3D Ocean Farming helping to restore the oceans and provide sustainable food

Fishermen and scientists are working together to cultivate a sustainable solution to ocean food production, known as 3D Ocean Farming, which is designed to restore rather than deplete the oceans.

On Long Island in New York, locals have been tackling overfishing by using 3D Ocean Farming, which is a system that grows a mix of seaweed crops and shellfish – including mussels and oysters – under the water’s surface.

This polyculture vertical farming system requires zero input because the sea plants filter and sequester carbon, making it currently the most sustainable means of food production on the planet.

3D Ocean Farming also sequesters carbon and rebuilds the reef’s ecosystem. The crops and shellfish grown underwater can be used as food, fertiliser, animal feed and even energy. The food itself actually filters the water. In this way, climate change can be tackled while producing food.

One of the most well-known advocates for 3D Ocean Farming is former fisherman, Bren Smith. His company, Thimble Island Oyster Co., operates one of the first sustainable 3D ocean farms in the US.

Nestled in the Thimble Islands of Long Island Sound, Bren Smith’s 40-acre farm uses the entire water column to grow a variety of species – ranging from sugar kelp and oysters to mussels and scallops – and has emerged as a national model for hyper-local sustainable food production, ocean restoration, and economic development.

The former industrial fisherman tore up entire ecosystems by raking the bottom of the oceans, from the Behring Sea to the New England shores, mostly working to supply food for McDonald’s. He was one of the first to be hit by the crash of the cod’s stock in 1994.

Disillusioned with the fishing industry, Bren Smith kept hunting for a sustainable way to work the seas, own his own boat, live a self-directed life, and leave the ocean in a better place. His journey took him to Long Island Sound where there was a programme to lease shellfishing grounds to young commercial fishermen under 40. He leased 20 acres, started harvesting oysters and then slowly, with many experiments and failures, transitioned the farm into one of the first 3D ocean farms in the US.

Bren Smith says: “Fundamentally, my model is about two things: 1) growing environmentally restorative species that mitigate climate change, restore ocean ecosystems and reduce pressure on dwindling fish stocks; and 2) re-imagining the role of the fisherman from hunter-gatherer to ocean entrepreneur growing food, fuel, and fertiliser for local communities.”

Bren Smith and his company have been instrumental in setting up GreenWave, an organisation that works to replicate Thimble Island Oyster Co.’s model throughout the US and the world, both by creating new 3D farms but also by pushing the edge of what’s possible on the sea, such as embedding 3D farms in offshore wind farms.

Bren Smith said: “GreenWave is supporting a new generation of ocean farmers feeding the planet and building a blue-green economy in the era of climate change.

“Our goal is to train thousands of new ocean farmers. We want fishermen of the future to be at the front edge of jump-starting a new ocean economy that meets the growing need for sustainable seafood, habitat restoration, and resilient communities in the era of climate change.

“We believe this sort of large-bore re-imagining of the ocean economy and role of the fishermen is our only hope for saving our seas—and ourselves—in the era of climate change.”


Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about sustainable lifestyle and green living for publications, and offers content services to planet-friendly businesses. Find out more at Rosamedea.com

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