Seaweed key to mitigating ocean acidification

29 Sep 2015
Kelp thrives in acidifying ocean waters taking up CO2 and nutrients from their environment Photo: Claire Fackler/NOAA

Kelp thrives in acidifying ocean waters taking up CO2 and nutrients from their environment Photo: Claire Fackler/NOAA

In the Pacific Northwest, NOAA scientists and partners are studying the potential for seaweed farms to help fight ocean acidification by removing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the ocean.

The study is part of a collaborative US$1.5 million project led by the Puget Sound Restoration Fund and funded by Vulcan Philanthropy.

Led by Dr Jonathon Davis, senior scientist, and Betsy Peabody, executive director, at the Puget Sound Restoration Fund, the five year project involves collaboration with NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center and Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory.

Using the Manchester Research Station and NOAA’s Kenneth K. Chew Center for Shellfish Research and Restoration, kelp seedlings will be cultured and seeded onto twine for deployment and growth at an existing aquaculture facility in north Hood Canal.

The project will address more than just the seaweed’s potential to mitigate ocean acidification. A goal for a future study is to harvest kelp and develop useful kelp products. These potentially carbon-neutral products could help stimulate new industries based on “blue carbon.”

Although it constitutes a minor portion of marine aquaculture in the United States, the cultivation of aquatic plants globally produced an impressive 26.1 million metric tonnes in 2013, most of which was seaweed. Seaweeds can be farmed without freshwater, arable land, or nutrient inputs, so they are ecologically and economically efficient sources of biomass.

Many seaweeds, including kelp, thrive in acidifying ocean waters. They take up CO2 and nutrients from their environment, improving water quality as they grow by drawing down levels of the dissolved acid along with nitrogen and phosphorus. Seaweeds also give off oxygen, which can help with dead zones.

Eventually, the project looks to develop the seaweeds it cultivates as food and other products that can support local communities and businesses, as well as potentially generate new bio-products.

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