by Michael D. Pulliam
HSU’S COMMERCIAL SEAWEED FARM
Humboldt Bay is host to California’s first commercially-approved seaweed farm, thanks to a partnership between Humboldt State University and environmental nonprofit GreenWave. Pioneering solutions to numerous challenges in permitting, infrastructure, and aquaculture science, the team behind HSU-ProvidenSea farm aims to set an example in regenerative farming—and connect California with a billion-dollar global industry.
Seaweed as a crop grows very quickly, is highly nutritious and flavorful, and commands a huge variety of applications from weaving to fuel to fertilizer. Perhaps more importantly, seaweed is also a major player in addressing the damaging effects climate change has on regional waters. According to NOAA, “seaweeds pull more greenhouse gas from the water” than eelgrass, mangroves, and salt marshes combined. Seaweed farms and forests also help purify waters, remove nitrogen and phosphorus, and create habitats for marine life. On top of all that, Australian Marine Systems Ecologist Dr. Pia Winberg suggests that if we broadened our scale and “created seaweed islands,” the plant would soon rival the staple commodities we all rely on, like lumber, concrete, plastic, and grains. Possible seaweed products could easily include biodegradable plastics, construction materials, and even artificial limbs.
“Seaweed farming is an industry that is about 500 years old,” says Dr. Rafael Cuevas Uribe, HSU Fisheries Biology professor and co-designer of HSU-ProvidenSea farm. “But this is the first time here in California that somebody’s doing red seaweed at commercial scale in open waters.” Humboldt Magazine reports: “The farm’s design is simple, inexpensive, and scalable…. mostly rope, suspended in the water column, with four anchors being its only physical footprint.” There’s also no need for fresh water or fertilizer, since the plants gather everything they need from the ocean.
HSU-ProvidenSea specializes in growing Pacific dulse, also known as “bacon of the sea” for its rich umami flavor. A team of students oversee the day-to-day operation of the farm, monitoring growth and conditions as well as troubleshooting problems. This experience can then be passed along to future seaweed startups, making waves in agriculture locally and on coasts around the world.
Sources: Humboldt Magazine, Good News Network
PLASTICS PACT TACKLES PACKAGING
Australia and New Zealand have recently launched an agreement with more than 80 major corporations that will eventually eliminate plastic waste in the Oceania region. Dubbed the ANZPAC Plastics Pact, this vigorous agreement promises to achieve four goals in four years: 1) eliminate all unnecessary plastic waste; 2) ensure 100% of the remainder is reusable, recyclable, or compostable; 3) increase collection and proper recycling in the region by 25%; and 4) reach an average of 25% recycled content in all plastic packaging used in the area. Pledged corporations include Coca-Cola, Nestle, Pepsico, and Unilever.
This act unites Oceania with over 550 organizations and 10 similar pacts around the world as part of the Plastics Pact Network of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. The Plastics Pact Network offers resources, strategies, and guidance for national and regional initiatives working toward a circular economy for plastics, in which it never becomes waste or pollution. The network enables and empowers global knowledge sharing, strategic alignment, and coordinated action in response to issues of plastic pollution.
The Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) is charged with developing and monitoring the region’s on-the-ground efforts to reach their four ambitious targets. APCO has 20 years of relationships and connections with government, industry, business, and community organizations, which will help the massive collaboration of action, reporting, and governance required.
The United States is also a member region of the global Plastics Pact, with dozens of pledges including Clorox, General Mills, and Target stores aimed at reaching the same four goals by 2025.
Sources: Good News Network, ANZPAC, Ellen MacArthur Foundation, US Plastics Pact
SCOTLAND TO PLANT 18M TREES
Glasgow, the most populous city in Scotland, has begun a new initiative to plant 10 trees for each person living in the region, totaling around 18 million plants over a ten-year period.
The Clyde Climate Forest initiative is intended to breathe new life across the area, increasing woodland cover from 17% to 20%. Headed by the Glasgow & Clyde Valley Green Network, a coalition of local authorities, environmental groups, and engaged citizen volunteers will be assessing which trees to plant where in order to maximize longevity and biodiversity. The teams plan on connecting woodlands that were fragmented by urban development, and restoring nature to former mining sites and derelict land guided by the principle “the right tree in the right place.” There are also efforts to encourage and assist smaller landowners and localities by providing free assessments to identify areas that can be greened up.
This level of environmental coordination is new for Scotland, connecting eight local authorities with larger government entities and other partners to bring the forests to life. Past achievements include counterbalancing tree-planting goals across the UK in 2018—when England fell short of its reforesting target, Scotland surpassed their own target by over 1,000 hectares (~4 square miles).
Councillor Andrew Polson, Chair of the Land Use and Sustainability Portfolio for Glasgow City Region, said, “We all have a fantastic opportunity to work collectively to improve our living environment whilst tackling climate change at the same time.”
Source: Good News Network
SOLAR CANAL COVERS SAVE WATER, ENERGY, & SPACE
Installing solar panels over water canals can save water lost to evaporation, increase power efficiency, and limit habitat loss from building solar farms over land.
In 2014, the state of Gujarat, India, ran a pilot project to cover a long stretch of irrigation canals with solar panels fixed to steel cables. This inspired several much larger canal-covering projects around the country, including a 100-megawatt solar plant. Researchers in India found less water was lost to evaporation, and the cooler microclimate around the canals helped prevent the solar panels from overheating, making them an average of 2-5% more efficient.
In March 2021, a team at University of California Santa Cruz published a study in Nature Sustainability that models the costs and benefits of applying solar panel coverage to California’s 4,000+ miles of water canals. With the world’s largest canal network and an average of 290 days of sunshine per year, California could potentially meet two needs with one deed: partially ease the state’s consistent water woes, and increase the share of electricity coming from renewables. The study found that over-canal solar installations throughout California could conserve a massive amount of the state’s water, that future financial savings outweighed the initial cost of the more complex solar arrays, and that the value of canal paneling could exceed conventional overground solar by 20-50%. On top of all that, the diesel-powered pumps currently used for much of California’s farm irrigation could be replaced by solar pumps, adding even more environmental benefits.
Overall, the study robustly challenges our current assumptions on the most efficient and economical placement and application of solar panels.
Sources: Good News Network, Nature.com