The world’s oceans are experiencing a tough time. Overfishing, acidification from climate change, pollution, and dead zones have all become major challenges to the health of aquatic ecosystems around the globe. While the problems may seem massive, ocean farmer Brendan Smith has an innovative solution that takes advantage of nature’s proclivity to heal itself. Through a Kickstarter campaign, he is proposing using blue-green algae and shellfish to help restore marine habitats. Taking advantage of the entire water column, these 3D farms could assist in capturing carbon, produce healthy and local foods, create biodiversity, and provide a source for biofuel.
Smith began his life as a commercial fisherman, but found that the trade’s practices were damaging and highly unsustainable. Making his way to Long Island Sound, he began the Thimble Island Oyster Company where he began to hone his skills as a member of the burgeoning “Blue-Green Econonomy”. Last year, he integrated seaweed into his shellfish business, and is now looking to scale-up his endeavors to save the ocean through his three-dimensional model.
In a 300′ x 300′ plot, he is able to grow 24 tons of seaweed in 5 months. This translates into carbon sequestration, and his 20 acre farm alone can capture 134 tons of carbon annually. The algae and shellfish also act as biofilters that screen out nitrogen, the main element contributing to infamous “dead zones”. The system sinks 164kg of nitrogen a year, helping to clean up a mess while providing sustenance for a growing population. Smith imagines that a network of small farms the size of Washington state could have the potential to create enough protein to feed the world.
While kelp has the potential to directly feed many hungry stomachs through vitamin-rich recipes that include salads, soups, and even cocktails, it can also be used as a feed-stock for biofuel. His farm has the capacity to produce 2,000 gallons of biofuel per acre, and according to the US Department of Energy, a farm the size of Maine could grow enough algae to replace all of the petroleum in the country. The 3D farm also has the capacity to attract a host of other species that help restore biodiversity and begin the healing process.
Smith has already reached is primary goal on Kickstarter, but additional funds are still needed to develop and bring an educational program to the next generation of ocean stewards. For those living on the coasts that have been damaged by environmental disasters, poor management, or could simply be suitable for aquaculture, Smith has shown that their economic and physical well-being are tied directly to the health of the sea.
Images via Brendan Smith.