Seaweed grows commonly along the shoreline, but some people think another approach — farming kelp — is commercially viable, as well as an opportunity to reduce carbon in the atmosphere. (CBC)
If you're seeking solutions to the climate crisis, one place to look is the shoreline — and the abundant seaweed that can grow there.
"Reducing climate change is about reducing carbon, [and] seaweed is a way to lock up a whole bunch of carbon," said Micheal Teasdale, founder of the seaweed farm HoldfastNL.
Teasdale believes Newfoundland and Labrador is positioned to take advantage of both a meaningful way of tackling climate change — as well as a solid business opportunity.
"Seaweed can create a whole bunch of biomass really quickly," he said.
"It's really sustainable to grow, without any sort of fertilizers or freshwater, and actually helps fish and fish habitat creation," Teasdale told CBC Radio's The Signal, which took a look in a recent episode on how some innovators are using seaweed to reduce atmospheric carbon levels and produce environmentally friendly products.
Seaweed farming maybe able to help slow climate change and provide nutrient rich food additives. (Diane Hollett)
Newfoundland and Labrador has generations of ocean-related experience, and many skills already in place for seaweed farming.
The province has more than 17,000 kilometres of coastline, with most of it relatively untouched and sparsely developed, as well as native populations of commercially viable seaweed species, giving the province the potential to be at the helm in seaweed production.
Sinking kelp for climate change
Teasdale, a marine scientist and seaweed farmer, has found a number of climate-friendly uses for kelp.
"It's a super-sustainable [and a] carbon neutral, arguably carbon-negative way of growing a biomass source. And however you use that biomass, whether you sink it deep into the ocean that's locking up carbon,or whether you replace corn and use it as filler for food, that's a way smaller carbon footprint," he said.
"[If] you use it as fertilizer instead of chemical fertilizers, that's carbon offsetting."
Seaweed farmers are finding many uses for the sea vegetables that are often overlooked as a food source. (Diane Hollett)
The province also has expertise at Memorial University's Marine Institute and Ocean Science Centre to help with skills. Additionally, many fish plants are only seasonally active and could be adapted for seaweed processing and nursery activities.
Rachel Artuso, a research technologist and aquaculture facility supervisor at the Marine Institute, studies the science about the benefits of farming cultivated seaweed.
LISTEN | Find out how cultivated seaweed can help Newfoundland and Labrador on multiple fronts:
The pilot project that she runs at the Marine Institute aims to understand locally growing kelp species and to create a successful nursery that fits the environmental conditions found in Newfoundland and Labrador, as they differ from many other places in North America.
"Basically we've just been looking at the research and the literature and then saying, 'OK, this is what's been done, let's see if we can make this work for us,'" Arturo said.
"We were successful in our pilot project and it was very exciting to see it unfold."
'Amazing' potential, researcher says
Through her research, Arturo was able to link seaweed farming to climate change.
"The potential and opportunity here for what this could do, with respect to the fight against climate change and decarbonization, is amazing — to be able to grow seaweed and know that it is doing something [beyond] providing food," she said.
"We've used them already for binders in shampoos, things like bioplastics or biofuels, or just having natural products. I feel that it's going to make a really big difference."
Seaweed farming can offer many benefits such as carbon capturing. (Submitted by Diane Hollett)
Other areas with shoreline are exploring the same issues.
Bill Collins, a co-founder of Cascadia Seaweed in British Columbia, would like to see more seaweed farms in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Collins estimates there's a million square kilometres of ocean available for seaweed farming in Canada, with N.L. hosting "great places to grow seaweed." He said some areas, like Newfoundland's northeast coast and the Labrador coast have "technical challenges when it comes to seaweed because of ice moving in and out … but there are technical solutions."
He said cultivated kelp can provide nature-based solutions to climate change and food security.
"It just takes the right mindset, the right investors coming to the table and I would also say innovation in government, because the government usually lags behind what's happening," Collins said.
"In this case, it's not just throwing more people at licensing, it's actually innovating to make sure we're able to rapidly advance some of these really, really strong climate solutions." says Collins.
About The Signal
Every weekday, Adam Walsh starts a new conversation on The Signal. It's a show about what's on your mind now, and what people aren't talking about… yet. The Signal will make you think, smile and learn more about the place you call home. You catch the latest episodes here or on the CBC Listen app.