Ocean restoration is essential for the future of life on Earth and seaweed and shellfish farms can have a massive positive impact on the ocean.
As many scientists have become keenly aware, the impact on the oceans by plastic waste and climate change chemicals have damaged our waters. As we need clean oceans to live, this means dire things for our future. To protect human society, we must focus our energies on restoring and protecting marine ecosystems, while figuring out sustainable ways to utilize the ocean’s resources to feed a growing global population.
One of the biggest concerns has be industrial fishing has depleted the food stocks in the ocean. Experiments in aquaculture, or the controlled breeding of sea life for consumer consumption, have been studied for their effects on the environment. There is some new evidence that farming shellfish and seaweed actually has a positive impact on the waters around them if they are used in the right circumstances. A new study published in PLOS ONE—a collaboration by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), University of Adelaide and The Nature Conservancy (TNC)—identifies the top global regions where shellfish and seaweed aquaculture would be most likely to produce positive outcomes for both nature and people. Aquaculture has become one of the fastest growing sources of producing animal protein, especially in comparison to the harmful effects of cattle factory farming. In comparison, bivalves and seaweed require almost no feed, freshwater or land and minimal greenhouse gases to produce.
What’s more, these farms might step beyond impact reduction and actually improve water quality by removing excess nutrients from the environment they're grown in while providing a healthier habitat for other marine life.
According to the study, abstracted on Nature.org, the highest opportunity regions for shellfish cultivation centers on Oceania, North America and portions of Asia, while the highest for seaweed centers on Europe, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas. While these are encouraging, most of these zones are not creating aquaculture at their full potential, either because they're too small or they're not operating sustainable operations to scale.
From the study:
Situated north of continental Europe, the North Sea was consistently identified as the highest opportunity marine ecoregion for restorative shellfish and seaweed aquaculture development. Increasing the capacity of commercial seaweed and shellfish farming can help boost the ecological health of the region’s coastal waters, which suffer from significant nutrient pollution and the wide-scale loss of shellfish reefs and fish stocks.
Some identified high-opportunity regions, such as the East China Sea, already have robust shellfish and seaweed aquaculture industries. In these cases, our analysis suggests a proper assessment of the practices in use, in order to make modifications as necessary to improve ecological benefits of these farms.
This is exciting news for conservationists. The next step is academic research into what techniques offer the most efficient benefits to the ocean environment.