LOS ANGELES — Through her research on breeding the seaweed species quickly and sustainably, student Melisa Osborne at the University of Southern California is hoping that her kelp seeds will grow into giant plants, which might save the planet from climate change and become a future source of food on a grand scale.
"Kelps are naturally very rich in nutrients that are important in human diets, so you could really customize your crop to support a very specific type of diet supplement," said Osborne, who's working on her doctorate.
What You Need To Know
- Giant kelp is the world’s largest species of marine algae and is an attractive source for making biofuels
- The Nuzhdin Research Laboratory will be the home to groundbreaking research on regenerative aquaculture as well as commercial application of new technologies in aquafarming
- Seaweed is a vital piece of creating a sustainable future
- Globally, seaweeds are thought to sequester nearly 200 million tons of carbon dioxide every year — as much as New York State's annual emissions
Giant kelp is a blue food — a term for aquatic foods captured or cultivated in the water — and the world's largest species of marine algae. It has numerous benefits that interest researchers like Osborne. It grows quickly and is a powerhouse for the environment.
"Kelp is a very sustainable crop," she said. "It sequesters carbon dioxide very easily, similar to land plants. Kelp uses photosynthesis to grow by taking CO2 and growing."
USC has opened its new 6,000-square foot Sustainable Seaweed Aquaculture Lab at AltaSea in San Pedro, where water tanks will grow kelp species for ongoing aquafarming research projects, such as converting kelp as biofuel and domesticating it as a crop.
Doctoral student Chris Ne Ville explained that farming blue foods like kelp is important because our current food production is vulnerable to climate change.
"Growing kelp doesn't utilize fresh water, nor does it utilize land space that could be used for other purposes," he said. "It's also going to be useful in a form of bioremediation or cleaning up the environment."
While kelp is not a silver bullet to the climate change crisis, it is a part of the solution. Ne Ville noted that kelp could prevent greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere.
"Many forms of organic waste as we know and landfills degrade into methane gas," he said. "By pulling many of the components that would go into form this methane out of the water column by growing kelp, we can actually prevent the production of methane."
Blue foods, like kelp, offer huge potential not only in addressing climate change but also in feeding a growing world population in a sustainable way.
"We continue investing as kelp as a sustainable crop," Osborne said. "It's really going to make a difference in terms of global warming and our overall impact on society."
Aquaculture is a major key to a sustainable future, and while it's only the beginning of tapping into its potential, blue foods could play a big role in worldwide nutrition and ecosystems in the face of climate change.