Beneath the ocean waves, a silent but potent revolution is currently unfolding: Seaweed in vibrant spectrums of green, brown, and yellow hues is flourishing on the seabed, clinging to ropes, and adorning buoys.
The glistening ribbons of algae have been treasured in some cultures for centuries. Now, it is also gaining momentum worldwide as multiple experts are positioning it as a crucial player in the fight against climate change due to its capability to serve as a protein-rich food source and absorb carbon.
One example on the latter is Running Tide, a company submerging buoys covered with seaweed to the Icelandic ocean floor, where they can sequester carbon for 800 years or more. This mirrors a rising trend among startups harnessing seaweed’s ability to combat carbon dioxide emissions, with Running Tide’s CEO, Marty Odlin, aiming to remove “billions of tonnes” annually.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates the need to remove and sequester approximately 10 gigatons of CO2 from the atmosphere by 2050. However, the journey ahead is extensive. To sequester just a tenth of a gigaton of carbon annually, we would require 73,000 square kilometers of seaweed farms worldwide, far exceeding the current 2,000 square kilometers.
Apart from the need for a significant upscaling, a critical question lingers: Does it actually work? National Geographic recently highlighted scientific uncertainties surrounding seaweed farming, including potential ecosystem impacts. Running Tide’s CEO takes these concerns seriously but believes they shouldn’t hinder progress. As he stated to National Geographic, “There’s a counterpoint to precautionary principle and that’s the duty to intervene.”
One undeniable fact is that seaweed holds the potential to become an eco-friendly, nutrient-rich food source for the future. The cultivation of seaweed farms totaling 180,000 square kilometers could provide enough protein to sustain the entire world.
“When you look at how we are going to feed the world population by 2050 in a way that doesn’t harm the environment, there is only one pathway,” as Carlos Duarte, professor in biological oceanography and marine ecology, recently told Time. “To scale up seaweed farming.”
Across the globe, numerous projects are actively working towards this goal. One such example is the Danish University DTU, where professors are working to advance seaweed through innovative technologies for new production systems. This initiative aims to establish a climate-friendly alternative to meat, grain, and quota fish, all of which place a significant burden on our environment. As Professor Jens Kjerulf from DTU, who serves as the project manager for the initiative known as LTA Boost, said in an article addressing the project, “We cannot continue as before. Food production has had far too great a strain.”_