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Coming Attractions

Ocean Farming

Small-scale ocean farms have the potential to provide sustainable food and biofuel, while oysters filter nitrogen pollution and seaweed sequesters carbon dioxide.

Environmentalists have long struggled to save the world’s oceans from the perils of overfishing, climate change, and pollution. What if we have it backward? What if the question is not how we can preserve the wildness of our oceans, but how the oceans can be developed to protect them and the planet?

Ocean farming is not a modern innovation. Once a sustainable practice, aquaculture has devolved into monolithic factory farms known for their low-quality fish treated with antibiotics and fungicides that pollute local waterways.

A small group of ocean farmers and scientists are charting a different course—developing small-scale farms where complementary species are cultivated to provide food and biofuel, clean up the environment, and reverse climate change. Instead of finfish, the anchor crops of green ocean farms are seaweed and shellfish, two organisms that may well be Mother Nature’s Rx for global warming.

How so? Among other benefits, oysters filter nitrogen out of the water column. Seaweed pulls carbon from the atmosphere and the water, with some varieties capable of absorbing five times more carbon dioxide than land-based plants. Seaweed farms also have the capacity to grow massive amounts of nutrient-rich food and provide a clean replacement for biofuels.


NOTE: This piece was adapted, with permission from the author, from: Smith, Bren. “The Coming Green Wave: Ocean Farming to Fight Climate Change.” The Atlantic. November 23, 2011.

“many of the mistakes of industrial farming”: New York Times Editorial Board. “About That Salmon.” New York Times. July 31, 2011.

“restore instead of deplete”: Barber, Dan. How I Fell in Love with Fish. TED talk. February 2010.

Nitrogen…“planetary boundary”: Rockström, Johan, Will Steffen, Kevin Noone, Åsa Persson, F. Stuart Chapin, Eric F. Lambin, Timothy M. Lenton et al. “A Safe Operating Space for Humanity.” Nature 461, no. 7263 (2009): 472-475.

kelp…lithium-ion batteries: Cass, Stephen. “Battery Storage Could Get a Huge Boost from Seaweed.” MIT Technology Review. September 8, 2011.

“the equivalent of striking oil”: University of California, Berkeley. “Common Algae Can Be Valuable Source of Hydrogen Fuel.” ScienceDaily. February 23, 2000.

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p. 207

Nitrous oxide is the greenhouse gas you do not pay attention to.

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