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Developing Regenerative Seaweed Farm Industry to Address 21st Century Challenges and Create a Better Future

Grow seaweeds in new regions to make us healthier, restore marine ecosystems, reverse climate change and revitalize coastal Communities.

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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Blue Evolution

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small company (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

Blue Evolution has a Mexican subsidiary and works to incubate independent farmers in Alaska, which it supplies with seed and from which it purchases raw kelp. We have partnerships with NOAA, University of Alaska, Greenwave, Universidad Autonoma de Baja California, University of Connecticut and Woods Hole Institute.

Website of Legally Registered Entity

www.blueevolution.com

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 3-10 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Los Altos

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States of America

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

The states of Baja California and Alaska comprise nearly 700k km2 of land area and (more relevantly) have a combined 14,000 km of coastline.

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States of America and Mexico

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

I love the ocean, so I have been drawn to these two wild places which are so greatly defined by their coasts and ocean. As the seaweed farming industry looks to expand rapidly outside of its historic hubs in east Asia, the remote shores of North America's Pacific coast beckon with clean waters, seafaring culture and diverse and abundant native seaweeds. Local stakeholders are hungry to take on seaweed farming and make it their own, and they will themselves speak to the aspirations they have for a new economic growth opportunity farming seaweed for food markets. Support for this new industry is extremely strong and generally uncontested locally, with nonprofits, fishermen, processors, regulators, policymakers, researchers and within the general public.

Blue Evolution has many years of experience pioneering commercial seaweed cultivation and processing in both countries. Both regions enjoy superb farm conditions and infrastructure and both are major agricultural and seafood producers. Both countries are also struggling with declining wild fisheries, marine ecosystem threats and a decline of coastal seafood economies. The impact of the growth of a new seaweed industry in the region will have a transformative impact on coastal habitat, food systems and fishing communities.

Nowhere in the world do we see the same set of possibilities for a major new seaweed industry to emerge quickly. And nowhere can its impact be greater on a social and environmental level.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

The Baja Peninsula, where Blue Evolution has grown seaweed for 7 years, is a very arid area with a multi-billion dollar terrestrial organic farming industry. The sector is severely limited by lack of freshwater resources, and though mostly organic it has created significant ecological impacts- primarily related to drawdown of aquifers, saltwater intrusion and the use of fossil fuels for desalination. Baja is also features the most productive fishery zone in Mexico, yet has struggled with volatility of wild stocks and increasingly frequent and severe ocean warming events. It is known as "the frontier" within Mexico, and its inhabitants are known for being rugged pioneers and seafarers. It enjoys a rich culture and a broad array of premium food sources including fruits, vegetables, wine and seafood.

Alaska is by far the most wild state in the United States, representing a full sixth of the country's land mass and a large portion of its territorial coastline. It is a largely pristine environment, yet Alaska faces multiple ecological threats from extractive industries and global climate change. 

Its once-mighty fisheries are a shadow of their former selves despite aggressive management and stewardship. The vital working waterfronts of places like Kodiak, where Blue Evolution's primary seaweed production is based, have struggled greatly in recent as in Mexico and much of the rest of the world. Kodiak has seen a 10% decline in its population over the last decade as a result. Locals are a uniquely hardy people who live at the very edge of civilization, enduring famously harsh weather, with ocean freezes in winter, epic gales and treacherous currents. Native Alaskan communities (who have an ancient relationship to seaweed as a staple food) have a central role in the waterfront economy, and are actively seeking new opportunities to sustain their people who face disproportionate threats from the problems. Interestingly, Alaska has one of the smallest agricultural sectors in the US despite being by far its largest state at approximately $30M dollars. The introduction of marine crops ie farmed seaweeds to the area has been a disruptive and positive prospect for local stakeholders- including fishermen, processors, tourist companies, researchers and policymakers


What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)

1790000

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

4200000

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Alaska controls one of the greatest remaining wild fisheries on Earth, supplying the world with healthy, high-quality seafood products. While relatively very well managed, the stocks of many critical commercial species are in peril due to climate change and loss of habitat. The tens of thousands of people in this sector have faced significant revenue and job losses in recent years. Prospects for the future are grim as marine weather becomes increasingly volatile and ecosystems show significant signs of stress. In 30 years the question of where this globally strategic fisheries industry is uncertain in the extreme. It appears highly unlikely that the current industry can sustain itself for even 10 years without a significant economic crisis.

Baja has a similar problem in fisheries, with many rural coastal communities in severe economic stress as their livelihoods are also eroded by climate change, ocean acidification and habitat loss. On land Baja enjoys a thriving organic fruit and produce industry employs over 100 of thousands of people from all over Mexico. But the heavy cultivation of these thirsty crops in the desert is highly problematic in terms of freshwater availability, the extraordinary emissions of desalinating and pumping the increasingly saline groundwater for irrigation, the exploitation of domestic migrant labor which is largely made up of indigenous people. Expansion of this terrestrial agriculture in the region is severely constrained. With increasing volatility of climate it is unlikely that Baja will be able to maintain consistent production of these very nutritious and valuable foodstuffs in the decades to come.

On a nutritional level, both Alaska and Baja share a challenge in terms of access to good nutrition for local people. Diet-related diseases including diabetes, obesity and cardiopulmonary diseases are common as are addiction and mental illness. 


Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Establishing a thriving, large-scale seaweed industry to the west coast of North America will have a significant and positive transformative impact on local, regional and global food systems, as well as regional economies and ecosystems. 

In both Alaska and Baja, along with the west coasts of Canada and the lower 48 states (where Blue Evolution is scoping new projects), the introduction of seaweed farming stands to create tens of thousands of new sustainable jobs over the next 30 years. The greatest growth will happen among populations that are desperately in need of new food production and marine enterprise opportunities. These coastal communities' identities and aspirations are deeply intertwined with the ocean and they take enormous pride in their role providing healthy nutritious food from the sea. They are eager and ready to become new seaweed farmers

Generally speaking, seaweed farming requires much less input than any other form of material production. It can be grown (and even rinsed) without freshwater, fertilizers, pesticides or even arable land. Offshore farms in particular are unmatched in the low amount of energy needed for production. Onshore farms require electricity and a small amount of external nutrients but can be run on renewable energy, and our farm in Mexico has been organic certified.

For these and other biological reasons it is vastly superior in terms of climate resilience of production. Seaweed rapidly removes CO2 from seawater as it grows, reversing ocean acidification and restoring alkalinity within the adjacent coastal habitat- providing a unique halo effect for a wide range of coastal creatures. Indeed research shows that increasing ocean acidity will substantially accelerate seaweed growth, and that due to its lack of vulnerability to both drought and floods seaweed stands to provide much more consistent yields by 2050 than anything else on the planet that needs to be cultivated or reared. While not immune to negative consequences from climate shifts, seaweed is far and away the best-in-class source of food on Earth for a warming world and increasingly acidic ocean.

Not only does seaweed stand to outperform other sources in a climate crisis future, it is positioned to expand at a pace of growth that would be entirely impossible on land. While eat Asia has built a massive seaweed farming industry, other ideal farming territory around the world is almost entirely undeveloped. Blue Evolution has doubled its production for the past 3 years, and there is no barrier to maintaining or even increasing this rate going forward. Between Alaska and Baja the conditions easily exist to support farming seaweed on a scale rivaling that of China by 2050, which grows tens of millions of tons annually as the worlds largest producer.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

By 2050 Alaska and Baja will be home to thousands of acres of seaweed farms growing millions of tons of crops and supplying a wide range of food, feed and agricultural markets. Massive new biorefineries will receive raw harvests and manufacture high quality whole ingredients, extracts, nutraceuticals and other byproducts to buyers around the globe. Coastal communities will enjoy durable prosperity from a new iteration of the same livelihood that brought many inhabitants there in the first place: to supply the world with abundance from the ocean. 

This will not only produce a new valuable set of materials for food and beyond, it will help to reverse the crises of marine ecosystems and climate on a significant scale. The more we produce and sell, the healthier the planet and consumers will be. 

On the market shelf, if it still exists, will sit a wide variety of products featuring our seaweeds along with other ingredients grown with our seaweed and packaged in materials made with our seaweeds.

The labels will feature a regenerative organic certification and proudly proclaim: "This product reduces greenhouse gasses, reverses ocean acidification and restores both marine habitat and coastal communities."

Americans will eat 30 times more seaweed per capita than they do today, a trend followed by other countries around the world as we create an expanding basket of seaweed products. Research will both reveal new layers of seaweeds' nutritional benefits and help to create innovative new offerings which ever better serve customer value- including accounting for social, environmental and health outcomes.

Not only will farmed North American seaweed be in people's bellies and on their minds, it will live in their hearts. Chefs will create with it, artists will compose works about it, and students will chart careers around it. Seaweed, they will feel, is our reliable and generous friend. Farmers will be hailed as heroes, able to pass their work on to younger generations.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

In 2050 Alaska and Baja will each have multi-billion dollar seaweed industries. It will come to define their region, and drive a shift within the food systems there towards compatibility with a livable future.

The vision for North American seaweed farming in 30 years is to build a series of regional supply chains for a new base of global materials, centered largely on food and resulting in carbon-negative ingredients. CO2 is absorbed by seaweed during cultivation, which will go into processing and distribution systems run on renewable energy. The outcome is a carbon negative (aka climate positive) operation from hatchery through to final point of sale. 

Blue Evolution has already developed carbon-negative pilot product in Alaska and is working aggressively to pass beyond carbon-neutrality within 5 years. Offshore farm seaweed biomass furthermore serves as additional marine habitat, hosting a vast array of organisms during growout- including many commercial species and especially vulnerable juvenile populations. This helps to restore numerous fisheries and addresses threats to their health.

From a nutritional standpoint, seaweeds have an extraordinary contribution to make to improving global diets. They are uniquely high in trace minerals, vitamins, fiber, protein and bioactive compounds. Of particular nutritional importance is seaweed's status as an unmatched source of iodine, of which there is an acute global deficiency and which is critical for healthy thyroid function and especially essential for nursing/pregnant mothers. Research on the health benefits of seaweed suggest its has exceptional function as a preventing cardiopulmonary and neurodegenerative diseases, obesity, diabetes and even cancer. As Blue Evolution progresses we will create a broadening array of delicious food ingredients and products which also serve to address an expansive list of the leading global health challenges of this century.

On a social level, people in this geography who are part of the food industry will thus benefit tremendously from a transition into seaweed farming and manufacturing. Environmentally, their ventures and jobs will be rooted in regenerative mariculture- engaging in livelihoods which actually improve marine habitats and helps to arrest and reverse climate change. The ability to provide hope and opportunity in this new farming and food production to these populations, in addition to a new source of highly nutrient-dense foodstuffs locally, presents a double bonus for social wellbeing.

Seaweed farming also offers another area of enormous area of potential to improve regional food systems in that it has unique properties for both feeds and agricultural biostimulants. Seaweed has been shown to have excellent benefits for the health of many forms of livestock and aquaculture species, and even reduces methane emissions from cattle when added to their feed in small quantities. It can reduce dependence on antibiotics in a range of animals, increasing growth and improving health outcome and product quality. For terrestrial crops, use of seaweed inputs have been shown to accelerate growth, increase drought and pest tolerance, increase nutrient density and improve soil health. These are a relatively under-appreciated mechanism by which seaweeds can transform the food system by mitigating and adapting to climate change, augmenting nutrition, and displacing the use of chemicals- especially from fossil fuel sources.

A final way in which seaweed can radically change the food system is in supplying large volume of feedstock for bioplastics. One of the most intractable challenges of eliminating dependence on fossil fuels is that they supply the feedstock for plastic packaging which is so fundamentally critical for global food security and quality. Not only do seaweeds feature optimal biochemistry for bioplastics, but also the expansion of farming is far less constrained, so developing a massive new supply chain for bioplastics (and even biofuels) does not carry the resource tradeoffs between production for food vs. non-food, for example, corn farming. Seaweed is the only crop category that can practically serve to simultaneously supply a growing global population's demand for food, feed, agricultural products, bioplastics and biofuels into the mid-century.

We have two taglines as a company. “Growing a Better Future” reflects the production side of our business- farming and processing, and the manyfold ways in which it serves people and planet. “Deeply Satisfying” is our message to the customer, meaning that not only does our seaweed taste great but it also makes them healthier and results in significant positive upstream impacts from their purchase.

A new source of pragmatic hope is here, embodied by the new dawn of seaweed farming lead by Blue Evolution. 

And kelp is on the way.

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