Ocean Farming – Modern Trend in Agriculture

Al Ardh Alkhadra > Blog > Agriculture > Ocean Farming – Modern Trend in Agriculture

Ocean farming 11

The big question today is not how to save the oceans, but how the oceans can save us? A growing network of ocean farmers, scientists and environmentalists around the world are trying to figure out a solution to this problem. 

With nearly 90% of large fish stocks threatened by overfishing and more than 3.5 billion people dependent on the seas as their primary global food source – it has become an important chapter today. 

Experts are re-imagining our oceans with the hope of saving the human population from the grip of the ever-escalating energy, climate and food crises.

Ocean farming 12

Underwater agriculture is believed to be one of the solutions to help eradicate world food shortages. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, today, only 11% of the earth’s land surface (13.4 billion hectares) is used in crop production. 

As the world population is expected to grow from 7.6 billion to 9.8 billion by 2050, using water for agriculture will be the sole solution left to feed this growing population. Water covers about 75% of the surface on the earth’s surface.

Ocean Farming – to Save the World

Farming in the ocean is not a modern innovation. For thousands of years, ancient cultures as Egyptians, Romans and Chinese have farmed aquatic plants and aquatic animals(fish farming) like finfish and shellfish farming. Atlantic salmon is believed to have been farmed in Scotland since the early 1600s and seaweed was considered to be a staple food for American settlers in olden days.

Today the oceans can be developed to protect them and the planet. This can only be possible with it. 

A small group of scientists and ocean farmers is trying to develop small-scale farms where complementary species are cultivated to provide food and biofuel, clean up the environment and reverse climate change. Instead of finfish, the anchor crops of most of these green ocean farms are seaweed and shellfish – two organisms helpful in reducing global warming.

Ocean farming 13

Ocean Farming – Important for a Healthy Food System

You would be surprised to know that our planet has over 10,000 edible plants in the ocean and they are all traditionally referred to as seaweed. They commonly include arugulas, spinach and kales – collectively known as sea greens. 

Sea greens are both delicious and nutritious as every farm has a different ‘merroir’ (a set of local conditions in which seaweeds are grown). They’re rich in calcium and iron and other important nutrients.

Although oceans cover two-third of the earth’s surface, most food is produced on land areas through agriculture. This is because about 90% of the oceans are unproductive. 

Bren Smith is one of the world’s most ethical, productive and sustainable farmers. His farms have tiny footprints with massive outputs.

The productive areas are near the coastlines, such as continental shelves, coral reefs, mangrove swamps and estuaries. These nearshore areas are more productive than the deep ocean because of the abundant supply of nutrients near the coastlines which are needed for plant growth.

In the era of climate change, seaweeds are zero input restorative crops, requiring no fresh water, no fertilizer and no land for their growth. Seaweeds can help in building the ecosystem rather than depleting them by soaking up the nitrogen and carbon content in the atmosphere.

Benefits of Ocean Farming

The growth of the seaweed industry is not only good for the economy but also for the ocean ecosystem. The process of growing seaweed is environmentally friendly. 

Apart from planting the seeds and ensuring a clean environment seaweeds, they do not need a feed or additional attention. 

The plants can grow naturally. Seaweed farms also create healthy nursery grounds for young fish and crustaceans that can be harvested for commercial purposes.

Read about some of the advantages of this farming technique:

1 Seaweeds for reducing carbon emissions

Seaweed pulls carbon from the atmosphere as well as from the water. Research has confirmed some varieties are capable of absorbing five times more carbon dioxide than many land-based plants. 

Seaweed farms also have the capacity to grow massive amounts of nutrient-rich food and provide a clean replacement for biofuels. An increase in carbon dioxide levels has been the primary cause of ocean acidification, which can also be reduced through seaweeds.

Seaweeds are known to be one of the fastest-growing plants in the world. Kelp grows up to 9-12 feet long in merely three months. Kelp is a type of large brown seaweed that grows in shallow, nutrient-rich saltwater, near coastal areas. 

The Philippines, China and other Asian countries have been farming seaweed as a staple food source for years, now view seaweed farms as an essential ingredient for reducing their carbon emissions.

Ocean farming 15

2 Reduction of nitrogen and phosphorus

The main nitrogen polluter is agricultural fertilizer runoff. Most of this nitrogen ends up in the ocean, where the level of nitrogen is 50% above normal levels. The production of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides is responsible for around one trillion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere every year.

The World Bank has predicted that by achieving a global production of 500 million tons of seaweed by the year 2050, 10 million tons of nitrogen would be absorbed by these plants, which would otherwise enter the ocean. 

This is because unlike land-based biofuel crops, seaweed cultivation does not require water, fertilizers, forest clearing or heavy use of fuel-burning machinery. 

As a result, according to the World Bank, it has a negative carbon footprint. According to research from SINTEF – it has confirmed that the nitrogen emissions from salmon farming are reused by kelp and it helps the kelp plant to grow to a significantly larger size.

In addition, these seaweeds would also help to absorb 15 million tons of phosphorus from the ocean produced through fertilizers.

Ocean farming 16

3 Reduce climate changes

Ocean experts are of the view that – the effects of climate change, ocean acidification and oxygen depletion have already triggered a phase of extinction of marine species in the ocean. 

In such a scenario, mitigating the effects of climate changes may force us to develop our oceans to save the planet. If we develop our oceans, farms will someday dot coastlines, thereby building a greener future.

4 Prevents deep-sea bottom trawling

Merely the presence of seaweed farms prevents deep-sea bottom trawling in certain areas and protects the seafloor. Deep-sea fish species are targeted by bottom trawling around the coastline. Dragging nets across the ocean floor are placed to scoop up fishes. 

The process of trawling not only stirs up the sediment lying on the seabed but also harms some marine species. Trawling destroys the environment and especially the marine ecosystem and hence has been banned.

Ocean farming 17

5 Other benefits

Ocean seaweed farms have shown to improve water quality. Many of the threats faced by our oceans today, such as ocean acidification, can be reduced by increasing the amount of seaweed being grown in that region. 

Pesticides make the ocean polluted; on the other hand, seaweed can be cultivated in the ocean that makes us well. The algae grown in the ocean can be used as fertilizers to make the fruit trees bloom.

Recent Advancements in Ocean Farming

1 Growing Crops in Bubbles Under The Sea

A team of engineers in Italy is working on a project of growing underwater plants in ‘bubbles’ under the sea. The team is trailing an alternative agricultural method that involves growing terrestrial crops in the sea. 

With the help of agricultural experts, this Genova-based scuba diving company is applying its knowledge and technology to finding new ways to produce food off the coast of Noli in northwest Italy. The team has come up with underwater ‘biospheres’, which are soft plastic bubbles filled with air which could eventually sustain cultivated crops. 

Biospheres, like giant bubbles, are submerged below the sea and are filled with air. Plenty of sunlight filters through the water, providing UV for photosynthesis. Evaporating sea water condenses on the inner walls of the bubbles and produces high-humidity ideal for plants to grow.

This underwater garden or biospheres solve many of the difficulties farmers face on dry land: an abundance of sunlight and humidity, a stable temperature (as sea temperature is more stable than land, around 25 deg) and the plants are safe from pests and parasites. Moreover, it has been found that these plants grow faster than they would on land.

Ocean farming 18

2 Vertical Ocean Farming or 3D Ocean Farming

A popular company’s vertical farming systems are assisting ocean farmers in producing healthy local foods like seaweeds, scallops and mussels. 

Vertical farming in the ocean is also known as 3D ocean farming – is a system that grows a mix of seaweed crops. It also grow shellfish under the water surface.

It consists of horizontal ropes on the surface of the water, strongly anchored to hurricane-proof floats. These ropes connect to underwater lines that support seaweed crops and interspersed with hanging net enclosures to grow mussels and scallops. 

Oyster and clam cages, sitting on the ocean floor also connected to the surface ropes. This kind of farming is generally not visible from the shores. 

This polyculture vertical farming system technically requires zero input because the sea plants filter and sequester carbon, making it the most sustainable means of food production.

Ocean farming 19

Related Technologies

1. Aquapods Used for Aquaculture

Aquapods are giant, free-range fish farms that are designed to float deep in the ocean. This free-floating, untethered deep ocean fish habitat would normally look like a giant underwater hamster ball. 

Aquaculture is a rapidly growing area today, a strategy to meet the growing demand for seafood. Aquaculture means farming fish, molluscs, crustaceans, aquatic plants, algae and all other sea organisms under controlled conditions.

Today there are a number of Aquapods that are being used for fish farming. Not only are they visually striking, but they have helped fish farmers raise and harvest tasty, high-quality fish to feed the growing population. 

There are several companies in the aquaculture space that are in the process of developing products related to the open source ocean fish farming industry.

2 Sundrop Greenhouse

Sundrop greenhouse uses the everlasting supply of ocean water and sunshine to grow food in dry areas. A conventional greenhouse uses underground water for irrigation, gas for heating and electricity for cooling. Most of these finite resources are becoming scarcer day by day. 

On the other hand a Sundrop greenhouse turns seawater and sunlight into energy and water required for plant growth. Besides, Sundrop greenhouse does not need soil for growing plants but can grow their produce on degraded land in arid areas considered barren for agriculture. 

The sunlight is used to produce fresh water for irrigating the crops in the greenhouse. Moreover, their ventilation system also uses seawater to help cool their greenhouse.

Farming in ocean, especially sea vegetable farming, is the basis of a multibillion-dollar economy with a deep impact on highly diverse sectors, including food, feed, textile, pharmaceutical, nutraceutical, cosmetic, chemistry, bioactive compounds and more. 

Ocean farming 20

The Future of Ocean Farming

In order to increase yields, improve the ecosystem and create new data-based income streams for farmers, several companies are working to embed sensors and underwater drones on ocean farms to monitor crops in real-time. 

One such drone was developed by the California-based company recently. It is a low-cost underwater submarine or underwater drone built to make underwater explorations easier and affordable. These drones are used to track beds and see the crops underwater.

Farming in the ocean has a future; the massive exchange of water in this farming method reduces the chance of disease or parasites transferring from other farms. 

Maintaining a more stable oxygen level, temperatures and general conditions is easier in the ocean. Much more research should be done to find the best solution for this method.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.