How Does Your Kelp Garden Grow?

Juvenile kelp plants grow on PVC spools in a 10 gallon aquarium at Herring Gut

Posted on 01/08/2013 at 08:11 amViewed 2,749 times

At Herring Gut Learning Center big projects can come in small packages. Our students have used ten gallon aquariums to grow fish and plants in a symbiotic relationship known as aquaponics (see this article). Now, the same size system is being used in an innovative form of marine aquaculture. Down in Herring Gut's saltwater lab a ten gallon aquarium surrounded by lights and hooked up to a water chiller contains PVC spools wrapped in string, onto which are anchored tiny kelp plants. Kelp aquaculture is the "next frontier" of use of the marine environment. In the United States alone, seaweed is a $1 billion industry with potential for more growth as information about its nutritional value becomes more widespread and it becomes more common in Americans' diets.

At Herring Gut, students in the "Adventures Beyond the Classroom" integrated math, art, and science 9th grade course learned about the process of developing a kelp laboratory nursery and "seeding" kelp strings in the lab. Now, thanks to the support of Maine SeaGrant and SeaGrant Extension officer Sarah Redmond, these students will experiment with outplanting juvenile kelp plants into Herring Gut's lobster pound. The ABC class, along with Herring Gut educators, will be able to track the growth of these juvenile kelp plants throughout the winter and determine whether or not the lobster pound at Herring Gut provides good growing conditions for kelp aquaculture. Under optimal conditions, kelp can grow 12 feet in just six months!

This fall, the ABC students had the opportunity to visit the kelp nursery of Ocean Approved, the first commercial kelp farm in the United States, growing delicious sea vegetables that have more calcium than milk, more iron than spinach, and more fiber than brown rice. While there, they learned kelp aquaculture can improve water quality conditions by taking up nitrogen, often considered a pollutant, and carbon dioxide, which can contribute to ocean acidification, in a process called bioremediation. They also learned kelp aquaculture can provides a way to diversify income for fishermen, because the kelp's growing season is in the winter, when many fishermen aren't actively working.

We are excited to be participating in this important, cutting edge science! Stay tuned for more updates about how our kelp farm is growing!



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