1. What is Ocean Farming?
Ocean kelp farming is the growing and harvesting of seaweed for food, fuel, or regenerative purposes. Kelp is an ideal crop because it can be grown in the open ocean using little space, zero fresh water, fertilizer, or pesticides. Popular for its small ecological footprint and high production yield, kelp farming is increasing along coastlines worldwide. While kelp can be used to make various products, the most appealing aspect of seaweed farming is its restorative nature. By removing vast amounts of the heat-trapping gas, carbon dioxide, through photosynthesis, seaweed harvesting is a viable solution to global climate change and ocean acidification. Restorative ocean farming also reduces pollutants and improves local water quality.
2. How does kelp farming work?
Known as 3-D ocean farming or vertical ocean farming, it uses vertical farms to produce what the ocean naturally provides – seaweed and shellfish. Growing on suspended ropes or structures, seaweed absorbs nutrients and collects energy from the sun. In turn, algae create enough food and oxygen to support the entire food web. Shellfish typically grow near kelp, filtering small particles from the water and providing habitat for larger species. Utilizing this simple but efficient model, 3-D ocean farms can help rehabilitate the ocean’s health.
3. What makes kelp farming sustainable?
Often marketed as a zero-input crop, seaweed requires no freshwater, pesticides, fertilizers, feed, or soil. Not only is kelp zero input, but the rapidly growing algae improves water quality. By removing nitrogen and phosphorus, kelp farming reduces the impact of land-based agriculture. Kelp also removes large amounts of carbon dioxide, acting as a carbon sink to mitigate the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification. Unlike detrimental land-based agricultural practices, kelp farming restores the environment while providing enough food to feed the planet.
4. What are the commercial uses for kelp?
High in sodium, iodine, and potassium compounds, kelp has been commercially harvested since the 16th century. Today, seaweed is found in numerous everyday products. Full of complex carbohydrates, algae are commonly used as a thickening agents in cosmetics, industrial solutions, and food. Packed with vitamins, minerals, protein, and fiber, seaweed can also be consumed directly as a sea vegetable. While seaweed has been a traditional staple amongst Asian dishes, farmers and chefs alike are creating innovative ways to incorporate kelp into western diets.
Many industries are actively researching and developing new commercial uses for kelp. Seaweed is full of complex sugars called glycans, which can be spun into fibers and loaded into a 3-D printer. Seaweed extracts can create anything from cotton alternatives to bioplastics, which reduce marine plastics and waste. Glycans also have interesting anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties and closely mimic mammalian connective tissue. For this reason, glycans provide exciting applications in the biomedical field. Seaweed also shows promising capabilities as a biofuel. Ethanol production using seaweed is far more sustainable than corn-made ethanol and could even replace fossil fuel consumption.