I like win-win stories like this one from National Public Radio. It’s about a new crop with a lot of monetary potential — and distinct advantages for the environment.
“It doesn’t require any land or fertilizer. Farming it improves the environment, and it can be used in a number of ways. So what is this miracle cash crop of the future? It’s seaweed.
“Charlie Yarish, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Connecticut, loves seaweed. In nature, he says, when seaweed turns a rich chocolate color, that means the plant is picking up nitrogen, a process called nutrient bioextraction. …
“Many plants and animals cannot survive when there is too much nitrogen in the water, but seaweed is able to ‘capture’ the nitrogen, as well as contaminants in the water.
“A United Nations report says that nearly 16 million tons of seaweed were farmed in 2008 — most of it in Asia. Yarish helped a company called Ocean Approved start the United States’ first open-water kelp farm in the Gulf of Maine in 2006 … Now, he’s helping to create a seaweed farm off the coast of Connecticut.
“Bren Smith owns and runs the Thimble Island Oyster Company, off the coast of Branford, Conn. After his business was hit hard by Tropical Storm Irene last year, ruining about 80 percent of the shellfish crop, Smith started looking around for something more resilient to farm. That’s when he found Yarish, who agreed to help set him up in the seaweed farming business. …
” ‘There’s no barns, there’s no tractors. This is what’s so special about ocean farming. It’s that it’s got a small footprint and it’s under the water. I mean, we’re so lucky; I feel like I stumbled on this just great secret that we then can model and spread out to other places,’ ” Smith says. …
” ‘The plan is to actually split it into a couple different experimental markets — one for food, one for fertilizer, one for fish food. I’m [also] working with a skin care company in Connecticut, and then one for biofuel,’ Smith says. He’s even hoping he can someday fuel his own boat with biofuel from the seaweed.”
Craig LeMoult has the whole story here at NPR, where you also can listen to the audio.
Photograph by Ron Gautreau
Oyster fisherman Bren Smith on his boat.