A collaborative team led by PSRF is investigating the power of sugar kelp to improve seawater conditions locally. With increasingly corrosive conditions ahead, the project tests the efficacy of using native vegetation to buffer the pH of seawater in places with important shellfish resources. The 5-year project implements a key recommendation of the Blue Ribbon Panel on Ocean Acidification with funding from The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, the U.S. Navy, and the involvement of world class ocean acidification (OA) scientists.
Our goal in this 5-year study is to investigate sugar kelp cultivation as a strategy for mitigating ocean acidification, through improved seawater conditions or by providing shelter for sensitive species.
The power of sugar kelp
To put the idea to the test, sugar kelp is being cultivated at a 2.5-acre site north of the Hood Canal Bridge leased by Hood Canal Mariculture. During the growing season, kelp consumes carbon dioxide and nitrogen from the surrounding seawater - the same way that trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. When harvested, the carbon and nitrogen that are removed from the marine environment can be transformed into food, fertilizer, feed, and other products.
Data, modeling, and outreach
On the assessment side, scientists at University of Washington, NOAA, and Washington Department of Natural Resources are measuring the effects of kelp cultivation on pH, carbonate chemistry, biology, and fish utilization. Data are then integrated into a computer model created by System Science Applications to visually illustrate the effect of kelp on seawater conditions. On hand to help with kelp analysis and outreach is an Advisory Team packed with kelp experts and an OA specialist with Washington Sea Grant.
Findings released in 2019
During the first year of full-scale cultivation and assessment in 2017, 14,000 lbs. of kelp was harvested in July and transported to SkyRoot Farm on Whidbey Island for direct soil enrichment trials. A second year of full-scale cultivation and assessment was completed in 2018. If you've read this and think kelp farming is exciting, it is! While kelp farming is in still in early days in Washington, look to Maine for more stories of kelp farming in action. And stay tuned for final results later in 2019 from our investigation into the power of kelp!
IN THE MEDIA: LISTEN
- Can kelp and seagrass help oysters adapt to major ocean change? Oregon Public Broadcasting, 2018
- Could kelp help mitigate ocean acidification? Marketplace, 2018
IN THE MEDIA: READ
- Training Builds on Growing Popularity of Kelp Farming. NOAA Fisheries, 2020
- Could seaweed be Washington’s next cash crop? Crosscut, 2019
- Food, innovation and resilience in the face of climate change. The Seattle Times, Pacific NW Magazine, 2018
- Slowing ocean acidification with kelp. The New York Times, 2016
- Studies testing kelp to ease effects of ocean acidification. The Seattle Times, 2016
- Could kelp forests keep ocean acidification at bay? Mongabay, 2016
NOAA divers monitor fish use of sugar kelp growing at the Hood Head research site, 3 months after outplanting