Now finally legal in New York, kelp farming is an environmental engineering solution ready-made for sequestering carbon and nitrogen, improving soil health, cleaning up waterways and creating jobs — a ‘suite of benefits’ that could make it a climate game changer.
Kelp, a species of seaweed sometimes called “the rainforest of the sea,” could be a powerful weapon in the fight against climate change. Despite this, the commercial cultivation of kelp in Long Island, New York has long been illegal, until now.
Kelp is a superfood with a host of nutritional benefits — but its critical role in our marine ecosystem, incredibly fast growth rate and carbon-sequestration ability (it absorbs up to 20x more CO2 per acre than land forests), could represent a much-needed new frontier in regenerative and climate-resilient farming.
In spite of kelp’s powerful climate-change-mitigating properties, the law in Long Island kept kelp farming on New York shorelines out of reach. Earlier this year, though, this all changed with ‘The Kelp Bill’, which added seaweed to an existing statute that allows shellfish farming in the Peconic and Gardiners Bays.
Sean Barrett, founder of Montauk Seaweed Supply Company — which transforms Long Island seaweed into healthy fertilizers and biostimulant products — told Sustainable Brands™ what this new legislation means for the future of kelp farming in New York.
“This is huge,” Barrett asserted. “The Bill allows commercial kelp farming to be conducted for the very first time, providing a valuable economic opportunity for further developing the 'blue economy' in New York. The updated bill has immediate benefits for local kelp farmers and their communities.”
He went on to explain that, outside of the economic boosts to the area, kelp farming is an environmental engineering solution scientifically proven to sequester carbon and nitrogen, improve soil health, perform phytoremediation of waterways and create jobs — making it a stellar addition to our arsenal of nature-based climate solutions.
So, why it has taken so long for kelp farming to be made legal? Barrett said several factors influenced the timeline — including lack of interest; questions surrounding economic feasibility; and a lot of ‘not in my backyard’ mentality, with coastal homeowners often resisting any type of ocean farming for fear their ocean views could be obstructed. Despite these obstacles, Barrett and his team of researchers worked hard to knock down the regulatory barriers and overcome the lengthy research requirements.
“Cumulatively, all the obstacles mentioned contributed to the sclerotic pace and long timeline; but now, gratefully, we can only see those types of hindrances in the rearview mirror,” he said.
With the regulatory hurdles a thing of the past, Montauk Seaweed Supply can now incentivize local farmers to engage in the industry and begin generating the nitrogen-sequestering and carbon-capturing aspects of kelp farming that the local ecology — and the rest of the world — desperately needs.
Synthetic fertilizers are, ultimately, environmentally degrading. Though they quickly release nutrients into soil, they increase pest and disease susceptibility, which creates the need for more fertilizers — creating a destructive cycle exhausting the environment. Chemical fertilizers are also one of the main pollutants of our waterways; chemical runoff creates a surplus of nutrients (phosphorus and nitrogen) in waterways, promoting algal blooms and other imbalances — resulting in depleted oxygen levels, killing fish and aquatic life.
Eliminating synthetic fertilizers is essential if we are to revive the health of our water systems. Kelp meal fertilizers, on the other hand, are organic, non-toxic, regenerative materials that can help reverse ecosystem damage created by synthetics.
In addition to the soil health and biodiversity benefits, ditching chemical fertilizers for organic will do wonders for companies aiming to reduce their carbon output.
“Without full, vigorous and prolonged engagement by the business community, we have no chance of hitting our carbon-emissions goals; people around the world can begin voting for change by carefully deciding where they spend their money,” Barrett said.
Due to the recent legalization of kelp farming, Barrett and his team can push for seaweed fertilizer to be used by farmers and communities on a large scale. With the commercial seaweed market expected to exceed $95 billion by 2027, infrastructure must be in place to ensure that projected future demand can be met.
“We are on the verge of harnessing kelp and seaweed from the ocean in a way that will provide nearly infinite resources to populations across the globe and unleash a regenerative supply of valuable materials that the global community desperately needs,” Barrett said. “Expect to see exponential growth in the kelp industry in the coming years to keep up with growing global demand.”