Brian von Herzen is the executive director of the Climate Foundation and the original founder of the Marine Permaculture Movement.
With Brian Von Herzen we discussed why kelp, seaweed and ocean regeneration are ready for their breakthrough.
Climate Foundation’s marine permaculture technology has the potential to provide sustainable food, feed, fiber, fertilizer, and biofuels on a global scale, all while enabling carbon export from the atmosphere.
Other useful links
Seaweed ‘forests’ can help fight climate change – National Geographic
TEXT SUMMARY OF THE INTERVIEW:
Brian von Herzen: We realized even in the early 2000s that we had to do something sustainable. To try to address this exponential increase in melting and that led me to do a sabbatical in Woods Hall in studying algae biology and carbon budget chemistry. And then beyond that, to really consider how can we enlist life to help us rebalance carbon in our seas and our soils.
Koen van Seijen: Why is that connection between the mountains and the sea so important?
Brian von Herzen: The mountains help the sea and the sea helps the mountains, I should say, the soils. So I just finished giving a talk here in Morocco where I was visiting with the government and we met with some of the agriculture and some of the aquaculture groups here and agencies. And it was very interesting because I spoke about my home state of California, where we’ve studied the kelp for us. And, you know, there’s a shifting baseline. No one has a living memory of the kelp forests that were off the coast of California in the mid eighteen hundreds. But we went back and did the research to find the original US geodetic survey maps from eighteen fifties, 1860s, 1880s, which showed a river of a kelp a kilometer wide, extending from Point Concepcion, hundreds of kilometers all the way past the border with Mexico. And this was a continuous river of kelp between ten and twenty five meters deep that was covering the coastline, and it was this incredible bounty of nature. Now, what happened was in the early nineteen hundreds. We had development of farming, urbanization, but primarily the loss of soil and runoff that went into the sea because of standard farming practices. And that was exacerbated later. And between the silt and the nutrients, the visibility in the water dropped precipitously.
Brian von Herzen: And this actually choked off the juvenile kelp from growing from a depth of twenty five meters to the surface. If they don’t have enough sunlight, they can’t grow all the way to the surface. If they can’t grow, they don’t survive. And so we lost the deep kelp and we lost some of the middle kelp. And so now we only have a small remnant of the forest that once was. And so this is how our farming practices can affect the sea and the sea clarity. And so if we do less runoff and more regenerative farming, we can actually have a much clearer ocean. And then conversely, the seaweeds have this incredible input, a catalytic input almost on the growth of crops, both as a soil amendment and also as a seaweed foley or bio simulant and in several other ways, for example, as a feed supplement for ruminant livestock, they can cut most of the methane of the entire emissions of ruminant livestock. So there’s so many ways that the sea gives back to the farm and gives back to the soil. And I think it’s a full circle circular value chain, if you wish.
Brian von Herzen: What we’re noticing is that seaweed does a fantastic job of increasing the stress resistance of the plants. And that includes resistance to heat, resistance to drought and resistance to disease. And these all crops have some amount of stress. But when we get into a global warming situation, the amount of heat stress and the amount of drought becomes severe. And there are the seaweeds have been able to confer stress resistance to these crops very substantially.
Brian von Herzen: I think, you know, seaweed as a nutraceutical has been absolutely amazing. I just finished meeting with some researchers in Europe that have studied the effects of seaweed for many diseases. One study I saw in the US that was about Asia showed, of course, on a country wide basis about seven times less breast cancer in countries like Thailand and Japan. And furthermore, in a mouse model for breast cancer, they observed 10 to 20 times lower tumour incidents and breast cancer. When a small amount of seaweed was added to the water supply of these mice and that was very substantial because otherwise the diets were identical. And so they were able to reproduce this cancer effectiveness with the seaweed.
Brian von Herzen: And as the oceans warm, 93 percent of global warming is going into the oceans. We create this stratified layer of water and that forms a barrier to the upwelling that provides nutrients to algae. And so the normal amount of offshore winds would normally bring the water up to the surface and cause the overturning circulation and enable the seaweed to grow. And that gets shut down when the ocean gets too warm.
Brian von Herzen: We look to the tropics to use marine solar energy, also waves in the ocean and even the wind energy in the higher latitudes to restore overturning circulation. We have pipes that come up from below the thermic line. We can provide up to a million cubic meters of seawater per day to a larger seaweed permaculture and effectively enable the irrigation. Twelve months a year of seaweed for us and enable it to grow at least as much as it did under natural conditions.
Brian von Herzen: Yes, marine permaculture irrigation is a new product for an existing market. It’s over a 10 billion dollar industry already in Asia and we see huge opportunities to develop these technologies further for regions of Europe, including the Mediterranean, including the Tropic Atlantic and tropical and subtropical Pacific Oceans.
Brian von Herzen: Well, I think there’s a key opportunity and that is developing new product for existing industries, and that’s one reason we’ve been doing a lot of work, irrigation and seaweed farms. But beyond that, we’re looking at a 350 billion dollar agricultural input market, a 600 billion dollar nutraceutical market and an 800 billion dollar cosmetics market. And seaweed has a central role to play in all of those. We find time and again we are supply limited as to how much kelp, how much red seaweed we can actually produce. There’s a global shortage of Kappaphycus seaweed, for example, and the prices have doubled over the last year or two.
Koen van Seijen: What do you see as the biggest risk?
Brian von Herzen: Well, in the Americas today and perhaps in Europe as well, there are some regions near shore that occasionally have harmful algal blooms. And if there were harmful algal blooms already occurring, then marine permaculture upwelling operation could potentially exacerbate those. So we need to monitor for the presence or growth of harmful algal blooms upstream and then monitor downstream as well. And if there’s a situation where there’s an exacerbation or something, our problem is getting worse, then the marine permaculture can be turned off and then that would remove the increase of the harmful algal bloom.
Brian von Herzen: So we see this as a big opportunity in the fact that seaweed as an organic feed supplement at a level of one to 10 percent of the the feed is able to eliminate most of the entire emissions of ruminant livestock is extremely significant.
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