Ocean Organics


For Immediate Release

NOVEMBER 29, 2016

East Boothbay, Maine – Scientists at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences are preparing to launch a new study into the possible environmental benefits of harvesting rockweed in the Gulf of Maine. The researchers have previously found that growing and harvesting sugar kelp removes carbon from seawater, and they want to discover if the same holds true for rockweed.

This removal of carbon has significant environmental implications as it can help remediate kelps’ surrounding waters from ocean acidification, which is largely caused by an increasing amount of carbon dioxide being absorbed by the ocean from the atmosphere. It also provides a significant opportunity for the aquaculture industry to guard their shellfish from the harmful effects of ocean acidification, such as decreased yield and quality. Bigelow Laboratory’s rockweed research will begin early next year, with support from the Department of Marine Resources’ Dedicated Seaweed Management Fund and the Maine Seaweed Council.

“Our research at the Ocean Approved sugar kelp farm in Casco Bay indicates that sugar kelp absorbs incredible amounts of carbon as it grows, creating a ‘halo’ of higher quality water around it,” said Nichole Price, senior research scientist and director of the Center for Seafood Security at Bigelow Laboratory. “However, we’ve seen that this carbon absorption slows down – and even reverses – as the kelp reaches maturity. By harvesting the kelp at the right time, we found that we can temporarily remove that stored carbon from the ocean, and we want to see if this is true for other seaweeds as well.”

When rockweed is harvested in Maine’s intertidal zone, it is cut down to 16 inches above its root-like holdfast and then allowed to grow again. Bigelow Laboratory’s research on rockweed will compare how much carbon rockweed absorbs when it is and is not harvested.

“We plan to determine if harvesting rockweed and allowing it to regrow – effectively trimming it like a lawn – increases the amount of carbon it removes from the environment, as it does with young, growing sugar kelp,” Price said.

The findings of this research could be considerable. Rockweed has been harvested in Maine’s intertidal zones for hundreds of years. Annually some 8,000 wet tons of rockweed are harvested from Maine’s intertidal zone, creating hundreds of year-round jobs and contributing millions of dollars to Maine’s economy as it is processed into fertilizer for plants, feed for animals and supplements and skin care for humans.

“Learning if our sustainable harvesting of rockweed is also helping reduce ocean acidification would be wonderful,” said Bob Morse, a founding member of MOFGA and founder of North American Kelp Company, which processes rockweed into organic supplements fed to 40,000 organic dairy cows annually. “I’ve been in this business since 1972 and I’ve known that rockweed harvesting done responsibly generates regrowth, but it will be nice to have a scientific study to show it may also help with reducing acidification.”

“We must better understand the ramifications of ocean acidification and its impact to Maine’s economy and its marine ecosystems,” said DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher. “Determining which activities along our coast, whether its rockweed harvesting or farming sugar kelp, are remediating ocean acidification, is an important step towards an overall strategy to protect Maine’s coastal economy and its marine ecosystems.”

“We are delighted the Maine Seaweed Council, with DMR’s support, has commissioned this research by Bigelow Labs,” said Rob Snyder, President of the Island Institute, which partnered with Bigelow on the sugar kelp field research. “The more information we can garner about the interplay between Maine’s working waterfront activities, which support our coastal communities, and the positive affects those activities have on our marine ecosystem, the better equipped we are to adapt to change.”

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About the Maine Seaweed Council
The Maine Seaweed Council strives to protect the ecosystems of Maine’s marine algae, develop and adhere to sustainable cultivation and harvest practices, promote the use of Maine seaweeds, educate the public, regulators, and elected officials, and provide a collaborative forum for its members. http://www.seaweedcouncil.org.

About Bigelow Laboratory
Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences is an independent, not-for-profit research institution on the coast of Maine. Our research ranges from the biology and ecology of marine microorganisms to large-scale ocean processes that affect the global environment. Recognized as a leader in Maine’s emerging innovation economy, the Laboratory’s research, education, and technology transfer programs are spurring significant economic growth in the state. Learn more at www.bigelow.org, and join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

About the Island Institute
The Island Institute works to sustain Maine’s island and remote coastal communities. Our core program areas—including economic development, education, community energy, marine resources, and media—are driven by the requests of community members themselves. Our commitment to the islands of Maine includes sharing what works among these diverse communities and beyond. http://www.islandinstitute.org.

Media Contacts:
Merritt Carey

Steven Profaizer
Director of Communications
Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences
(207) 315-2567, ext. 103




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