Blog Description

Ocean Farming & The New Blue Green Economy

Ocean Farming & The New Blue Green Economy

Agriculture | Mar, 2023

According to the latest predictions by the United Nations, the global population is projected to exceed 9.7 billion people by 2050. As the population continues to expand, the demand for food is expected to increase substantially, which would typically result in the additional use of arable land and water. Although land-based expansion is possible, it may exacerbate climate change and biodiversity loss. Growing meat consumption around the world is also contributing to climate change since 15% of global greenhouse emissions result from livestock farming. As people are increasingly becoming aware of the harmful impact of consuming meat on their health and environment, they are increasingly swapping meat for seafood to improve nutrition and reduce emissions.

Oceans cover 71% of the Earth’s surface but only 7% is used for food production. To keep pace with increasing consumption, researchers are probing deeper and further into the oceans. Currently, one billion people in developing countries rely on seafood for their primary source of protein, but the number is expected to increase in the coming years.

The worldwide ocean economy is the seventh largest in the world, valuing around USD1.5 trillion per year. Seaweed and shellfish ocean farms regenerate natural systems by reducing ocean acidification, which provide a suitable habitat for marine species. A 20-acre seaweed farm has the potential to sequester 9000 kg of CO2 and 300 kg of nitrogen in a year. Besides, farming seaweed in just 0.1% of the world’s oceans could create 50 million direct jobs and 100 million associated jobs. Increasing seaweed production by 14% annually could boost the global food supply by 500 million tones.

Oceans are often categorized as victims of global warming, acidification, plastic pollution, and vanishing marine species. As aquaculture is emerging as one of the fastest growing food sectors, the industry is facing a lot of scrutiny for unethical practices, which is causing negative impact on marine life and oceans. Conventional ocean fish cultivation has many ecological drawbacks such as accumulation of excess nitrogen and phosphorus from feeds and fertilizers, which are causing dead zones in the oceans.

Sustainable aquaculture can help ensure food security, alleviate pressure on wild fish stocks, and reduce environmental footprint of our food system. Hence, the European Commission plans to develop and put the aquaculture sector on the path of sustainability, fully in line with the European Green Deal. Regenerative ocean farming is the most nutritionally, socially, and environmentally sustainable food production as it will contribute to healthier marine environments. Blue Economy is a narrow subset of ocean economic activities that involves the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth. Besides buffering ocean eutrophication and acidification, ocean farming results in a 40% to 360% greater abundance of fish and invertebrates and up to 30% more biodiversity.

A large portion of industrial and commercial fishing does not comply with the Blue Economy goals. Many species are currently fished at unsustainable rates while degrading the marine ecosystems and negatively impacting threatened species. Aquaculture operations currently produce more than 50% of all seafood consumed globally. Hence, it is necessary to promote sustainable aquaculture so that the industry expands its environmental footprint while restoring marine ecosystems.

Here are some of the initiatives by key market players in the blue economy that are taking undersea farming to the next level.

Nemo’s Garden: Terrestrial Farm by Ocean Reef Group

Located in the sea off Noli on the Italian Riviera, Nemo’s Garden has been created to explore the possibilities of novel agriculture. Ocean Reef Group has curated six large underwater domes that can hold about 2000 litres of air. These floating biospheres are largely self-sustaining since they do not require soil. The warm sunlight and cool seawater create a plant-friendly humidity for plants within domes. Besides, other factors such as carbon dioxide and oxygen levels are closely monitored with remote monitoring tools. The biospheres have been connected to a control tower that provides them power. The approach by Ocean Reef Group is considered highly sustainable as it does not require harmful pesticides or fertilizers. Since the vegetation is independent of weather, there is no risk of crop failure as well. Currently, the researchers are identifying more such types of crops and fruits that are ideal to be grown in such environments.

ALORA Creates Salt-tolerant Crops

Canada-based startup, Alora has amplified the expression of genes commonly found in staple crops to facilitate their growth in high salinity environments, including the ocean surface. Crops grown in the ocean with ALORA’s seeds would not release methane or require fertilizer. Rather the plants will pull methane from the atmosphere and convert it to nitrogen for fulfilling fertilizer requirements. Hence, the whole cultivation process is effectively methane-negative and environmentally sustainable. Currently, ALORA is focused on selling salt-tolerant seeds for lands with soils that contain high levels of salt. The company is planning to build sustainable farms that carry single-module UV-stabilized high density polyethylene mesh in slots that float on the ocean.

GreenWave’s Polyculture Ocean Farming

Greenwave has designed an aquaculture setup that produces a mixture of shellfish and seaweed in a sustainable way. The system comprises of simple 3D lattice of ropes and basket suspended just below the surface, where ropes of seaweed, kelp and other sea vegetables are first strung close to the surface, hanging from longlines are containers filled with shellfish, mussles and scallops. Greenwave’s system can be easily utilized for commercial farming of marine products that are used for food, fertilizer, animal feed, and bioplastics. Besides, taking advantage of the entire water column spread across 20-acre, Greenwave produces 30 tons of nutritious seaweed and 250,000 shellfish every five months. The mission of Greenwave is to provide training, tools, and other support to a network of 10,000 regenerative ocean farmers and plant 1 million acres of regenerative ocean crops in the next decade.

Factors Driving the Adoption of Ocean Farming

Rising Inclination of People towards Aquatic Food

The health benefits of seafood are well-touted. With increasing health consciousness, people are inclining towards the consumption of aquatic foods as they are nutrient-rich. As public health experts and policy makers are increasingly focusing on the importance of sustainable and healthy diets, emphasizing on ramping up aquatic foods can help to overcome micronutrient deficiencies and malnutrition. Besides, seafood is an important part of local diets across various regions. For instance, millions of people visit Hawaii craving for high-quality fresh and local seafood, which adds to the Island’s economy. Smart mariculture can increase fish and shellfish production by 21 million to 44 million metric tons by 2050, which can help fight hunger and bolster food security.

Growing Investment in Research and Development

Innovation in ocean farming is being achieved through massive investments by governments of various countries. Investments in selective breeding, disease control, and farm management through public-private collaborations are creating a more sustainable ocean farming. According to a report commissioned by High Level Panel for Sustainable Ocean Economy, investing USD2 trillion to USD3.7 trillion globally across several sustainable ocean-based policy interventions could generate benefits worth USD22.8 trillion. Investments would be mainly focused on increasing sustainable protein from oceans, maintaining mangrove habits, decarbonizing international shipping, etc.

Way Ahead

Ocean absorbs 90% of the heat trapped in the greenhouse gases and 30% of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Since oceans are a vital part of human existence, they need to be preserved with sustainable practices and made part of the circular economy. Regenerative ocean farming does not require any inputs during the cultivation process since ocean contains enough nutrients to support the healthy growth. Besides, ocean farms can help soak up nutrients and reduce the likelihood of algal eutrophication. Moreover, regenerative ocean farms can boost marine biodiversity, mimicking the vertical structure of an ocean reef and providing different layers of different habitats for a wide diversity of marine species.

According to TechSci Research report on “Ocean Farming Market - Global Industry Size, Share, Trends, Opportunity, and Forecast, 2018-2028, Segmented By Product Type (Aquatic Animals, Aquatic Plants, Land Base Plants), By Culture System (Enclosed Sections of the Open Ocean, Farms Built on Coastal Waters, Artificial Tanks or Ponds), By Region and Competition”, the global ocean farming market is anticipated to grow at a significant rate during the forecast period. The market growth can be attributed to the rapid climatic changes and growth in alternative farming practices to produce aquatic and non-aquatic crops and plants.