World Oceans Day celebrates our oceans as a life source, supporting humanity’s sustenance and that of every other organism on earth, as well as an acknowledgement of the sustainability challenges and an act of declaration of conservation developments ahead.
In line with World Oceans Day, we wanted to celebrate the inclusive and innovative resource of seaweed science and how it relates to the needs of building a sustainable ocean. We speak to Churchill Fellow, Kelp farmer and owner of Sea Health Products Joanne Lane to deepen our understanding of seaweed.
What inspired you to become a ‘kelp farmer’?
I have always loved the ocean and studied Marine Science, wanting to be involved in marine conservation. I’m so inspired by kelp farming as it has so many environmental benefits. Not only is it a very healthy and versatile product, it can also provide habitat, improve ecosystems, capture carbon and reduce ocean acidification, without using any land, freshwater or fertiliser.
Sea kelp (seaweed) is so important in supporting life in the ocean, what else can this algae powerhouse be used for?
Kelp has so many uses – including food, cosmetics, agricultural feed, fertiliser, nutraceuticals, textiles and more recently extracts are being researched for their role in biofuels and bioplastics.
Can you put in perspective the role sea-kelp plays in mitigating Australia’s carbon emissions?
A recent study found that each tonne of seaweed absorbs 120 kg (12%) of CO2 and globally our kelp forests naturally sequester about 200 million tonnes/ year.
Kelp farming is in its infancy in Australia so there is scope to develop an industry as well as contribute to restoration projects. Kelp grows incredibly fast, photosynthesising and uptaking CO2. Not only do we need to draw down CO2, we need to reduce emissions. Kelp can be used as a replacement for ingredients that are Co2 hungry.
Tell us a little bit about sea kelp’s nutritional and medicinal uses?
Seaweed is one of the longest known foods used for human health and in medicine, stemming back to the ancient Greens who used it to treat intestinal disorders and counteract goitre. Sea Kelp contains more than 60 essential vitamins, minerals and trace elements. It is especially high in iodine, which many Australians are lacking, and also has anti inflammatory , anti-oxidant properties and is good for gut health!
In Korea, women drink a ‘seaweed soup’ for a month after giving birth. This helps to restore nutrients and assist with feeding their new baby. It is a tradition that on your birthday you have seaweed soup and it is referred to as ‘birthday soup’.
What are some stand out moments or things you learned on your Fellowship?
My Churchill Fellowship was such an incredible experience that I reflect on often. After researching kelp farming for so many years, one of the highlights was meeting the world experts and learning from them. It was equally great to meet real kelp farmers and learn the challenges they face. I went expecting to come back with a step by step “how to farm” manual, but what I was inspired by was the optimism and dedication of those in the industry to “make a difference for the future”. That is what I want too – I want to be part of something tangible to help with climate change.
What’s next for you and the Australian seaweed industry?
Since returning we have been working on (and have had success with) breeding a unique Australian kelp species (Ecklonia radiata). We are now working with NSW DPI (Fisheries) to establish a lease site for our farm and do some ocean trials. We were part of the development of the Australian Seaweed Industry Blueprint released in September 2020, which outlines a bright future for the development of this new industry.
You can read Joanne’s Churchill Fellowship report here.
Joanne recently discussed ‘The miraculous power of the humble seaweed’ on BBC Future planet documentary.