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Marine permaculture is the ocean farming of kelp and seaweeds. It is a win/win/win/win solution when it comes to taking positive steps to help the planet. It turns out that kelp and seaweed are nature’s climate warriors and cultivating them at scale could counteract ocean acidification, climate change and loss of biodiversity.
Seaweed and kelp can also be a source of biofuel, feed for cattle and could provide food security for millions. Our oceans have absorbed over 90% of the heat from global warming to date. This has created a layer of warm water near the surface which acts as a barrier to upwelling which is the movement of nutrient rich water from the deep ocean to the surface. Plankton rely on upwelling for nutrients and, in turn, many fish rely on plankton as a food source. As a result, we have seen the collapse of 13 out of 17 major fisheries.
The ocean has also been absorbing much of the carbon dioxide that we have been pumping into our atmosphere and this is causing the acidification of our oceans. It’s time for us to give our oceans a much needed leg up! Marine permaculture requires no fresh water, no deforestation, and no fertiliser. It simply sets up the conditions that are needed for these natural process to take over that will help restore balance to our oceans.
Researchers estimate that if 9% of the world’s ocean surfaces were used for seaweed farming, we would be removing 53 billion tonnes of CO2 per year from the atmosphere. The key technology required for these ocean farms comes in the form of a lightweight, latticed structure that is roughly a square kilometre in size. It is submerged about 25 metres below sea level where kelp can attach to it. Kelp forests are an amazing carbon sink and draw more CO2 from the atmosphere by area than land-based rainforests! They will even grow in ocean “dead zones” and, remarkably, will restore these areas. Here’s how it works.
The floating platforms use wave energy to pump nutrients from the cooler, deep waters so plankton and kelp have the food they need to thrive. Once the kelp becomes established, it forms the basis of an ecosystem by providing habitat for forage fish who will feed off plankton. Game fish will then join the party because they eat these forage fish, and on and on, up the food chain to tuna and sharks. What was once an ocean dessert, now becomes a productive and thriving community.
Marine permaculture has the potential to provide 200kg per year / per person for 10 billion people. Kelp is also a fantastic food source in itself. Filled with vitamins, Omega-3s and 46 minerals, kelp contains more calcium than milk, more iron than spinach and more fibre than brown rice! Some companies are already developing fibres and bio plastics from seaweed too.
Like any large project, marine permaculture needs investment to be deployed at scale. Potential finding sources include industry, organisations and governments. Marine permaculture could provide food, fuel and fertiliser for the 9 billion people that are likely to inhabit the planet by 2040. It has the potential to improve the livelihoods of local marine communities and bolster their economy by creating an entire industry around kelp and seaweed farming.
Because industry needs people - we’ll need fishermen, seaweed farmers and skilled workers for the manufacture and deployment of the pontoons. We will also need people to harvest and commercially manufacture the seaweed products for various uses. These platforms could also potentially become amazing ecotourism destinations, considering the abundant and diverse sea life that will be found in and around them. Once marine permaculture gets a kick start and becomes a self-supporting system, these projects can and will very quickly provide returns on investment.