During the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, there were numerous methods discussed on how to clean up the polluted water, ranging from microbes to underwater robots. However, Charles Yarish, a Stamford professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, believes that seaweed could be a key tool in purification. Yarish believes that seaweed could not only be used to clean up pollution from human sources, but also natural waste. His method, which uses seaweed as its primary material, is known as ‘extractive aquaculture’ or ‘bioextraction’, and he believes this process could transform water areas into “healthier, more productive, and more economically viable” resources.
“Nutrient-enriched systems can contribute to harmful algal blooms, which deplete oxygen in the water,” said Yarish to PhysOrg. “Shellfish and seaweeds can provide good ecosystem services by extracting organic and inorganic nutrients from seawater.”
Yarish isn’t the first person to hit upon the idea of using seaweed to clean water, and says that cultures in ancient Egypt and China have used it in the past. However, Yarish believes that by bringing animals and plants from different trophic levels – different levels on the food chain – into the same place, aquaculture can function more like a natural ecosystem.
For his research, Yarish and his colleagues have received nearly $200,000 in funding from the Connecticut Sea Grant College Program and the NOAA Small Business Innovation Fund both to grow seaweeds for human consumption and to develop his cleaning method.
His team’s efforts have already generated interest, with his techniques being adopted by Ocean Approved, a sea vegetable company from Portland, Maine. Yarish is working with Ocean Approved to establish a kelp culture that grows on ropes suspended in the water near the company’s mussel farm.
Yarish is thinking ahead however, and is planning to establish and support conservation projects as part of a $2.4 million initiative funded by the Long Island Sound Futures Fund.
Lead image © PhysOrg