these different opportunities, and create a smaller community in which I had girls I could look up to and people I could ask questions to or get advice from.”

Oil well reefing
Photo by Caine Delacy

After hearing about the Young Entrepreneurs at Haas program through one of her sisters, Amber decided to join the program as a volunteer. Her responsibilities were to develop curricula and teach Oakland middle and high school students about the foundational principles of being an entrepreneur—a subject in which she had no prior experience. But she learned, through the role, about the “independence and satisfaction that comes with [forming your own company], of creating something that’s really your own,” and came to love it.

Learning to roll with her parents’ criticisms was a little more difficult. “My parents were like, ‘Oh, you’re going to study marine science?’” Amber recalled. Her parents’ reactions prompted her to begin actively seeking opportunities to pursue.

The Marine Science department at Cal had already provided her a myriad of incredible experiences, like traveling to the Big Island in Hawaii to summit volcanoes for a field trip, but she wanted more. “I found a research group [at the Cal Academy of Sciences]. And I reached out to them,” she stated simply. “That’s how you get everybody’s attention. And if they don’t respond, you email them again, and eventually if you’re bringing something cool to the table, you can get a really positive response.”

For Amber, her diligence was rewarded by an internship that earned her upper-division course credits—which added to her hands-on experience at Cal and continued to build the Berkeley foundation that ultimately led her to grad school and success.

Divers underwater at a rig
Photo by Caine Delacy

Swimming in the Deep

Although Amber’s job now takes her to many corners of the world, she constantly thinks of Cal and the opportunities there that led her to where she is today. “I’m such a proud Cal Bear! I wear my Cal Bear hat every day, every morning when I run on the beach, and I got the Cal license plate, I’m a lifetime member of the alumni association,” she listed off, rapid-fire.

The Cal swag, though, is just the surface of the ocean. Amber knows that much of her success would not have been possible without the people she was fortunate enough to encounter. “Everybody…at Cal, who’s been really formidable to me—the different programs I was involved with, and the different friendships and communities that we built…I wouldn’t be where I am now without them.”

“I’ve lost touch with [some],” she confessed, mourning lost connections as well as her inability to show these people the immense gratitude she has for their support. “They may not realize it, but they’ve been formidable in my life,” she said. “I wish I could tell myself to stay in touch with those people who helped you along the way. Be grateful, share your accomplishments with them…and say ‘Hey, thank you for supporting me. I just landed this job, and I’m stoked, and I just wanted to say thank you.’”

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