Beneath the choppy surface of British Columbia’s coastal waters, grow entire forests of a largely-untapped sustainable resource.
Seaweed, also referred to as kelp, is the focus of a growing industry off the coast of Vancouver Island. While still in the early stages of development, this type of farming offers many environmental benefits on top of potential agricultural and industrial uses.
What Is Kelp Farming?
Kelp farming is the process of growing and harvesting marine life such as fish, shellfish, plants and algae.
Kelp farming can grow vast amounts of seaweed within a very small footprint.
This “vertical farming” works by attaching thin lines of kelp seedlings to ropes which hang beneath moorings on the ocean’s surface. Thanks to the unfussy nature of kelp, very little work and attention is required once the seedlings are placed. Kelp farmers need only intermittently check on their lines, and within six month the kelp will be ready to harvest.
Kelp can also be grown alongside oysters, clams and muscles. Baskets of shellfish are hung in tiers from the moorings, with kelp growing from the lines between the baskets.
While kelp farming is relatively new to North America, an already booming industry exists in China’s Yellow Sea and other parts of Asia. Seaweed has long been a staple of Asian diets, and 99% of the world’s seaweed is currently grown there.
The Benefits of Kelp Farming
The rapid growth rate of kelp along with it’s relatively low start up cost, are part of why kelp farming has caught the attention of mariners across multiple regions in North America.
However, the benefits definitely don’t stop there, because kelp is way more than just a lucrative business.
The production of kelp is a fantastic way to fight climate change!
Think of kelp as the trees of the ocean. Much like our forests on land, kelp forests absorb and store carbon dioxide. Seaweed helps to suck up the CO₂ in our oceans, which in turn allows the ocean to absorb more CO₂ from our atmosphere. It’s a completely natural cycle that could make huge impacts on climate change.
In a 2012 study by the University of the South Pacific, it was found that if 9% of the ocean was covered in seaweed farms, the collective seaweed growth could absorb 19 gigatonnes of CO₂ (psst – that’s a lot of CO₂).
On top of carbon reduction, aquaculture like kelp farming is considered multi-trophic. That’s a fancy word, but what it means is that kelp farms allow multiple species to grow and thrive in the same environment. That is why seaweed farms are fantastic for shellfish production, because the natural de-acidifying effects of kelp help to stimulate the growth of shellfish.
What Is Kelp Used For?
While kelp is still a growing part of the North American food chain, it has long been incorporated in Asian cuisine. You may be familiar with its use in popular Japanese dishes like sushi. Seaweed is incredibly versatile and can be used in smoothies, salads, soups, and stews.
Kelp is a protein-rich algae, and has potential to be used as a substitute to environmentally damaging protein sources, such as meat. It also has multiple health benefits including reducing inflammation, anti-aging and stamina enhancement.
In addition to it’s superfood health benefits, seaweed is a great option for sustainable agriculture. In a 2021 study, it was found that adding seaweed to livestock feed could reduce methane emissions from livestock, and lower feed costs significantly.
Outside of food production, kelp can also be used as a base for sustainable products. These products include shampoos, toothpastes, biodegradable packaging, bioplastics and pharmaceuticals. Seaweed has even been used to create textiles and fabrics!
The Future of Kelp Farming in B.C.
In recent years, kelp farming has grown rapidly along the coasts of North America. In the U.S. kelp farming got its start in the Atlantic waters of the East Coast, but the industry has now expanded to California, Alaska and of course, British Columbia.
In just the last five years, multiple kelp operations have popped up along the coast of Vancouver Island, most notably Cascadia Seaweed.
Cascadia Seaweed is hoping to become North America’s largest seaweed producer. They plan to expand their operations to 1,200 acres of ocean by 2025, eventually looking to reach a total of 6,000 acres.
According to Bill Collins, the chairman and founder of Cascadia Seaweed, kelp farming could bring significant job opportunities to coastal communities, and pull in nearly $1 billion to the GDP of coastal British Columbia.
Beneath the choppy surface of British Columbia’s coastal waters, grow entire forests of a largely-untapped sustainable resource. Seaweed. Seaweed, also referred to as kelp, is the focus of a growing industry off the coast of Vancouver Island. While still in the early stages of development, this type of farming offers many environmental benefits on top […]Salty and Sustainable: Why B.C.’s Seaweed Farming Is Good for the Planet — Vancity Michelle