Kelp farming for climate: Consuming seaweed to solve environmental problems

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Kelp farming for climate: Consuming seaweed to solve environmental problems

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Kelp farming for climate: Consuming seaweed to solve environmental problems

Subheading text
Algal life may have the climate change solutions we all need.
    • Author:
    • Author name
      Quantumrun Foresight
    • April 20, 2023

    As food insecurity continues to be a major issue, researchers have explored various solutions, including aquatic farming. Kelps, which are large seaweed, are a promising option for this purpose, as they offer significant potential to provide food while mitigating the effects of climate change. However, further research is needed to drive down costs.

    Kelp farming for climate context

    Interest in growing kelp for food, medicine, and personal care, along with biofuel and bioplastics, is increasing worldwide. According to research conducted by Wageningen University in the Netherlands, the cultivation of seaweed farms covering an area of 180,000 square kilometers, approximately equal to the size of Washington State, could potentially offer enough protein to fulfill the protein requirements of the entire global population. Moreover, kelp farming does not require water or fertilizers. Thus, it does not compete with other land uses and requires minimal maintenance. 

    Seaweed growth is also one of the most effective ways of sequestering carbon dioxide (CO2). Additionally, it raises the ocean pH levels, regenerating marine ecosystems and fighting ocean acidification. Introducing a small amount of red algal species Asparagopsis taxiformis to cattle feed can also reduce the methane production from beef cattle by up to 99 percent.

    Many initiatives have risen around the concept. Startups like Kelp Blue and Sea6 run underwater farms to harvest seaweed for consumer goods, biofuels, and bioplastics. Similarly, the Australian Seaweed Institute has partnered up with numerous research organizations to use seaweed to combat environmental problems, including removing CO2 and nitrogen from the Great Barrier Reef. Meanwhile, Cascadia Seaweed incorporates algae into food and works with indigenous communities and tribes.

    Disruptive impact 

    Kelp is becoming increasingly popular as a food source due to its high protein content, environmental sustainability, and animal-friendly nature. As such, its usage in food production will likely continue to increase. In addition to its benefits as a food source, kelp farming also has the potential to create jobs in indigenous coastal communities and promote economic development in these areas. Furthermore, the production and use of bioplastics derived from kelp are also expected to increase.

    The growing interest in aquatic sources of food and CO2 sequestration is expected to result in increased research in this area. While it is uncertain to what extent carbon concentrations will decrease, it is clear that larger aquatic ecosystems will be impacted in unpredictable ways. For successful sequestration, seaweed needs to be harvested; otherwise, the carbon will be released as it decomposes. 

    However, too much seaweed growth can also negatively impact by absorbing too many nutrients from the sea and blocking light, thereby affecting other ecosystems. The costs associated with kelp farming are currently high as well. Despite the risks associated with kelp farming, the potential benefits make it a promising area of exploration. More startups will likely partner with research institutions to optimize the potential of kelp and how it can be transformed into different byproducts.

    Implications of kelp farming for climate

    Wider implications of kelp farming for climate may include:

    • Changes in regulations and governance structures, as governments work to manage and promote the industry's growth. These changes include regulating to protect over-farming and ecosystems. 
    • Encouraging the development of new technologies for harvesting, processing, and using kelp.
    • Better living standards and lower poverty rates in coastal towns and villages as marine jobs increase, which can help to address unemployment and underemployment.
    • The promotion of community involvement and collaboration, as farmers work together to address common challenges and opportunities.
    • The diversification of local economies, which can reduce dependence on single industries and increase local resilience.
    • Improved water quality and better habitat for marine life.
    • A decrease in greenhouse gas emissions from livestock farming.

    Questions to consider

    • How can governments support alternative food industries like kelp farming?
    • What are the other potential challenges of kelp farming?

    Insight references

    The following popular and institutional links were referenced for this insight: