The late 1700s welcomed the Industrial Revolution, and while no one can undermine the importance of this cultural shift within every economic sector, it also planted the toxic seeds of humanity’s death. The enormous increase of production due to coal powered machines in the late 19th century, also enormously increased the amount of greenhouse gasses being released into the atmosphere.
Forward thinkers within the late 1800s started to notice, and document, changes seen within the climate, but it wasn’t until the 1950s that scientists saw an unusual increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Fast forward to today, an even a blind jester can see the effects of climate change. From the icecaps melting, to droughts intensifying, these events are new and undeniably caused by our own avarice of production resulting in pollution.
Luckily for us, our ocean is the largest sink of carbon dioxide and takes in an average 30 percent of the atmospheric carbon. Unfortunately the ocean is killing itself trying to save and counteract our greed. The unnatural amounts of carbon within the atmosphere is more than the ocean can handle, lowering the pH level by 0.1 units. While this number seems minimal, for the normal pH level of the ocean is 8.2, the small decrease represents an increase of acidity by 25 percent, creating fatal complications for much of sea life.
Fortunately for humanity there is a small glimpse of hope and comes in the form of seaweed, something that has been grown and cultivated for hundreds of years. These aquatic based plants can by no means undo the decades of carbon abuse on the ocean, but they can help heal the wounds while more environmental reforms are put into place.
Seaweed is a super plant of the ocean. Requiring no fertilizer or freshwater to plant, seaweed soaks up carbon from the ocean as its nutrients. Being one of the fastest growing plants on the planet, seaweed has a quick cycle of planting and harvesting. The big separation factor for farming seaweed compared to other agricultural farms is the dimensionality of the farm. The depth of the ocean allows for seaweed to be layered on top of one another, measuring farm size by volume and not by area.
In addition to seaweed, many of these farms also have been experimenting with growing shellfish. They are testing if the layered structure can help nurture the shells of shellfish to see if the farms help with growing better shells. Introduction of shellfish to the farm adds to the output and productivity of the farm, creating a variety of food for consumers.
It would be hubristic and incorrect to say there are no problems with seaweed farms. Not all seaweed is edible for humans, and with high concentrations of iodine, an excess intake of seaweed can cause thyroid problems.
Some seaweed is very picky about where it can grow and thrive, meaning not all ecosystems and coastal regions can grow every strain of seaweed. There are also economic and cultural problems with the production of seaweed, for not everyone has a plot in the ocean or the capital to create a farm, and not every fisherman wants to turn in their rods for seaweed lines.
Just as the Industrial Revolution had unforeseen consequences, seaweed farms may have unintended side effects that change the ocean’s ecosystem. The only fact we know is if we do not drastically change our release of carbon and other greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, the only plant we will be sowing is our own demise.
Cole Space is a freelance reporter for the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @cole_space.