The Australian Marine Permaculture Project is bringing seaweed solutions to life
Marine permaculture is the practice of regenerating kelp and seaweed to reforest our oceans
and is being pioneered by Dr Brian von Herzen and his team at the Climate Foundation.
Establishing Australia’s first offshore seaweed platform
In an innovative initiative to bring the seaweed solution to life, The Intrepid Foundation partnered with ‘2040’ and the Climate Foundation to launch a public crowdfunding campaign and raised A$600,000 in 2019.
We were blown away by the outpouring of support for this exciting pilot project. And, with this support, we can now build and deploy the first marine permaculture platform in Australian waters, located off the coast of Tasmania in Storm Bay.
Progressing the project
In December 2019, Damon Gameau (Director of ‘2040’ film) had the opportunity to visit the team at the University of Tasmania with Dr Brian von Herzen to see the kelp breeding program first-hand. At the Phase 1 site at Storm Bay, test lines had been successfully populated with kelp bred in the lab. The baby kelp was grown from spores collected from ‘wild’ specimens in remnant populations.
It’s now one year since the microscopic kelps were outplanted adjacent to salmon pens and the largest of them is now a spectacular 10 metres in length! Other kelps outplanted at the same time in the same area, but further away from the salmon pens are considerably smaller (<3m), reflecting the importance of nutrient supply from the pens for kelp growth
Photographed at the end of October 2020, these kelps were0
microscopic when they were first outplanted a year ago at the
Storm Bay salmon lease as part of the collaborative project
Climate Foundation,IMAS, and Huon Aquaculture. Photo credit: Cayne Layton.
Other key project findings include identifying family lines of kelp that are tolerant of warm water. The project team has also developed a cold storage technique to enable long term storage of kelp in its microscopic stages, producing a kind of ‘seed bank’ that doesn’t require demanding husbandry.
The successes of the project so far, including finessing techniques around kelp husbandry and lifecycle management have laid the foundations to greatly expand the scope and scale of the work.
In 2021, the project team is planning to submit a collaborative research proposal with the Blue Economy Cooperative Research Centre to take the next steps towards growing kelp offshore for commercial and environmental benefit. This collaboration will involve the University of Tasmania (Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies and Australian Maritime College), Climate Foundation, CSIRO and the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water & Environment.
Like most major research projects, the project has also encountered some challenges. When trialling methods to restore kelp beds on natural reefs, initial plantings at the three restoration sites had limited success and the primary method of planting – using twine carrying kelp seedlings – resulted in poor survivorship. Encouragingly, a secondary method trialled at the same time using small 50 x 50 mm plates seeded with micro-kelp, resulted in good survivorship. In 2020, the three restoration sites were replanted with plates densely seeded with tiny kelp seedlings and, at each site, 100 plates were bolted to boulders that comprise the reef substratum.
The University of Tasmania and the Climate Foundation have been working closely on the development of methods of natural reef restoration and in the coming months, the project team will apply for the permits for upwelling water and irrigating seaweed in Australia.
Damon gets up close and personal with remnant Giant Kelp in Storm Bay, TAS
Prototype testing gets underway in the Philippines
While the Tasmanian nutrient trial demonstrated the strong response of kelp to sufficient nutrients, concurrently the Climate Foundation has been testing seaweed responses to restoring overturning circulation and irrigating seaweed forests with the upwelled water – deeper, colder water which rises to the surface.
The team have successfully irrigated red seaweeds with upwelled water at a deepwater marine permaculture platform testing site in the Philippines. Below are some images of the Philippines trial site where the Climate Foundation team built two troughs for the platform, successfully deploying the system into water over 1,000 feet deep.
While the work that Brian and his team have been doing in the Philippines hasn’t been directly funded by the Australian Marine Permaculture Project, the new findings and technological advancements being prototyped in the Philippines are now informing the Tasmanian project – ready to enable the Australian team to progress with Marine Permaculture deployment in Australia.
The Climate Foundation team deployed a prototype trough-based marine permaculture system in the Philippines. Photo credit: Sam Donohue
Prototype trough-based marine permaculture deployed in the deep sea in the Philippines. Photo credit: Sam Donohue
Red seaweeds grown in surface water (right) and in upwelled water (left) with the darker colour indicative of greater seaweed health. Photo credit: Sam Donohue
Close up comparison of the baseline seaweed (tan) with deepwater irrigated seaweed (dark) shows the robust response of this red seaweed to deepwater irrigation.
While Brian and the Climate Foundation team await the results from the trial in the Philippines, early indications show that the seaweed has benefited from the deepwater irrigation, as can be seen in the above image. While neighbouring seaweeds outside the test irrigation site have been shrinking during the summer season, the irrigated seaweeds are growing dark and healthy.
As Dr Brian von Herzen states, “from the Philippines to Australia, Marine Permaculture irrigation is proving itself to be the key to growing strong, healthy seaweed forests that provide habitat for forage fish and may be essential to regenerating life in the ocean.”
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