I learned about the environmental impact of seaweed farming when I had the privilege of meeting Brian von Herzen, the head of the Climate Foundation, at a Sustainable Ocean Alliance (SOA) meeting. He spoke to me about the many benefits of seaweed farming, including helping to reverse the negative effects of climate change.
Benefits of Seaweed Farming
The Climate Foundation is at the forefront of marine permaculture, which is seaweed farming for various purposes. Growing kelp provides habitat for various creatures that eat it and use it for shelter. Harvested kelp is used as food, fertilizer (biostimulant), in cosmetics, feed supplements, pharmaceuticals, biofuels, bioplastics and even fabrics.
Seaweed can store carbon
“Seaweed is more efficient at absorbing carbon dioxide than the Amazon rainforest.” (From the Climate Foundation website) Kelp is especially good at fixing and storing carbon. All plants do this. They use carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to produce oxygen. The carbon doesn’t get released and is “stored” in the kelp’s tissues. This reduces the large amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that causes climate change. Even when the kelp dies, it takes the carbon in it to the seafloor.
Kelp used as an agricultural biostimulant can increase rice yields. It can even grow watermelons that are 3 times bigger than ones not grown with biostimulants!
Seaweed farming and upwelling
Kelp forests around the world are in danger due to the warming of the oceans due to climate change. Upwelling is essential to marine ecosystems like kelp forests. Cold, nutrient-rich water from deep in the ocean is “upwelled” into the warmer surface waters. In turn, these nutrients are used by algae at the surface, where there is plenty of sunlight (for both microalgae like phytoplankton, and macroalgae like seaweeds). Algae can then grow and reproduce.
Renewable wave energy and seaweed farming
Marine permaculture by the Climate Foundation restores ocean upwelling using renewable wave energy. They have platforms in the ocean (currently one in the Philippines) that use wave energy to create the upwelling that supports kelp growing. Kelp can grow up to a foot a day, much like bamboo on land. These new kelp forests attract wildlife. They can be harvested for food and various other products.
Upwelling can help reverse coral bleaching
So not only does seaweed farming sequester carbon (take carbon from the atmosphere), but it also could help reverse coral bleaching. Coral bleaching due to increased temperatures from climate change is a major threat to coral reefs worldwide. Coral bleaching is when the animal part of the coral spits out the plant part of itself due to stressors like temperature increase, or pollution. These cause the coral to lose its color and start to turn white.
The upwelling from the kelp farms brings cooler deep water to the shallow waters where the bleaching coral lives. This water can cool the warm waters up to half a degree celsius. Experimentally it has been shown to reverse coral bleaching in as little as 24 hours!
The good news is that you can help spread the word about the seaweed farming and marine permaculture done by the Climate Foundation. Right now all donations are being matched, meaning a $10 donation will become at $20 one! Students from Oregon, USA from one class project on marine permaculture raised $1,000 to help the Climate Foundation help the oceans!