Dr. Charles YARISH 05/07/14: Cultivation of Seaweeds

Dr. Charles YARISH 05/07/14: Cultivation of Seaweeds


Thanks Dennis. It’s my pleasure to be here.
I remember when John Ryther first came here and it was a treat to see John here but it
was also a treat to see John when I was in graduate school, 1973, when he was at Woods
Hole. The visit that I had with John at that time actually stayed with me for my entire
career. I always said if I had the opportunity to do things then we would follow the Ryther
Path. So in a sense I am a disciple of John Ryther and very familiar with a lot of the
work that he had done early on in his career. Today I even have a seaweed operation up at
the Green Biology Lab on the actual footprint of the Ryther operations there which has been
very interesting. Anyway, what I’d like to do is introduce you
to my favorite group of organisms and also why we’re making seaweed relevant in North
America for doing research and also for economic development. As we know humans have affected
the global nitrogen cycle and there are point sources of nutrients, non-point sources of
nutrients, nutrients where you know where they’re coming from or the point sources usually
from sewage treatment plants. Non-point sources are problematic. We’re not really sure that
molecule of nitrogen comes in the watershed from a particular source. So we call it non-point. In Long Island Sound region we have a very
severe nutrient problem and the nutrient problem eventually leads to eutrophication. Eutrophication
whereby the waters by the end of the summer are so low in oxygen that they go from hypoxic
and in some areas, in areas of the head of the Long Island Sound estuary in the East
River of New York those waters are anoxic. So it’s a very severe problem. We have a national
estuary program that was created to address the problems of eutrophication. It’s a problem
that we have spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to manage nutrients. Well our sewage treatment plant operators
have done a great deal of good work. They’ve actually gone into tertiary sewage treatment
plants. The City of Stanford has actually pioneered that on a very large scale. Still
there is a problem. The problem is you may be able to lower your level of nutrients from
your point sources but it’s those non-point sources that it’s very difficult to get them
out of the water. We have 400 years of human habitation around Long Island Sound, 400 years
people were dumping things into Long Island Sound. The City of New York at the headwaters right
over here is a major source of nutrients both for point source and non-point source. But
we also have something which is lately in the news called aerial deposition. Up to 15
percent of the nitrogen entering the watershed of Long Island Sound is coming from areas
in the Midwest. The States of New York, New Jersey, New England states recently won a
major lawsuit that the Midwestern states were going to have to clean up their act when it
comes to releasing nutrients into the environment. So what are we doing? We have a nutrient problem.
As much as I would like to work with Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture and if I would tell
the City of New York, “I want to put an aquaculture pen in a certain area.” or if I tell any of
the people in and around Long Island Sound, “We’re going to put fish pens.” they’ll say,
“Why do we need fish pens for?” Number one, they don’t realize that you have to get your
fish someplace. There’s a disconnect between the supermarket and the consumer but we have
a problem with nutrients in the Sound. When I was thinking about how to address the
problem I started looking at one part of Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture and that was part
was looking at organisms that are part of the equation, the extractive organisms, organisms
like shellfish, seaweeds that are extracting nutrients out of the coastal waters. Hence
came the term nutrient bio-extraction. So when we look at nutrient bio-extraction we’re
talking about cultivating seaweeds, cultivating shellfish. The seaweeds take up inorganic
nutrients and the shellfish will take up organically bound nutrients. Then through the harvest
of these crops there you can remove the nutrients of coastal waters. The issue is what do you do with the biomass?
Now for shellfish the biomass has an industry. There are people who have been growing shellfish
very successfully for a long time. However for seaweeds we don’t have a mature industry
in North America even though there are a number of different concerns in the area of aquaculture
and seaweeds. I’ve been working with the startup companies in the New England area. So when I talk about seaweed aquaculture I
just want to let you know that when we look at global aquaculture seaweeds is a significant
part of global production. Almost 25 to 30 percent of the weight of aquaculture products
come from seaweeds. Principally coming from Asian countries. China, Korea, Japan, lesser
extent from Chile, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines. Those are the traditional growers of seaweeds
there and there are a number of different uses. Now seaweeds are also being grown in
Scandinavia as well as European countries because people are realizing you can grow
seaweeds in your coastal waters, you have a locally grown product and there are markets
that will be opened up if you provide local material that’s good quality. So there are
a number of different uses of seaweeds. What I’ve been trying to do is work with different
companies and learn the things that I try to tell the companies. I was mentioning to
Dennis is that in order for us to do technology transfer with the companies, the different
grants everybody has to say that any of the cultivation work is open source. I think we
need to do that in the United States because if we want to see the development of an industry
we don’t want to have an impediment of everything being trade secret. What you do with the products
after you harvest it that’s a different story. So we’ve been working with a company and that
was my poster child called Ocean Approved. It’s a seaweed company. It started five years
ago and at five years ago they came to me and said, “We think we have a product. Can
you help us grow it?” Then they also said, “Can you write some grants for us?” They didn’t
have any money. They had a shellfish company but – I said, “Okay, let me taste your product.”
I tasted it and I was sold. I said, “This is going to sell.” It was a fresh frozen product
and it tasted very good. One of the owners, Tollef Olson, a very good chef in his own
right basically convinced me they were worth spending the time. The other principle had
a very good background in business. When you’re dealing with seaweed aquaculture
or any form of aquaculture I always ask, “Show me your product, show me your market analysis
there.” I like to look at things from the other side, looking at what you can do with
it and see if you can develop products there. So we’ve been working with Ocean Approved
up in Maine, coastal Maine. You Google them you’ll see what they’re doing. We went from
0 production 5 years ago, last year the production was over 100,000 pounds of edible seaweed.
All of it sold and it wasn’t being sold in North America. It was also being sold to Japan
and much to everybody’s surprise to China. Because the middle class Chinese said the
products coming out of North America are a higher quality than what they are producing.
That’s an interesting market. Also I’ve been working in the cosmetics industry
and cosmetics is a big value area. Again, but it’s very, very secretive. You develop
relationships with people because I’m looking for different outlets for seaweed products.
So you have to become somewhat entrepreneurial and let them see what you can do and understand
what their business is. If you can’t do anything with seaweeds obviously you could always do
something called biofuels. I’m not a proponent of it but instead of throwing it away in a
landfill you can convert that biomass for biofuels. So I’d like to show you three farm sites.
One farm site which I was told you can never set up because the City of New York is impossible
to work with. Well we got the first farm site in New York City’s history. It was working
at the confluence of the Bronx River and the East River, more in the East River than the
Bronx River but the Bronx River had a settlement fund from the U.S. E.P.A. and that was funding
our work. So it’s a confluence of those two areas. That was New York City. At that particular site what we were able
to do was put in a shellfish operation with a close friend of mine from Maine and folks
from the National Marine Fisheries Labs in Milford, Connecticut. We brought a raft down
from Maine. A friend of mine, Carter Newell, was the aquaculturist I wanted to set up the
raft system because I’m not into setting up rafts. What I wanted to do was set up long
lines off the anchorage of the raft system. This is our very far Western site in New York
City, the very first farm site. Then we also have another site in Western
Long Island Sound right off Fairfield, Connecticut which is an area just to the west of Bridgeport,
Connecticut to the east of Stanford, Connecticut. Then we have another site in an archipelago
of beautiful islands called the Thimble Islands. This is a beautiful set of islands, rocky
outcrops in Central Long Island Sound. So there’s three different bodies of water that
we’re dealing with. When you’re dealing any type of aquaculture you have to understand
that every site is different and you have to go in and understand the site there. So what we’ve done we’ve actually set up seaweed
farms at these sites and the issue was, “Why would anybody want to give us permits in our
region?” We had to show the coastal managers we’re doing ecosystem services. That’s what
they’re interested in. We’re taking nutrients out of the coastal water and we’re doing it
in a way which otherwise it was sitting there, low molecules of nitrogen will be available
for phytoplankton species that could potentially be harmful algae during our summer months.
We have harmful alga blooms in Long Island Sound. So this is another tool in the tool
chest for the coastal managers and that’s the way we’ve introduced this whole concept
in the Northeast. We have as I mentioned before three very different
sites. This site over here, this is our East River/Bronx River site and this site here
is a lower salinity site. It’s also a site that is impacted by the City of New York.
It’s got eight of the largest sewage treatment plants in North America in and around the
City of New York. On the East River there there are three massive sewage treatment plants
at that site. So there’s a very high nutrient load. The depression of salinity in here and
the depression of salinity is actually many people don’t realize sewage treatment plants
are very large, bring in a tremendous amount of fresh water like river systems. So they
are impacting our Bronx River site. When we take a look at our nitrogen phosphorous
this is usually an eye-opener for people. During the dead of the winter months there
that’s when you have the highest levels of nutrients in coastal waters in temperate areas.
You can see right over here the Bronx River very, very high levels of nutrients. Some
of the seaweeds that we work with in the winter months deal with high levels of nutrients.
They soak it up December, January and February so that supports their growth in March, April
and May when spring comes, longer daylight is there. So they’re making use of that. But
this is a very, very high nutrient environment. You can see in Long Island Sound nutrient
levels by the end of the spring are down to zero. They’ve been sucked up by the phytoplankton.
After a good summer storm you’ll get nutrients re-suspended from the sediments which is a
very large reservoir of nutrients that could be brought back into the water column. We
look at both nitrogen and phosphorus. But again, our Bronx River site that’s where I’m
calling your attention. Very, very high. Now how do you grow seaweeds? There’s no Burpee’s
Seed Catalog. You can’t call up and get your seed stock. So what we’ve done in our lab
we’ve developed manuals and videos that go along with that, ‘How to Culture Seaweed’.
We’ve done it in a way which I feel somebody who has limited background but is interested
in reading or if they want to see the videos they can work with that. But you can initiate
the collections of working material. You can work with tissue. You work with spores that
the seaweeds produce. But we’re producing seed stock. So we have a manual that’s on
the Web and this manual is a seaweed culture handbook. The first time something like that was produced.
Open source, anybody in the world can use it. The first week we had 1,500 downloads
from around the world. Google tells us where it’s going and it’s around the world. We have
companion videos for every chapter. We have a chapter, ‘How to set up a laboratory’ as
well as topical chapters for each of the different seaweeds that we work with in this handbook.
The video list there is available on the Web and if anybody’s interested I can send you
the link and Dr. Hanisak has the link for these as well. So what we’ve done, we’ve looked at two seaweeds
in particular. We’ve looked at a summer species and a winter species. Nutrients are in the
water 12 months a year. The problem is seaweeds, some grow in the winter, some grow in the
summer. So what we’ve done we’ve focused on a seaweed which we felt was most appropriate
for our region, one that we can manipulate. This is a red seaweed that Harbor Branch has
been growing for years called Gracilaria and is a warm temperate species. It grows 15 degrees
Centigrade or 60 degrees Fahrenheit and above. By the mid-summer the temperatures get too
high. It slows down its growth. Then we also work with a winter species and that you’ll
see in a moment is called Sugar Kelp. So this is our seaweed that we’re working with. Gracilaria has value. These are some of the
products that you can get from Gracilaria. Whether you’re dealing with agars for the
food industry a sea vegetable and Gracilaria is eaten as a sea vegetable in cultures there.
If you go to Hawaii you can buy dry Gracilaria. There’s a company in Austin. They’re selling
fresh Gracilaria in the culinary market. We’ve been test marketing it as well with a number
of different restaurants in the Northeast and there is other opportunities as well.
Once again as I said before, biofuels is always out there. So when you say East River to people
they say, “You’re going to eat something out of that?” I said, “Well we’ll deal with biofuels.” So how do you do it? For Gracilaria we work
with spores. We can work with tissue. We have developed a whole series of different strains
in our laboratory. Strains that we thought in some cases were just our native Gracilaria
along the way we actually discovered a non-native Gracilaria that was introduced via Europe
that originally came from Asia. We published a paper on that, the dispersion of that. It’s
actually replacing our native Gracilaria in Long Island Sound. But we have that growing
as well. So we grow to different scales of activities. From a test tube basically to
4,000 liter tanks. When our Gracilaria that we’re producing for food or for seed stock
for open water culture there fills up our tanks there we get very rapid doubling rates
every month. So I think this picture says it all and I
think pictures sometimes are better than I could show you loads of data. Here we have
this young lad and this is from our East River/Bronx River site. These are small little bundles
of Gracilaria, about 20 grams, not even the size of your fist. This is Gracilaria. Notice
nothing else is growing with it after two and a half weeks. That’s the size of a soccer
ball. When we first started doing our work in the
Bronx River/East River area I was convinced somebody was pilfering our farm because you
can swim from the Hunt’s Point Market in this area to the farm site. It’s a couple hundred
meters off shore but kids do things during the summer months. The only problem was we
noticed some bundles were pretty big. So instead of going back every three, three and a half
weeks the way we said we’d do it for our grant proposal we decided to go back after two weeks.
Then we learned our bundles were so big that they actually snapped off. So we had to adjust
all our sampling. But in order to get production the way you
see it right over here there’s no contaminants. Yet the marine environment is full of contaminants.
We had to figure out the proper spacing with the material. We also had to figure out at
what depth to use and there are a lot of different issues there because we’re working in an extremely
turbid environment in the Bronx River/East River area. Now at the same time we were doing
our work my friends from the National Marine Fisheries Service were working with shellfish
and they kept on saying, “Everything that’s coming up is seaweed.” I said to them, “Well
you’re putting your stuff in the same area that near what we’re doing. It’s not coming
from us. The seaweeds are telling you something for this particular area. This area is very
rich in inorganic nutrients.” So we take a look at our growth rates. I said
from a size of a fist to a soccer ball where the growth rates look like. Every month it’s
different because it’s different temperatures but I’d like to just call your attention.
In the month of July it’s growing at 16.5 percent per day. That’s called fast. That’s
faster than any of the literature shows you there. Other months of the year there it slows
down. By October temperatures are dropping. It’s time to get your farm out of the water.
Do something else. Get ready for the winter material. So when we look at the productivity
of our Gracilaria a very high level of production, 365 kilos. That’s heavy. We work with hundred
meter long lines there. Just want to point out, right over here this
is an old waste disposal site but it also happens to be underneath it is a pipe to one
of the largest sewage treatment plants in the New York region. So that’s releasing a
huge amount of nutrients in the water. The first feeling was – I remember signing a contract
with the attorney general’s office, nothing that we’re doing is going to go into the human
food chain. Everybody thought that sewage treatment plants or whatever it was releasing
was going into our material whether it’s the shellfish or our seaweeds. Long Island Sound,
more respectable numbers. Still pretty good. Less growth but still good growth in that
area. If we look at the issue, how I was able to
sell what we were doing to coastal managers, why give these people permits, why give them
at the city level, the state level, the federal level. We had to make a statement in each
case for that. It had to do with ecosystem services. So we figured out how much nitrogen
is being removed by site and by season. None of that information was available and this
is the first time something like this is available for urbanized estuaries. Notice in Long Island
Sound, our Fairfield site there, much less than the site of the Bronx River estuary. So if we basically set up a Gracilaria farm
with our long lines you could have different spacings on your farms. You have narrow spacing.
You could have higher level of production. Wider spacing, little less level of production
even though boat operators like wider spacing. So if we look at nitrogen removal for the
Bronx River this was very important. The U.S. EPA basically started crunching the numbers
and they started putting it into their models and they said, “Wow, this is not only removing
nitrogen but this is also could have an improvement on water quality and oxygen in the water column.”
So it’s very significant this line of work right now. Now you may ask yourself about that sewage
treatment plant issue. Well we use a tracer which is a fingerprint for sewage coming from
humans. This is a nitrogen tracer called N15. When we look at that for our Gracilaria you
can see the three different sites that we – well the two different sites that we’re
working with on the Gracilaria, the Long Island Sound site. In 2011 we see that for the Bronx
River where it’s right on top of the sewage treatment plant there’s just a little bit
of the nitrogen in the tissue of the seaweed that’s coming from the sewage treatment plant.
That’s what the tracer is telling us more so in Long Island Sound. A year later this is hurricane Irene season
in the New York area. We have higher levels and in part these higher levels there could
be the amount of rainfall that we had that year just flooded the sewage treatment plants
and they just opened up the gates right there. But once again, it’s a good tracer. So we
know that some of the nitrogen was coming in from a sewage treatment plant. Keep that
in mind because our other information when we take a look at the kelp a different story.
That was kind of interesting. As I was mentioning before kelp like to grow
in cold waters. When the Gracilaria stops growing kelp loves it. Dead of winter the
kelp will start soaking up their nitrogen. What we have done we’ve developed the techniques
there by putting out kelp plants that are one millimeter in size and after five months
they are ten feet in size. That’s a growth rate for you. That’s five months. We’re able
to do that in a way because we’re able to march the microscopic stages very, very quickly
through early parts of their lifecycle. We have these PVC pipes. We have them seeded
with the microscopic stages the size of a pinhead. Just imagine nine feet in size right
there. So here is our tank systems. We work with
tanks. One of the things that I wanted to make sure is that all the work that we do
in our lab you can buy things off the shelf. I love to go to PetCo and get my aquaria.
I like to go to Home Depot and get my plumbing supplies or a Lowe’s. I just want to buy things
because if I’m going to transfer the technology to the private sector you have to think about
costs. You don’t have a Garden of Eden. So what we’ve done here you can see here this
is our seed string and each spool can seed 100 meters of line. We have spools of different
heights and everything. But the idea is we can start off with a spore and 28 days later
we have a plant that’s 1 millimeter. Then we out-plant it into the sea. Here are the
young plants we out-planted in the sea. We run a long line through this PVC pipe and
unwind it and you can see here some of the harvest that’s going on. This is production numbers right here. You
can see the plants doing very, very well. We work in association. I’m very interested
in dealing with community groups. So in New York we have a community organization called
Rocking the Boat. If you have a chance go to an interesting website. You’ll see it.
Rocking the Boat deals with working with kids after school hours. Originally designed for
building boats but now they have an active program building minds. The first group of
youngsters high school age. We also work with an inner city school in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
It’s a magnet school. This aquaculture school had the first aquaculture and the only aquaculture
site for growing seaweeds in Long Island Sound for 20 years. They are a very unique operation
as well. But here you can see here our production lines
and we are tending our material throughout the winter. You can see here this kind of
production. That’s a lot of kelp. So you may say to yourself, “What are you going to do
with all the kelp?” Well we had to basically work with our Bureau of Aquaculture. We had
to work with our Department of Public Health. We had to work with Consumer Affairs and we
had to answer every question open source to them because they kept on asking questions.
“Is it safe to eat?” I basically said, “If you’re eating the shellfish from in the area
the seaweed is fine.” But they said, “Show us the data.” and we basically have showed
them the data. So once again, you can work with kelp farms
narrow spaced lines, wide spaced lines. You can work on the same thumbprint. I also want
to mention we like to look at the whole water column. So if I’m dealing with somebody who’s
getting a permit for growing seaweeds that same person can be growing shellfish on his
site. So we call that 3D farming and it’s looking at the whole volume of water in areas
there. So if we look at lines that are spaced close
together, wide apart this is the level of production per hectare fresh weight that we
have gotten in Long Island Sound. Productivity levels there, 29 to 117 metric tons. That’s
a lot of kelp. So what do you do with it? Once again, you have to find entrepreneurs
who will be able to use that seaweed and develop different product lines. We actually work
with nurturing different entrepreneurs and I’ll show you some results in a moment. But once again, coastal managers who are paying
the bill; U.S. EPA, National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, the National Fish and Wildlife
Foundation they were interested in ecosystem services. This is what our Sugar Kelp can
do in removing nitrogen. That’s a lot of nitrogen being removed. Most of that nitrogen if you
didn’t have that seaweed in that area growing then you would leave nitrogen in the water
column for potentially harmful algal blooms. So this is an important part of what you can
do. So when we start looking at our kelp from
three different sites we’re able to expand into a central Long Island Sound site there
something that was very, very evident. Look at the productivity. Our Bronx site, western
site very similar productivity but look at the tissue nitrogen. The numbers are irrelevant
but you can see here in the Bronx River the kelp are soaking up nitrogen. They’re like
a sponge. Kelp normally take up their nitrogen in December,
January or February and then they can’t compete with microalgae that are growing. They just
live on those stores of nitrogen for the rest of the growing season except if you’re living
in the Bronx River. In the Bronx River nitrogen is never a limiting nutrient there and the
kelp at the time of harvest are showing that. We’ve looked at also our nitrogen removal.
Once again, looking at the three different sites if you see here for the Bronx River
site high level of nutrients are turning on the kelp. Now an interesting part of what we found – this
is something new to science – when we did our harvest of our last harvest of kelp at
the Bronx River/East River site I had a CBS news crew with me. So they documented everything.
The water temperatures were 21.5 degrees Centigrade already passed the thermal limits. The levels
of nitrogen had to be sufficient for these seaweeds to maintain their growth. Normally
people feel that kelp will not grow the stage that you see at temperatures above 15 degrees
Centigrade. So there’s something unique going on in the physiology for that particular site. Now you also may want to ask – remember I
said the sewage treatment in the New York area, massive operations? Well take a look
right over here from our nitrogen 15 work here. Estimates of nitrogen from sewage treatment
plants, this is very, very significant. At the Bronx River site the kelp are not seeing
the nutrients. They’re not taking up the nutrients from the sewage treatment plant. They’re taking
up the nutrients from the sediments or coming down from the water shed. They’re not even
taking that material up. Now in the Gracilaria, the red seaweed from
the summer that’s a different story. But for the kelp they’re taking up nutrients there
that are in the sediments there and we have the data to show that. So I just want to point
out this is our Bronx River site here. This is the East River that connects Long Island
Sound to the Hudson River. The points where you have the arrows those are sewage treatment
plants in close proximity of our farm sites. Our western Long Island Sound site where you
have equal productivity has a sewage treatment plant about a kilometer away and then our
central Long Island Sound site in the archipelago of the Thimble Islands the closest sewage
treatment plant is seven kilometers but apparently we know that from using our nitrogen tracer
thumbprint we know that’s the only place that nitrogen’s coming from and it’s coming from
that site there. This site here is a – during the end of the growing season really is a
nutrient replete. So the nitrogen is being scavenged by the kelp there even though it’s
sort of a distance away. But not in the New York City site. New York City site has enough
nutrients in your sediments there. Remember, 400 years worth of sediments. They have a
lot of nutrients in there. You have a good storm that just re-suspends all that area. So you may ask yourself, “What about – how
does seaweed stack up against shellfish?” That was a question that the U.S. EPA asked
me. These are some studies here that we’ve done for mussels and oysters. How much nitrogen
removal can be done? This is a bay that we’ve been working on concurrently in the last couple
years, Waquoit Bay, with a friend of mine named Scott Windell. What we’ve done there
is that we’ve looked at nitrogen removal of our material. If we look at the conservative
spacing we see that the kelp can remove up to 180 kilos of nitrogen per hectare but notice
it’s growing in the winter. Then if you put in the Gracilaria during the growing season
it takes in 140. So collectively if you’re growing these two seaweeds in addition to
growing your shellfish you are affecting the nitrogen cycle in coastal waters and this
has been very substantial. Now as a way of trying to even make this more
real for coastal managers in the State of Connecticut we developed a nitrogen trading
program to encourage sewage treatment plants to improve their effluent – cleaning up their
mess. So the State of Connecticut, our Connecticut Department of Energy and the Environmental
Protection has the divided the state up into different areas and they have different numbers
here. One pound of nitrogen in the far western end of Connecticut is worth $5.01 if you’re
a sewage treatment plant to operate to remove that nitrogen from your effluent. You can
trade that with nitrogen that’s being removed by other sewage treatment plants in different
parts of the Sound. As you can see as you’re moving further east there’s less of a benefit
for cleaning up nitrogen. So I posed a question, “Why not try to give
sewage treatment plants – let them do what their thing but why not let shellfish grow?
Why not let seaweed grow as participate and bring in the private sector in a program that
government is telling sewage treatment plant operators to clean up your act, bring the
private sector in and let’s get some enterprise going?” When we do that here you can see by
Gracilaria we’ve done our calculations for nitrogen removal roughly per month. If we
look at the value if we were able to get seaweeds and shellfish into the nitrogen trading program
right now the nitrogen removal at full 100 percent is worth $5.00 a pound. Just imagine
if a shellfish grower or a seaweed grower is able to get a harvest and get some benefit
directly from doing this ecosystem service. These are real numbers. You may say, “Well this is pie in the sky,
these numbers.” It’s not pie in the sky. We have a legislative committee right now meeting
this summer and they’re considering now incorporating shellfish and seaweed production within our
nitrogen trading program because these are real numbers. If you’re a grower this is very
nice to add to the bottom line for your product. But notice every site it’s different. The
further west like the Bronx, a little east of the Bronx, Fairfield, Branford and central
the value of nitrogen goes down because it’s not a big problem. But in the western end
that’s very significant. So we want growers in the western end. Ecosystem services has now really hit a stride.
I just wanted to point out that last year the U.S. EPA cited the work that we’ve been
doing on seaweeds and also our colleagues who have been working with shellfish as basically
a benefit for the environment, a best management practice. First time a seaweed farm system
has been considered a best management practice. We were very, very pleased with that. We’re
working always with coastal managers, educating them, giving them workshops. That’s been very
important. Along the way we’re also teaching people through
our other workshops from interested growers – yes, we need more growers to do ecosystem
services. But the growers are very leery in growing their material in areas where they
can’t maximize the value. We basically brought in one person, Bren Smith, an individual who
has been a commercial fisherman along his career. He got a bachelor’s degree, also a
law degree. Very unconventional as a shellfish operator, a shell fisherman. Has a site in
the Thimble Islands where we have been using his site for our kelp farming. He’s been working
with us. He has been ecstatic. This says it all. Last year his farmer operation
working with our team he sold every ounce of all his seaweed to the top restaurants
in New York City as well as in Fairfield County, Connecticut. He was ecstatic. He had orders
already from last summer, last spring, late last spring for this coming year’s harvest
period. So he’s a believer. We have other growers right now coming online. Everybody
is interested in putting it in your mouth. So we’ve also worked with Culinary Institute
of America, Johnson and Wells. I have a friend who owns a very interesting restaurant in
New Haven, Connecticut, Miya’s Sushi, does things unconventional. But we’ve been working
with culinary people different recipes. We want things that Americans want to eat. At
least for the Sugar Kelp it’s very sweet. It’s gluten-free product. You can do nice
things with it there. We also along the way spun off another company
that’s going public the end of this month. This is an organic fertilizer company. They’ve
actually taken our excess kelp that we judge was not good for eating. They concocted a
mixture and they got now an organic fertilizer which is geared for golf courses. This is
PGA golf courses and our Department of Plant Sciences has been working on their product
and measuring it to the sixth leading organic fertilizers in the industry and it did equal
to if not better last fall, actually last summer and fall. We are looking at now over
wintering of the turf grasses and they’ve done excellent. So they’re going product and
this is called Sea Green Organics. This gentleman here, a former Air Force veteran
who I met in one of my classes and he sounded really interesting. He said, “I like to watch
plants grow.” So that’s all I had to hear. I said, “How do you support yourself?” He
said, “The G.I. bill.” He said, “Well I built myself a little greenhouse for organic producing
tomatoes.” I said, “Ah, entrepreneur. Veteran. Works hard.” I introduced him to a friend
in the business school. Well that was now three years ago. He met up with another person
and they’ve got a nice little company that’s creating jobs now in our region. This is my latest venture. Like I said before,
I like to do things a little off the wall. It’s one thing to take your seaweed products
and convert it to biofuels. I’m not a fan of that because we don’t need any more biofuels.
It’s economically doesn’t compare against fossil fuels or other products. So I have
to be very leery. However I use the same technology and if you work with an entrepreneur who has
a brewery this particular entrepreneur is a former MBA grad from the University of Connecticut
who I was introduced, has a brewery, just really a young brewery called Half Full Brewery.
He said, “Give me your material and my brew masters who are former biologists in their
last life will work on it.” Well they worked on it and during the month
of March we had a rare beer night introducing the beer. Over 150 people at their microbrewery.
They produced a stout which was absolutely delicious. I had the stout. I wasn’t there
the opening night. My assistants were there. They all raved about it. I had it two weeks
later. It was still good. Then this past week I had a field crew from Canada come down.
At the end of the filming us for the entire day we opened up one of these bottles that
we had made and that bottle for the five of us was delicious. So the end of the story
is the Half Full Brewery is going into production for next winter for the stout and maybe we’ll
have enough stout to celebrate the next Final Four for the University of Connecticut. So the other thing that we’ve had to deal
with – we’re doing a little bit of everything. We’re doing the science. We’re doing working
and product development. But there was no regulations for seaweed production any place
in the United States. Zero. Every state had no regulation. Regulators were doing everything
by the seat of the pants. We work with a couple of interesting young individuals, one in the
School of Law doing an MBA degree with us, another friend of hers. We got them involved. The end of the legislative session last July
we got a bill on seaweed aquaculture, the first one in the United States. It’s a model
bill to set a regulatory framework for aquaculture industry in Connecticut but it’s a model to
other states for aquaculture. We are also now working on modifying that, looking at
permitting because permitting is expensive and we’re trying to simplify that. We’re also
working with lawyers from our environmental law program at the University of Connecticut
as well as the individuals in the industry. So I’d like to just end up here if it goes.
Well we’ll have to switch over to the audio. Can we switch over to the audio of the – I’m
not sure what’s going on. Well anyway, there’s audio that goes along with this and I’ll just
show you our operations in the Branford, Connecticut area. This is Bren. We’re going out. By the
way, we work throughout the winter season there. We’re holding up the kelp. The material
that you saw there was a little brown stripe. That’s the tissue that produces spores. You
can see it there. Those spores develop into other plants. This is my lab. Here is a demonstration tank
with line here. This line is like the thickness of kite line, not very thick, about a millimeter
or two millimeter. These are some older plants there. Here is the plants that we’re going
to unravel on our long lines and we just unravel that out. Then we go out and harvest in the
month of May. This year it’s going to be in the month of June. You can see right over here this is the production.
Nobody’s ever done this at this level of scale in Long Island Sound. Bren was just so excited
because he sold everything last year. In his wildest dreams he never thought he’d be able
to do that. He really has done a nice bit of entrepreneurship. I urge you, if you Google
his name and if you’ve ever followed any of the TED lectures listen to his TED lecture.
It was given last year. Very nice. This is his product there, baby leaf kelp. We also have been working with the culinary
industry and here is some Gracilaria from our farm systems there. By the way, we have
tested the Gracilaria for anything and everything, any kind of bacteria, any type of metals.
We’ve done that on our product. That was Chef Bun Lai there and he was mixing the Gracilaria
with kale and they really taste nice. You can see by that diverse audience there people
were quite surprised to have it. Now earlier on in the evening Bun had everybody over,
150 people over to his farm for a cicada festival. So we were eating cicada in the beginning
of the night. So in a sense the things that we’re doing
or we’re beginning a new industry in the Long Island Sound area we actually – that we have
it going up in the area of the Gulf of Maine is successful. We’re working with many different
types of seaweeds because we want crop diversification. We’re working with different entrepreneurs,
product development because after all you want this to have its own legs there and stand
on its own. So hopefully I’ve introduced you to ecosystem services. But what do you do
with the biomass’ You do something and sell it. That’s something very, very important. We’re working with different entrepreneurs.
Our product development there and we’ve already spun off these companies in just the last
couple of years. Seeing is believing. If you’re in Connecticut give me a call and if we have
a farm system up and running in the summer or the winter we don’t mind taking people
out. We think it’s very important that people see what we’re doing. So it’s not something
that is only taking place in Asia. So when I first introduced this slide I used
to have Frank Sinatra saying, “If you could do it in New York you could do it anywhere.”
Well we’ve done it now in New York. We’ve gone through the permitting. We have another
permit now pending in the City of New York for the farm systems there. We’re not doing
it any longer. We passed it to our community organization. They’re using it as a science
curriculum and also opportunity to generate revenue for their operations. I’d be remiss not to mention a lot of the
work that we have gets federal support. That’s another reason why I wanted to make sure everything
we do open source. The Sea Grant programs were investing in my lab’s work 25 years ago
and it was not very fashionable. The NOAA has been very generous with SBIR phase I and
II grants there. U.S. EPA and other agencies, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and
we also have other partners as well. All part of what you see going on is taking place and
as I tell people we’re creating jobs right now. We’re doing something good for the environment
and good for economy. Thank you. [Applause]

4 comments

  • Pedro Mota

    Thank you for This lecture. It open my views!

    Reply
  • Santa Monica Filtration

    I wish our home cultivators could grow kelp, but right now we are limited to warm water; angel hair (cladophora) does very well.

    Reply
  • Steven Rappolee

    A seaweed big mac with sesame seed oil and soy sauce

    Reply
  • Steven Rappolee

    I would like to see a space based inflatable with seawater for a cultivation experiment

    Reply

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