Ocean farmers grow food that cleans up pollution
Seaweed can be the solution to a host of problems from cleaning the oceans to feeding a hungry world.
Take a walk along any ocean beach, and as far as your eyes can see, there is seaweed or kelp on the shores. In many places, seaweed was something to be discarded from fishing nets, but today those same nets are now being used for farming kelp from the oceans.
With the earth's population growing and agricultural land diminishing, fishers and scientists are turning to the oceans – and kelp – for food. Kelp is an abundant and essentially free source of versatile food that has the added benefit of cleaning ocean waters.
There is a growing number of farmers that are actively growing kelp in the oceans. They are using a method called 3D farming that grows crops vertically on lines using no fertilizers, pesticides, or freshwater.
Many of the farmers also grow shellfish, which helps filter pollutants from the water. Kelp also soaks up carbon and nitrogen, two contaminants that have ended up in our oceans and create dead zones. According to a report from the World Bank, if ocean farmers use less than 5 percent of the US waterways to grow kelp, they could clean up 135 million tons of carbon and 10 million tons of nitrogen.
Catherine Puckett is a single mother of two and an Ocean farmer who lives on Block Island around 12 miles (19.31 kilometers) off the coast of Rhode Island. She grows kelp and shellfish on a farm located in the Great Salt Pond using sustainable methods. Before that, she earned her livelihood working for the Block Island Shellfish farm.
Puckett farms a one-acre shellfish farm and a two-acre kelp site in waters that are leased from the state. She is the only woman on Block Island running an ocean farm and her bright teal and pink boat is a testament to girl power.
"What we are trying to do is grow food from the ocean that doesn't hurt the environment or the climate and, in fact, is working toward restoring both," she told Eco Watch.
She sells most of the food her farm produces to a Maine food processor and what's left is sold to land farmers to use as a natural fertilizer. "The kelp is sequestering carbon and nitrogen, so by selling it to the farmers as fertilizer, we are closing the loop," she told Eco Watch. "We are making the circle complete."
The kelp, which starts out brown, turns a vivid green when blanched and can be sold fresh or frozen or as noodles. When cooked, it doesn't taste fishy or salty and can be used in salads and a variety of dishes. Kelp can also be a healthy vegan meat substitute.
Puckett was able to start her operation with help from GreenWave, a nonprofit that is dedicated to supporting a new generation of sustainable ocean fishing and building a blue-green economy in this era of climate change. To date, GreenWave has trained and supported over 50 ocean farmers in the US; mostly in the Northeast.
The organization was founded by Bren Smith, a former commercial fisher, after he saw that the commercial fishing industry was decimating wild fish. He created the vertical fishing system off the shores of Long Island Sound in Connecticut as a method of ocean restoration and sustainable ocean farming.
"We have requests to start farms in every coastal state in North America and from 20 countries," Smith, told Eco Watch. "People come from all walks of life. They are shell fishers, like Catherine, who are looking to diversify, former fishermen who want to transition, land-based farmers who want to leave the land, and indigenous people who want to revive their traditions and be on the forefront of climate farming."
Smith told CBS, "We hope you know, in 10, 20 years, there are thousands of farmers doing this."
He believes that his model could ease overfishing and change the way we eat ocean food. "We have to reimagine the seafood dinner plate and move wild fish to the edges, and put shellfish and seaweed to the center," Smith told Eco Watch. "Because what we grow has zero inputs, our food will be the most affordable food on the planet."
The best part is that ocean farming is replicable and scalable. This is an industry that has the potential to create jobs and create new products and healthy vegan food to feed a hungry world.