Posts Tagged ‘ocean’

Brendan Smith is saving the planet with seaweed

Modern man has been awful rough on the oceans. With climate change acidifying the seas, and through overfishing, pollution, dead zones and resource extraction, humans have done an amazing amount of damage to the world’s aquatic ecosystems. Brendan Smith encountered many of these challenges as a commercial fisherman. After realizing that most current fishing practices were unsustainable, he decided to settle in Long Island Sound and raise oysters. As of last year, he integrated kelp into his practices, creating a 3D farm that could take advantage of the entire water column. Once he added the green-blue algae, he found that the seaweed and shellfish had great economic and environmental benefits.

Now the subject of a Kickstarter campaign, Smith is looking to expand his 3D farm and educate others as to the applications of kelp and shellfish. Known as the “rainforest of the sea”, kelp is able to capture an incredible amount of carbon at almost five times that of land based plants. His 2o acre farm alone can sequester up to 134 tons a year. Seaweed and oysters can also filter out nitrogen which is the main cause of dead zones created by agricultural runoff. His Thimble Island Oyster Co. farm sucks up 164kg of nitrogen annually, purifying the water and converting the nutrients into a healthy source of protein, vitamins, and minerals.

Kelp also possesses the added bonus of being a terrific feedstock for biofuel. According to the US Department of Energy, a kelp farm the size of Maine could potentially produce enough algae to replace petroleum for the entire country. Farming kelp has the ability to jump-start what Smith describes as a “Blue-Green Economy” that could not only help to repair damaged ecosystems, but create valuable jobs and revamp a crumbling infrastructure. Instead of drilling and contaminating the water supply, why not take advantage of natural processes that allow life to flourish?

Human beings produce a stunning amount of trash. Each year, so much of our garbage reaches the oceans that it has been swirled by the waves into enormous islands of refuse. So massive are these deposits, that as of April 11, our collective mess will be named as its own country by the United Nations cultural and science agency, UNESCO. The Garbage Patch will encompass five areas of floating rubbish in the North Pacific, South Pacific, North Atlantic, South Atlantic, and Indian Ocean. The territory will have its own flag and boast a population of 36,939 tons of garbage.

The effort to designate the Garbage Patch as a country was led by Italian architect, Maria Cristina Finucci.

“I found out about the tragic islands made of plastic, but they were treated lightly by the scientific community,” Finucci told the newspaper, La Stampa. “The only thing we can do now is to stop them from getting bigger,” she said.

The inauguration ceremony will take place at UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris, complete with bottle caps and plastic bags  littering the floor. While the problem of marine pollution is indeed a serious and colossal problem, there are ways in which you can simply alter your lifestyle to give the planet a little relief.

Recycle: Making sure your recyclables end up in the blue bin not only keeps trash out of the ocean, but cuts down on the energy needed to produce more new material. As an added bonus, all of your bottles and cans add up to earn you a little extra cash.

Be aware of packaging: Where you have the option, try and buy items that aren’t overloaded with plastic shells, tons of cardboard, or encased in enough metal to look like a tank. Look for foods and durable goods that use recycled content or biodegradable materials.

Ditch single-use items: Most of the trash gyres consist of plastic bottles and flimsy plastic bags. Make a fashionable and sustainable statement by bringing your own cloth bags to stores, eating utensils to take-out restaurants, and coffee mugs or water bottles to your favorite cafe. And check out Bambu Batu’s growing selection of reusable cups, bottles and utensils.

Volunteer: Lend the planet a helping hand and volunteer to clean up your local park, beach, or watershed.

Get involved: Have a favorite restaurant that still uses styrofoam? Does your town allow plastic bags and bottles? Successful petitions have been made to large companies like Jamba Juice to switch their cups, and towns across the US have begun to ban materials harmful to the environment. It can be done!


Climate change is perhaps the single biggest issue facing the health of our communities. Severe weather conditions threaten the crops on which we depend for food and a thriving economy as well as the safety of our neighborhoods and health of our landscape. In San Luis Obispo, we have historically seen weather patterns consistent with a Mediterranean climate where we experience long, hot and dry summers with rainy, wet winters. Many of the native plants are drought-tolerant, and the cold waters and upwelling of nutrients off of our coasts provide us with a stunning amount of marine biodiversity. With greenhouse gasses on the rise, what can we expect for the seasons to come?

The Coast: According to a report released by the California Academy of Sciences in June of this year, Central California’s waters are already showing the effects of a warming planet. Surface waters have increased in temperature, sea levels are higher, winds are stronger, upwellings are more intense, there is increased ocean acidification, and shoreline erosion has accelerated. As a result, ecosystems have been thrown out of balance and organisms are struggling to adapt.

The study states that the most severe ecological disruption will come from the changes associated with upwellings, ocean temperature, sea level rise, and acidification. Upwelling appears to be increasing because of more rapid heating of land in contrast to the ocean which creates pressure gradients and strong winds, driving the process. Researchers worry that stronger currents may carry the larvae of fish and other animals out to sea, disconnecting whole populations and threatening the food web. Warm surface temperatures have heated bays and shallow waters, making for steep temperature gradients from east to west. Warmer surface waters also inhibit the vertical mixing of water and nutrients which can result in plankton blooms and areas of low dissolved oxygen, killing certain species that need oxygen rich habitats to survive and aiding in the takeover of invasive organisms.

Sea level rise has accounted for a large amount of coastline erosion as well as the change in tidepool ecosystems. Rising waters affect the ability of marine mammals to reproduce and rest, changing the living patterns for these top predators. As CO2 continues to be absorbed by the sea, waters have become more acidic, creating conditions where shelled animals cannot form their exoskeletons or even dissolve.

In regards to broader weather patterns, the El Nino oscillation cycles are expected to continue with higher temperatures than in the past. La Nina years will be wetter and warmer than average with heavy downpours becoming more frequent.  Days of high fire risk are going to become more common with an extended fire season brought on by hotter temperatures and increased evaporation. Flooding and erosion from sea level rise and lack of vegetative cover will deposit more soil and sediment into freshwater systems, eventually affecting marine ecosystems as they flow out to sea.  Saltwater is also expected to flow into freshwater systems as the oceans rise.