Regenerative practices can help to boost environmental sustainability as well as bring economic benefits, believes marine phycologist Jennifer Clark, who sees seaweed as part of the answer to many challenges, including “food security and climate change.
“I love seaweed for its beauty and for what it does for coastal ecosystems as well as the planet,” says Dr. Clark, chief science officer, Cascadia Seaweed, a producer of ocean-cultivated seaweed with seven farms located around Vancouver Island. “In B.C., many fisheries are declining. Growing seaweed can help to provide economic stability for coastal communities.”
Seaweed ecosystems shelter and nourish countless organisms that are essential for our food web, including juveniles that are important for fisheries. And, as species that can grow between 30 and 60 centimetres a day, seaweed absorbs large amounts of carbon dioxide – and produce oxygen through photosynthesis.
Chief science officer, Cascadia Seaweed
By storing carbon in fronds – some of which end up in the deep sea after they die off – its carbon sequestration potential is significant, says Dr. Clark. “Seaweeds also uptake coastal nutrients to grow biomass, cleaning our waters of nitrogen and phosphates, for example.”
In addition to “ecosystem services, seaweed is a regenerative food source that can help feed a growing global population,” she says, explaining that beyond nourishing humans, seaweed can be used to feed cattle, produce bioplastic (a biodegradable alternative to fossil-fuel based materials) and provide components for medical or pharmaceutical uses.
Establishing a seaweed aquaculture in B.C. requires “finding areas that are best suited for growing seaweed, which needs lots of light and high water motion that facilitates an upwelling of nutrients from the deep ocean,” says Dr. Clark. To avoid negative impacts, she works with community partners who share local knowledge, for example, on traditional uses of seaweed or ecologically sensitive areas.
Promoting practices that help to “maintain genetic diversity and enable natural reseeding” further enhances seaweed’s potential as a “blue economy powerhouse,” she adds.
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