IO Originals: Kelp and the Blue Economy

Marilu Cristina Flores, Investable Oceans Fisheries & Aquaculture

IO Originals: Kelp and the Blue Economy
Caleb Kastein, Unsplash

The world's oceans hold immense potential for economic growth, environmental sustainability, and innovation. As we seek new solutions to tackle the challenges of climate change, food security, and renewable resources, one key player has emerged on the horizon: kelp!

Kelp, a type of large brown seaweed, is an unsung hero of the marine world. An important part of coastal cultures globally, kelp and its myriad of uses can be traced back to ancient civilizations. In ancient China, the Chinese began harvesting kelp as early as the 5th century BCE, and in Japan, kelp has been used in various aspects of cuisine and traditional medicine for over a thousand years.

Growing in underwater forests along coastlines worldwide, kelp plays a vital role in marine ecosystems. These towering plants provide a habitat for diverse marine life, from invertebrates to fish, acting as the building blocks of underwater ecosystems that promote biodiversity and coastal resilience by providing protection to coastal communities against shoreline erosion.

Beyond its ecological importance, kelp possesses an impressive range of versatile properties that make it an invaluable Blue Economy resource. Quick to grow, it also has the ability to absorb vast amounts of carbon dioxide, making it an effective tool in mitigating climate change. An Energy Futures Initiative panel estimated that “kelp has the capacity to pull down about 1 billion to 10 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year.”

Moreover, kelp has tremendous potential in the fields of food, medicine, recreation, biofuel, and bioplastics, making it a multi-dimensional resource for the emerging Blue Economy.

With the world's population projected to reach 9 billion by 2050, the Blue Economy presents a promising, sustainable alternative to traditional economic models that often lead to resource depletion and environmental degradation, and kelp cultivation is at the forefront of this new paradigm. By harnessing the power of kelp, we can create a sustainable future by addressing critical global challenges. 

At Investable Oceans, we believe that focusing on the Blue Economy – which promotes the sustainable use of our oceans and their resources to foster economic growth, promote social well-being, and ensure environmental sustainability – will bring us into a more sustainable, balanced coexistence with our planet. As such, we’ve identified some key growth areas where Kelp could have a major upside; here are the most promising: 

Renewable Energy: As the world shifts towards clean energy sources, kelp offers an exciting opportunity in the field of biofuel production. Kelp can be converted into bioethanol or used in anaerobic digestion to produce methane, which can power vehicles, generate electricity, and provide heat. By leveraging the renewable energy potential of kelp and other biofuels, we can reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and combat climate change.

Bioplastics and Sustainable Materials: Petroleum-based plastics pose a severe threat to marine ecosystems, and kelp-based bioplastics offer a sustainable alternative. Kelp-derived polymers can be used to produce biodegradable and compostable materials, reducing plastic waste and pollution. This innovation holds significant promise in various industries, from packaging to textiles. 

Food Security: Kelp’s rapid growth rate and high yield make it an ideal candidate for sustainable aquaculture. It’s also a nutrient-rich superfood, packed with vitamins, minerals, and essential amino acids. Therefore, incorporating kelp into our diets can enhance food security, reduce pressure on land-based agriculture, and promote healthier eating habits. From seaweed salads to kelp-based snacks and ingredients,kelp is revolutionizing the blue food space. More delicious details below.

Launched in 2019 in the San Francisco Bay Area, 12 Tides manufactures kelp snack chips with flavors like chili pepper, truffle pepper, vegan cheddar, and sea salt. Now found in most Whole Foods markets, they sold their millionth box of chips in 2022 and are projected to grow in market reach. 

Similarly, Akua launched its first product, a “Kelp Jerky,” in 2019, following up with a Kelp Burger in 2020. Today Akua continues to revolutionize the alternative meat market by providing consumers with numerous kelp options, like ground “meat,” Krab Cakes, and their wildly popular burgers, which can also now be found in a chili sesame or lemon and herb flavor.

Atlantic Sea Farms is one of the longest-running commercially viable seaweed farms in the United States. Founded in 2009, they provide a wide range of kelp-based products for home cooks and commercial kitchens. From cubed kelp purees featuring fresh blueberries and ginger for morning smoothies to their version of kimchi (“sea-chi”), to fermented seaweed salads for easy on the go lunch that feature glass and environmentally friendly packaging. 

As we embark on this exciting journey, it's crucial to ensure responsible kelp cultivation practices, protect marine ecosystems, and engage in collaborative research and innovation. By doing so, we can harness the power and potential of this underwater super plant!

Learn More:

Greenwave’s “Regenerative Ocean Farming Hub” 

HATCH Innovation Services’ “Seaweed Insights” website


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