SEATTLE — Over 1 billion people rely on seafood as their main source of protein around the globe, yet current fishing practices are not even close to being sustainable. According to Bren Smith, GreenWave Executive Director, an answer to the fight against hunger may be a new type of aquaculture called 3D ocean farming.
Smith’s invention is not only a groundbreaking feat in effective food production, but it could also act as an ecofriendly solution to end global hunger.
The Struggle of Balancing Global Hunger and the Environment
Since the 1800s when whales were hunted to near extinction for oil, overfishing and illegal fishing have been serious threats to fish stocks and ocean diversity. Currently the global fishing fleet is between two to three times larger than what the ocean can actually support. This puts pressure on wild fish species.
In an attempt to reduce this pressure, aquaculture, also known as fish farming has become a popular alternative to capture fishing. In fact, the world now farms more fish than it catches. Unfortunately, farming fish also comes at a cost. With high numbers of fish come large amounts of fish waste.
In some cases, this waste has contaminated coastal areas making them uninhabitable to native species and undesirable for human use. Farmed fish also have a tendency to be less healthy and can rapidly spread disease within the farm and even to wild fish populations.
These practices are not only bad for the oceans, but for small coastal communities as well. Many developing countries in Sub-Saharan Africa rely on the ocean as a major source of food and income. In order for these developing countries to thrive, they need to be able to utilize the resources the ocean has to offer.
According to the World Bank, the world needs to collectively produce 50 percent more food by 2050 in order to keep up with the rising global population. Adding to the burden, it is estimated that farmers could see current crop yields drop by up to 25 percent due to climate change related conditions.
An increasing population and decreasing food growing capabilities may be a cause for concern considering that a significant portion of the current global population already struggles to find enough food. Despite seeing improvements since the turn of the century, about one in nine people on earth are still undernourished.
The Ecofriendly Solution to Global Hunger
Thankfully, there may be an ecofriendly solution to global hunger and fish farm waste. As an innovator in 3D ocean farming, Smith has devised a technique for farming food in the ocean that actually helps the environment. The key is growing food — shellfish and seaweed — with no input requirement.
Smith’s 3D ocean farm is comprised of a floating line held in place by hurricane resistant anchors. From this line hang scallop, oyster and mussel traps. Shellfish grow in the traps without any feed, water or fertilizer by the farmer. In addition to the traps, kelp (a type of seaweed) will grow down from the floating line.
While people regularly enjoy eating shellfish, seaweed may be a different story. Yet on his website Greenwave.org, Smith talks about the many benefits of growing and consuming seaweed. Seaweed is not only high in vitamins but in protein as well.
Even more impressive is the versatility of seaweed. The underwater plant can be used as biofuel, fertilizer, and even sequesters carbon, phosphorus and nitrogen. This sequestration means that growing seaweed actually absorbs greenhouse gasses and prevents “dead-zones” in the ocean caused by high nitrogen or phosphorus levels.
Smith’s website claims that 3D ocean farms totaling an area half the size of Maine would provide enough biofuel to replace all of the oil used in the U.S. Additionally, 3D ocean farms totaling an area the size of Washington State would be able to feed the world.
While these claims may seem unattainable or unrealistic, they are good examples of the potential impact that 3D ocean farming could have. In an unselfish quest to save the oceans and possibly the world, Smith has made his design open-source. This means that people around the world can implement and improve his idea.
For coastal communities that struggle with feeding its population, 3D ocean farming may serve as a viable, ecofriendly solution to global hunger.
– Weston Northrop