As was discussed in a previous article, the oceans of Earth store greater quantities of carbon than the rainforests. Excess carbon in the sea causes rising acid levels, which in turn proceeds to destroy coral reefs and thereby plunging marine ecosystems into chaos.
How can we mitigate this process? Mother Earth always provides, and in this instance, she has provided a completely renewable, sustainable, profitable, and low-effort solution. Seaweed. How, you may ask? Seaweed has often been characterised as the trees of the ocean; this is accurate in more ways than one. Certain seaweeds are actually natural carbon catchers. They absorb carbon from the sea and contain it within their structure. When the plant dies, it falls to the bottom of the sea and gets absorbed into the sediment, trapping the carbon below. Equally, seaweed is the ocean’s natural cleaning method. As well as absorbing carbon, seaweed absorbs other toxins in a similar way to carbon. In fact, the way to spot a healthy beach is the quantity of seaweed and marine life, particularly sea urchins.
Furthermore, due to the rise in popularity of Asian cuisine and the increase in people choosing plant-based consumption habits, seaweed has become a much more profitable business. Equally, it has increasingly been used in health and beauty products, in animal fodder and biofuel. It has even grown in popularity as a bioplastic. Other bioplastics derived from corn or sugarcane are not as sustainable (and as it is being discovered, as strong) as seaweed due to the additional land and water required to farm it. 97% of commercial seaweed is grown across Asia, more than half from Chinese waters. Bringing that industry to the UK, or your respective country, is both financially and environmentally beneficial. The number of commercial seaweed farms in the UK doubled from 2016 to 2021, promising a positive upturn for the industry.
Whilst the uses for seaweed are ever expanding, having seaweed farms solely as small-scale commercial ventures is under utilising its potential as a carbon capturing system. The British businessman John Auckland is pulling investors and pooling resources for a ginormous seaweed farm – 55,000 km squared to be exact. Auckland means for this farm to absorb a gigatonne (1 billion tonnes) of our carbon emissions annually – we emit roughly fifty gigatonnes of carbon a year. There are naturally critics of this plan, some marine biologists argue it may upset the pH levels of the sea or upset the balance of ecosystems. The economic angle of the plan is the selling of carbon bonds on the carbon world market (who knew this existed?). For industries that cannot easily cut emissions, such as aviation, they are offered the opportunity to buy up carbon credits. Critics say this system encourages more carbon emissions; the best thing we can do for our planet is to simply cut emissions. Some scientists argue that lots of small-scale farms would be more environmentally beneficial than one mega-one.
Overall, we as individuals probably won’t have too much effect on Auckland’s venture. However, this information is for your own learning – whilst we can’t do much to boost its existence, unless you are an investor by trade, we have a duty to learn of what is going on to protect our environment. As an individual however, we can boost seaweed production in our respective areas. Firstly, buy more seaweed! Use it in your cooking, use it for your skincare, use it as fertiliser, use it for whatever floats your boat. More money in the industry means more commercial gain, which in turn means higher incentive for investment. Whilst the benefits of large-scale industrial seaweed farming are still contested, small-scale farms are universally seen as sustainable and environmentally beneficial. If you live in a coastal area and are entrepreneurially minded, have a look at investing or being part of any seaweed farms in your area. For those who don’t, we can support these small seaweed businesses being set up to ensure their future success.
Whilst this is an incredibly specific aspect of marine life and ocean preservation, it is important as it is one of the newest ways marine biologists, governments and businesses have found an environmentally beneficial convergence of interest. As such, it is our duty as humans of the Earth to be informed of new practices that might help save our planet. Selecting Oceans as your avatar for Get2Cop will show the UN that oceans are your primary concern. Since seaweed farms fit the majority of the UN criteria regarding industry, employment and sustainable consumption, perhaps an understanding that people’s interest lies in the preservation of the ocean will prompt the UN to globally push seaweed farming as a viable solution.