Commercial opportunities from oceanic vegetation

[Global]While drought decimates land grown crops, sea vegetation thrives despite growing offshore from drought stricken locations. Over 200 varieties of ocean vegetation are edible while other forms of oceanic vegetation have alternative commercial applications such as textile fabric, fertilizer and pharmaceuticals.

Introduction

Recent occurrences of prolonged drought in areas of Australia and South Africa threatened the supply of available feed for farm livestock such as sheep, goats and cattle. It was previously thought that such animals could only graze on land grown vegetation until a visitor to the Scottish island of Ronaldsay observed a herd of sheep going to a rocky beach as the tide receded. For the next several hours, the sheep walked around grazing on sea moss. More recently in a coastal region of northern Europe, reindeer were observed grazing on sea moss.

Many varieties of edible vegetation such as kelp and sea moss grow in the sea. The herd of sheep on the island off Scotland is believed to graze almost exclusively on sea moss, with a herd of reindeer also grazing on sea moss at a rocky beach during low tide. In some Asian countries, seaweed crisps are marketed to consumers instead of potato crisps. Some ocean farmers have developed sea farms where they cultivate some varieties of seaweed anchored to rocks suspended by buoys. The seaweed grows inverted, from the top downward.

Kelp Supplementation

The idea of adding sea vegetation to livestock feed dates back to the early years of the 20th century. Very little scientific analysis was undertaken at the time and the idea faded. However, small groups of farmers at remote coastal locations such as the Pacific northeast coast of the U.S. continued to add small amounts of powdered kelp to animal feed. The kelp grew offshore and waves regularly carried portions of kelp to local beaches. Some farmers and local gardeners also used powered kelp as fertilizer to sustain plant growth.

While several commercial companies market kelp, a company called Thorvin is one of the very few to provide a nutritional analysis of their product which according to company literature, is obtained only from locations such as coastal Iceland where seawater is clean. A mineral analysis of commercial sea kelp advises that the powered kelp contains acceptable levels of iodine, selenium, iron, sulfur and small amounts of salt. While kelp grows almost worldwide, the nutritional and mineral content of different varieties of kelp varies greatly among regions of origin.

Sea Farms

While over fishing has occurred in some regions of the ocean and resulted in drastic reduction of food fish such as cod off the Canadian eastern coast, cultivation of sea vegetation within the territorial waters of several nations offers a method to produce an alternative form of seafood. While fish will swim outside of the boundaries of national territorial waters, specially cultivated ocean vegetation remains at the place of cultivation off shore and even at coastal locations. Ocean currents carry nutrients that sustain ocean lifeforms such as filter feeders and also varieties of ocean vegetation.

Sea farmers are beginning to commercially cultivate various types of oceanic vegetation, beginning with sea kelp growing downward from just below the sea surface, the result of using buoys attached to cables anchored to the sea floor and suspending rocks that provide anchor points for attachment. Other commercially cultivated forms of edible sea vegetation include wakame, Kombu, dulse, nori, arame and several varieties of moss. The location of the sea farms far away from industrial cities is critical as toxic heavy metals are regularly dumped into rivers and into the ocean.

Cultivated algae

During rainstorms, rain water run-off from farms flows into streams and rivers carrying some nitrogen-based fertilizer that in turn sustains growth of algae in lakes and river estuaries. Commercial application was found in the paper making industry for algae that grew in the canals around Venice, though the algae-based paper had a slight greenish tint. Some sea farmers specially cultivate selected varieties of algae for very specific market application, such as the production of omega-3 oil that is used as a dietary supplement. Some varieties of specifically cultivated algae have potential to being processed into food.

The initiative to reduce carbon emissions has prompted the scientific community to explore cultivated algae that can be grown in seawater and consume carbon dioxide. One such specially cultivated species of algae uses the combination of abundant sunshine, carbon dioxide and seawater to produce a fuel oil. Several varieties of ocean vegetation along with some forms of algae are fibrous, offering the future prospect of textile fabric being processed from sea grown vegetation. Some seawater-based commercial algae farms are located away from the ocean and use highly purified seawater to sustain commercial production of premium quality output.

Coastal sea farms

Some 30 years ago, an experiment along the coast of Kenya involved some excavation along with planting complimentary forms of vegetation with saline resistant roots on a square mile of an old coral reef. Within a few years, a thriving ecosystem was functioning. The precedent of edible sea moss growing along rocky coast lines could form the basis of excavating desolate coastal lowland in uninhabited regions to develop farms that cultivate sea moss sustained by seawater. Any of wind driven pumps, solar PV driven pumps or ocean wave energy could sustain a steady flow of seawater through the farm.

Exhaust gas pipelines could connect algae coastal sea farms to nearby carbon-based thermal power stations to allow the combination of seawater and carbon dioxide to sustain the cultivation of oil-producing algae.

Future Nutrition

While sea kelp is widely used as a dietary supplement for farm livestock and even pets, there might be great future potential for the commercial development of livestock feed pellets composed of a variety of different forms of oceanic vegetation, to assure proper nutrition for commercial livestock. The precedent involving reindeer and sheep grazing on sea moss suggests that some grazing animals can actually feed on large amounts of ocean vegetation and without detriment to their health. Ocean derived farm animal feed could likely sustain a variety of farm livestock including poultry as well as edible insects.

The fast food restaurant industry has begun to offer burgers that include land-grown, plant-based patty that has the appearance, texture and taste of beef. Fertilizer derived from powdered ocean vegetation can actually sustain the cultivation of the plants used to produce the imitation beef. Another branch of the food industry has used ocean-vegetation to develop a culinary offering that has the appearance, texture and taste of bacon. It is a development that has potential in the restaurant trade. Future culinary offerings could be derived from multiple forms of edible ocean vegetation.

Conclusions

At the present time, only a small amount of ocean vegetation is being used as food for people, food for livestock, livestock feed supplementation or processed into fertilizer for land grown vegetation. Ocean vegetation based iodine supplements and algae derived omega-3 fat supplementation are commercially available. Research into future ocean vegetation aquaculture promises to increase the variety of edible food for people, livestock feed, textile fabrics and pharmaceutical products.

 

Photo: Chondrus crispus has been called sea moss.

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