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  • Now, this... This might just seem like an ordinary view of the

  • ocean. But actually, this is a farm.

  • An ocean farm.

  • Just below the water, thousands of shellfish and acres upon acres

  • of seaweed are growing.

  • Of course, people are eating oysters or clams or mussels.

  • But what about all that green, slimy stuff?

  • Seaweed is used in more than just sushi.

  • In fact, in America, using seaweed as food dates back to before

  • the beginning of the nation, when pilgrims met with Native

  • Americans. And, for example, we're taught about their cuisine

  • like clam bakes.

  • Yes, a traditional clambake included cooking up kelp, aside all

  • that shellfish. But since then, seaweed has transformed over and

  • over again. You can find seaweed in more than just your dinner

  • plate at your favorite Asian restaurant.

  • You know, they think, oh, it's not really food.

  • It's kind of that slimy stuff on the beach.

  • And, you know, people were really, really, really clear about

  • this. Well, I wouldn't eat that.

  • What? Put that in my mouth?

  • So, imagine their surprise when I said, but would you already do

  • every day.

  • Seaweed could be in your toothpaste, in your almond milk, in your

  • pricey moisturizer or baby food, ice cream and even your beer.

  • Seaweed is used in medicines and it can be used for fuel.

  • I think an algae-based fuel should be able to power all planes in

  • the world. All of this to say, the global demand for seaweed is

  • expanding. The commercial seaweed market could surpass $85

  • billion before 2026.

  • As for what it takes to farm seaweed, all you need is $20,000,

  • 20 acres of water and about a single seaweed farm can net up to

  • 90,000 to $120,000 a year.

  • No fresh water, no fertilizer, no feed make it the most

  • sustainable food on the planet.

  • But at the same time, our crops soak up carbon, nitrogen,

  • rebuild reef systems.

  • So, they really become engines of restoration as we're farming

  • and try to make a living.

  • Here's what makes up the seaweed industry.

  • Algae, kelp, seaweed.

  • There's an estimated 10,000 different kinds of it.

  • It's kind of a plant, but it's not a land plant.

  • It's kind of of the sea, but it's not a fish.

  • If you think about it, you think, well, then if it's neither one

  • nor the other, it's probably not edible.

  • And that's what a lot of people that I would interview kind of

  • said to me, you know, they said, well, it's not really anything,

  • is it? But of course, it turns out seaweed is certainly

  • something. In fact, seaweed is pretty essential to the life of

  • the planet. Marine algae produces anywhere from 50% to 80% of

  • the planet's oxygen supply.

  • Not to mention seaweed absorbs a huge amount of carbon dioxide

  • from the atmosphere. It's known that seaweed has been

  • historically popular in eastern

  • diets.

  • Nowadays, millions of sea vegetables are farmed in Asia every

  • year. In 2019, the Asian Pacific held over 55% share in the

  • commercial seaweed market because of the food industry.

  • But going back in American history, seaweed was a big part of

  • the Native American diet, too, before Western colonization.

  • But, somewhere along the line, Americans started to shun seaweed

  • as part of their diets.

  • But it's just been pushed out of the economy and off the plate.

  • Seaweed is a green vegetable that comes with its own salty

  • seasoning. Algae found other uses in American history.

  • Seaweeds were used as gunpowder in the Revolutionary War and

  • chemical weapons in World War One.

  • But, when it comes to modern aquaculture, the industry is based

  • on existing market demand, and that traditionally is in seaweed.

  • Americans want to eat fish.

  • Fish farm production topped beef production in 2013 and

  • Americans are eating more farmed fish than wild caught globally.

  • Aquaculture's total farm gate sale value.

  • That's the value of the product itself without accounting for

  • selling costs like transportation or marketing, reached over

  • $263.6 billion that number accounts for products like fish,

  • crustaceans, marine algae and even pearls and seashells.

  • But, most of those billions are in fishing, and seaweed farmer

  • Bren Smith would know.

  • He was a fisherman for most of his life.

  • You know, I never expected to grow vegetables underwater.

  • Beautiful, huh? You know, I'm a fisherman with the high seas.

  • And I, you know, I'm not an environmentalist in a traditional

  • way. I'm a fisherman.

  • I hunt and kill things.

  • But, my goal is to make a living on a living planet.

  • I mean, there's no way I can run my farm, run my small business

  • unless I become a steward of the oceans and grow crops that are

  • breathing life back into it.

  • Smith started out in seaweed farming after years of fishing on

  • the high seas and bearing witness to the degradation of the

  • world's oceans due to overfishing and climate change, he turned

  • to what he calls restorative ocean farming.

  • Restorative or regenerative ocean farming is growing crops that

  • breathe life back into the ocean.

  • The sort of chocolate color, that's all nitrogen.

  • So, our seaweeds and shellfish require zero inputs, no fresh

  • water, no fertilizer, no feed.

  • You know, like, I'm actually proud of it.

  • This is what one of those farms looks like.

  • Ropes of kelp seeds are strung through the ocean surface like

  • garland, and hanging besides kelp seeds are netting baskets of

  • scallops and socks of mussels to grow in.

  • At the bottom of the structure are crates, growing oysters and

  • clams. Smith went on to found GreenWave, a nonprofit

  • organization training people to be ocean farmers.

  • And our goal is 10,000 farmers in ten years to train, and so far

  • we've trained about 160 farmers.

  • We have a waiting list of 6,000 just in the U.S.

  • and requests in 102 countries, so the demand is huge.

  • In comparison to likely a lot of upstarts, starting a seaweed

  • farm could be relatively low cost.

  • There's a low barrier to entry because we grow things that don't

  • swim away and you don't have to feed, the overhead is extremely

  • low. It takes basically twenty to fifty thousand dollars

  • depending on the area, to start a farm, you need a boat and 20

  • acres to be up and running.

  • And Smith points to a profit to be made.

  • We see the future of farms as being sort of four quadrants of

  • income. One, we're harvesting food.

  • Two, harvesting by product like bioplastics, things like that.

  • Third, we're harvesting data.

  • So, we have sensors on farms throughout the country, which are

  • pulling data. We package that.

  • What we hope to do is sell that to insurance companies,

  • government, things like that, and that's an income stream for

  • every farmer. And then the fourth quadrant is ecosystem

  • services. So, farmers should be paid for the carbon they soak up

  • the nitrogen. And so we're developing a blue carbon program.

  • And I think that's what climate resiliency looks like in the

  • future. Dr.

  • Charles Yarish of the University of Connecticut has helped tons

  • of ocean farms get started.

  • We're making up what people have done on land with their crops.

  • We're doing it in a matter of maybe less than a decade.

  • And then with the COVID virus, we had to really work hard about

  • getting each of the farms harvested in a COVID safe way.

  • Infrastructure remains the biggest challenge to scaling these

  • farms. For example, a processing plant costs about 1.3 million

  • dollars. That plant would allow a farmer to process two million

  • pounds of seaweed a year.

  • It's that infrastructure in the middle to stabilize and process

  • the kelp. The good thing about our model is that it's cheap to

  • do in water. It's just ropes and buoys.

  • The challenge is when you hit land, you face all the challenges

  • land-based farmers face, so we need to powder, dry, flake, and

  • that infrastructure just doesn't exist.

  • And, it's really capital intensive.

  • Market demand is not a challenge for the seaweed industry right

  • now. Besides being used for food, another big use of seaweed is

  • colloids, specifically phycocolloids, like alginate, agar and

  • carrageenan. If those sound like strange words you might find in

  • a nutrition label, you're right.

  • These are seaweed-based food additives that can produce a

  • certain consistency or texture.

  • Seaweed is also increasing in popularity as a meat substitute.

  • It enhances the meatiness.

  • It's full of natural umami, which people use a lot now to convey

  • the idea of meat, but without the meat.

  • So, one of the challenges of the plant based foods is that it's

  • soy-based and soy is extremely destructive.

  • So, we want to replace those harmful inputs with things like,

  • seaweed. It was actually McDonald's that first pioneered a

  • burger using seaweed back in 1991.

  • The McLean Deluxe

  • A

  • ninety one percent fat free beef patty.

  • And it was advertised as the NBA's official sandwich.

  • The new McLean Deluxe will blow you away.

  • It was on the menu for five years.

  • Colloids are not just a food additive.

  • They're also present in medicine.

  • For example, alginates are used in dental molds production and

  • in wound dressings and even diet pills.

  • Seaweed is also found in the personal care sector.

  • Alginates are used as dispersing and thickening agents and

  • lotions, creams and soaps.

  • For example, the first ingredient in this moisturizer from La

  • Mer is algae extract.

  • Two ounces of this lotion retails for $345.

  • Colloids are also found in fabrics.

  • Today, fireman's clothes is still treated with alginate for

  • fireproofing. Another reason boosting the industry's valuation

  • is demand for eco-friendly fertilizers.

  • Because many seaweeds also produce growth-regulating compounds.

  • And these growth-regulating compounds are all part of the

  • biostimulants that are using our land-based agriculture.

  • Hand in hand with fertilizers is animal feed.

  • Many animal feeds, whether they be cattle feeds, chicken feeds,

  • hog feeds actually have seaweed ingredients in them.

  • But also some studies show it could be a way to fight climate

  • change. So, cows produce a lot of methane gas and methane is a

  • major greenhouse gas contributing to global warming.

  • In 2016, Australia's James Cook University found that adding a

  • small amount of a particular algae produced methane production

  • by 99%.

  • Smith says a new climate economy is starting, and this can be

  • seen in another use for seaweed.

  • Biofuel. That's where the Department of Energy's Mariner program

  • comes in. The program aims to make better use of the United

  • States underwater territory because the U.S.

  • actually has more water than land, known as the exclusive

  • economic zone, and it's larger than the total land area of the

  • U.S., including Alaska.

  • If you're producing it sustainably as a biofuel, you can replace

  • fossil fuels because it's all photosynthetic.

  • The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that seaweed biofuel can

  • yield more energy per acre than land crops, like corn.

  • Really, what's exciting about it is that you look at biomass as

  • really a resource for a lot of energy solutions, not just for

  • fuels, but also for power, and so there's a lot of ways to use

  • biomass, and especially in a low carbon world.

  • Since the Mariner program began in 2-15, it has put more than $50

  • million into at least 18 different farming projects.

  • But right now, if seaweed were to be used for biofuel, it would

  • be really expensive.

  • The goal of our funding is really to drive the cost down far

  • enough so that you can even consider it for energy.

  • And that's due to basic supply and demand.

  • It's a pricey fuel source because of the market demand for

  • seaweed in food, fertilizer and animal feed and farms are

  • supplying for those markets, then whatever is extra or leftover

  • is priced for fuel or energy.

  • There's really the opportunity to utilize that resource and

  • strengthen a lot of coastal communities, basically adding

  • opportunities for what is called working waterfronts.

  • So, how big it can really get?

  • I don't really want to put a number to that because that's

  • speculation. But, I think we have a big resource and we have a

  • lot of people that are are interested in this space.

  • I can tell you right now, whatever your preconceived notion about

  • the industry is, probably in the next two or three years, the

  • U.S. will be going from a minor player in global production to a

  • major player. Seaweed use in bioplastics, and in Western cooking

  • could be part of the industry's bigger picture in coming years.

  • Besides the economic opportunity, seaweed can be part of the

  • solution in fighting global warming, which ultimately creates

  • what Smith calls the blue-green economy.

  • And, GreenWave's programing is really targeted at two

  • constituencies. One is fishermen directly affected by climate

  • change, and the other is indigenous communities.

  • Indigenous communities have rights to the ocean, and it's

  • important that they're in the front of the line of this revival

  • of ocean agriculture.

  • According to the World Bank, a network of farms equivalent to

  • five percent of U.S.

  • territorial waters can create 50 million direct jobs.

  • This diverse group of people that are basically taking a chance