Seaweed Squares

Seaweed Farms - Nusa Lembongan, Indonesia. (Digital Globe/Caters News)

Seaweed Farms – Nusa Lembongan, Indonesia. Click on the photo for the full image.
Photo: Digital Globe/Caters News

When I think of oceans, I think of movement and flow.

When I think of oceanic plant life, I have in my mind an image of free-form fields of seaweed in constant motion.

When life grows for itself, it tends to grow in loose configurations. When I think of tilled land fields, like the ones in my area, I think of grain rising in squared off parameters or the pristine circles of pivot irrigation.

In any case, when we grow for ourselves, we usually grow in geometric patterns. So the multitude of underwater seaweed rectangles in the image above, mirrored in the multitude of angular human dwellings on the neighboring land,  shouldn’t surprise me at all.

Still, these tidy plots, an oceanic harvest of what is being hailed by some as ‘this century’s potato‘ for its farming, nutrition and economic potential, look odd.

Illustration of seaweed farming. Source: Tracy Saxby/Integration and Application Nework

Illustration of seaweed farming.
Source: Tracy Saxby/Integration and Application Nework

Seaweed cultivation has been around for hundreds of years, most of that past spent simply, well, harvesting wild seaweed. Or drifting long ropes to attract seaweed growth, and then pulling in the ropes.

Methods have been improving, but what remains to be seen is if we can manage to farm seaweed without doing what we sometimes do to the places we farm: hacking down everything that was there before to replace it with only the plants we want in tight geometric configurations.

The ocean has a different set of rules from the land, but seaweed farming done right can improve biodiversity, improve air and water quality and feed a lot of people and animals, and maybe even provide a source of biofuel. More on that in a later post.

Giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera)

Giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera)

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