Many people consider seaweed as a nuisance. The slimy, generally smelly, stuff that clogs fishermen’s nets, will get tangled round our ankles within the ocean, and washes up undesirable on the seaside. Even its identify — sea-weed — implies one thing undesirable.
And but, as we first reported this spring, growing numbers of fishermen, scientists, and foodies within the nation are beginning to take a look at seaweed very otherwise. As a promising supply of meals, jobs and assist cleansing ocean waters. With rising world populations and restricted house to broaden agriculture on land, they’re turning to the ocean — and its “weeds” — as a brand new frontier.
Bren Smith: Welcome aboard.
Lesley Stahl: Thanks.
It isn’t typically you get a experience to go to a farm on a ship. However we have been on-board with Bren Smith, the nation’s main advocate for a complete new kind of farming — ocean farming. We joined him on a chilly day in December, the time of yr he heads out to his model of fields to plant his staple crop, a kind of seaweed referred to as sugar kelp.
Bren Smith: Right here it’s.
Lesley Stahl: That is the farm? I am unable to see something. (LAUGH)
Bren Smith: The entire concept is it is down beneath the water. So, see the white buoys?
Lesley Stahl: Sure.
Bren Smith: That is the perimeters of the farm.
Lesley Stahl: And the black ones?
Bren Smith: Black buoys are holding up a horizontal rope under the floor. So it is rows– kinda rows of crops. So that is the seed.
He confirmed us what regarded like a tube coated in fuzz.
Lesley Stahl: Is that kelp?
Bren Smith: Yeah, these are the newborn crops, they’re about two millimeters. And these are gonna– gonna develop to 15, 18 ft by the spring. It is one of many quickest rising crops on earth.
And in contrast to all these crops that develop in earth, seaweed does not want fertilizer, or freshwater. It is what’s referred to as a zero-input crop.
Bren Smith: So now we’re simply gonna unravel it.
Simply connect the string it grows on to rope and droop it eight ft beneath water.
Lesley Stahl: And that is it, huh?
Bren Smith: That is it.
In 5 – 6 months, that fuzz will appear like this. This was a few of his crop final yr. Smith started leasing the correct to farm this 20-acre plot of water in 2012 from the state of Connecticut. His was the primary industrial seaweed farm within the state. Now there are 9, with a half dozen extra within the works.
Bren Smith: We hope you realize, in 10, 20 years, there are literally thousands of farmers doing this. We expect it is the long run, the time to maneuver out within the ocean and by chance we are able to do it the correct manner.
Smith spent most of his life working the oceans in what he now considers the mistaken manner — on industrial fishing boats, going after lobster, tuna, and cod.
Bren Smith: We have been tearing up entire ecosystems with our trawls, fishing in unlawful waters, and simply actually chasing fewer and fewer fish additional and additional out to sea.
Lesley Stahl: And also you did not assume about–
Bren Smith: No.
Lesley Stahl: –the concept that you simply have been depleting the inhabitants of fish?
Bren Smith: The oceans simply appeared boundless.
Boundless, and bountiful.
Bren Smith: The sense of that means of serving to feed my nation — you realize, fishermen– there’s some jobs, you realize, coal– coal employees, farmers, I feel steelworkers, and– and fishermen the place, you realize, they’re jobs which can be soul-filling. You recognize, they’re jobs that we write, and sing songs about. And I simply, I needed that life. And it’s– I nonetheless do.
However that life was more and more in peril. Cod shares crashed because of overfishing, and after Smith reinvented himself cultivating oysters in Lengthy Island Sound, Hurricanes Irene and Sandy hit, destroying his crop two years in a row.
Dr. Charlie Yarish: Bren was actually on the verge of chapter.
Trying to find a brand new profession on the water, he sought recommendation from Charlie Yarish, a professor of marine biology whose lab on the College of Connecticut research a number of the hundreds of various kinds of seaweeds.
Dr. Charlie Yarish: However there’s solely 20 globally which can be really farmed.
Lesley Stahl: They are not all edible?
Dr. Charlie Yarish: No, they don’t seem to be all edible. A few of ’em really are fairly poisonous.
It was Yarish who advised Smith think about sugar kelp, a neighborhood seaweed that will get planted after hurricane season is over, has a gentle style, and can be used as animal feed and fertilizer.
Lesley Stahl: Seaweed for you, was the lightbulb?
Bren Smith: Yeah, yeah.
Lesley Stahl: The eureka second.
Bren Smith: We will create jobs right here. We– we are able to shield and enhance the atmosphere. We do not have to make this choice–
Smith now operates one of many largest seaweed hatcheries within the nation, with tanks stuffed with growing kelp spores, and a processing room that comes alive in spring when he and his crew convey within the harvest and get it prepared on the market. Blanched in 170-degree water, kelp turns a vivid inexperienced and might then be bought recent or frozen, generally within the type of noodles. Smith’s prospects embody Google for his or her cafeteria, Yale College, and a number of other eating places and wholesalers. He has bought out the final 4 years.
How seaweed can save the atmosphere
However at this kelp farm throughout the nation within the waters exterior Seattle, producing meals is sort of inappropriate. It is a check farm, the place Betsy Peabody of the Puget Sound Restoration Fund and a crew of scientists are doing an experiment to see whether or not seaweed may help battle the rising drawback of ocean acidification — brought about primarily by growing carbon dioxide ranges within the seas.
Betsy Peabody: Roughly 25% of CO2 within the ambiance is being absorbed into oceans.
Lesley Stahl: And that’s what we’re getting from fossil fuels?
Betsy Peabody: From each carbon emissions, from deforestation, and I feel initially folks thought, “Properly, thank goodness the oceans are taking on a few of that carbon dioxide.” However then, scientists began to doc that, in reality, when that carbon dioxide goes into the ocean, it causes chemical modifications.
Modifications like growing the water’s acidity, as documented within the U.S. authorities’s 2017 local weather science particular report. The surplus CO2 causes “a lower of carbonate ions… Which many marine species use to construct their shells and skeletons.” Worldwide, “ocean floor waters have turn into 30% extra acidic over the past 150 years.” And within the Pacific Northwest, the issue is compounded by currents that convey extra carbon-rich waters to the floor. And that is the place seaweed is available in.
Dr. Charlie Yarish: Kelp take up carbon dioxide like all plant does, and it simply so occurs it lives within the water. There are winners and losers in ocean acidification. Organisms that produce carbonate shells like shellfish, they seem to be a loser. They can not deal with the decrease PH. They can not deposit as a lot calcium of their shells. However, when seaweeds like kelp, they really choose up that carbon dioxide as a result of now it is simpler for them to do photosynthesis.
Betsy Peabody: Think about timber on land, pulling CO2 out of the ambiance. Properly, seaweeds and kelp are actually good at pulling CO2 out of the water.
Lesley Stahl: So mainly what you are doing is the equal of planting timber within the ocean?
Betsy Peabody: Precisely.
After which testing to see how a lot of a distinction it makes.
Betsy Peabody: We have got scientific mooring buoys anchored at either side.
Lesley Stahl: The yellow.
Betsy Peabody: The yellow buoys.
They’re measuring how water modifications because it flows by way of the kelp area, and seeing if child shellfish grown with the kelp do higher at constructing their shells. Outcomes will not be in for greater than a yr, and Bren Smith is raring to see them. He is been rising shellfish on his kelp farm too — however not, he admits, due to the science. He says, it is good enterprise. In November, he and his crew loaded hundreds of child mussels into netting that regarded like huge sausages, then suspended them from ropes that grasp down under the kelp. He calls it 3D ocean farming.
Lesley Stahl: Why 3D?
Bren Smith: We name it that as a result of we’re utilizing the whole water column. And when you can stack crops on prime of one another it is simply actually environment friendly. You do not use giant, you realize, plots of ocean. However you get a lot meals.
Lesley Stahl: So you’ve got bought your seaweed.
Bren Smith: Yup. You have bought the kelp right here. After which now we have the mussels.
Underwater, every row appears one thing like this.
Bren Smith: Off those self same traces now we have scallops. After which under the entire system now we have cages with oysters in them.
He introduced up a type of oyster cages from the underside to point out us.
Lesley Stahl: What type are these?
Bren Smith: We name these Thimble Island salts.
Bren Smith: Let’s haul some mussels.
And he hauled up a mussel line so we might see their progress too.
Lesley Stahl: They’re in bunches.
Bren Smith: These are about mid-size. In order that they’ll double in dimension and we’ll harvest these nearly the identical time we harvest our kelp. So that is gonna be an enormous harvest.
“The oceans are a clean slate. For my technology, it is a actually thrilling second.”
Lesley Stahl: So are you a fisherman, or are you a farmer?
Bren Smith: I am a farmer now. Whether or not I prefer it or not (LAUGH) I am an ocean farmer. And I speak to fishermen about this. I say, “Hear. We have now to make this transition, that heartbreaking transfer from being a hunter to a farmer. However what else are the items of what it is– sorta to be a fisherman? It is to personal your personal boat, succeed and fail by yourself phrases, and have the satisfaction of feeding our nation. We get to maintain these issues.
He is so satisfied, he is launched a non-profit referred to as Greenwave to encourage others to comply with his lead. Husband and spouse Jay Douglass and Suzie Flores are amongst his seaweed-farming disciples. A former marine who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, Douglass discovered the ropes, actually, on Smith’s farm final spring, spent a yr getting a allow for his personal plot of ocean in Connecticut, and constructed 36 anchors from scratch. The day he and Flores went out to plant their first crop, Smith was alongside for steering.
His non-profit supplies free seed, and ensures to purchase 80% of their harvest for the primary two years. He estimates that with a $10-thousand to $20-thousand funding and a ship, new farmers can flip a small revenue the primary yr, rising to properly over $100-thousand afterward.
Lesley Stahl: Has anybody really mentioned, “You recognize, you guys are just a little nuts”?
Jay Douglass: Individuals just– ya know, kinda scratch their heads and say, “What do– what are you makin’ all these anchors for?” And it is simply, like, “I am startin’ a kelp farm,” you realize. (LAUGH)
Lesley Stahl: “What the hell is kelp?”
Jay Douglass: Yeah, proper. (LAUGHTER)
Suzie Flores: “Why?”
Jay Douglass: Yeah, “Why,” yeah. (LAUGHTER)
Which raises a query for this entire endeavor, will People in giant numbers begin consuming seaweed?
Barton Seaver: Simply toss some in there, just a little kelp.
Chef and writer Barton Seaver thinks so. He is written a complete cookbook of seaweed recipes.
Lesley Stahl: After I hear the phrase “Seaweed,” the very last thing in my head is, “I wanna eat that.” (LAUGH) You assume they’re going to purchase it on the market?
Barton Seaver: I do. (LAUGH) I feel, you realize, ten years in the past, kale wasn’t on the shelf.
He says first off, the identify “seaweed’s” gotta go. He prefers “sea greens.”
Lesley Stahl: So, is that this one of many dishes you created?
Barton Seaver: That is an Italian dish that sometimes makes use of spinach.
He suggests integrating seaweed — pardon, sea greens — into issues we already know and like.
Lesley Stahl: Are you nervous that I won’t prefer it?
Barton Seaver: In entrance of all of America? No! By no means.
Lesley Stahl: [laughs]
Surprisingly it did not style fishy or seaweed-y. And he says kelp is wealthy in calcium, fiber, iron, and anti-oxidants.
Lesley Stahl: It is actually good. It’s actually good.
Bren Smith: I imply, that is what’s thrilling about this house. The oceans are a clean slate. For my technology it is a actually thrilling moment– I can farm and develop meals, but additionally I can take in carbon and nitrogen whereas creating jobs, whereas giving folks the chance to create small companies.
And whereas fulfilling his dream of dwelling his life on the water.
Bren Smith: Yeah. I wanna die on my boat sooner or later. That is type of the objective. And I feel if I look over my life, my objective is simply at all times, “How do I preserve working at sea?”
Produced by Shari Finkelstein. Affiliate producer, Jaime Woods.