Kelp-ing the Earth: the Octopus seaweed conservation project
From conserving our coasts to protecting the climate, seaweed is vital to our natural world, but thanks to rising sea temperatures, kelp forests are dwindling.
That’s why we’re working with marine biologists Luke Moir & Lauren Rose on a research project to help accelerate kelp reforestation in the UK.
Seaweed: the plant life of the sea (or macroalgae to be precise). To most, the seaweed you’ll find washed up at the beach doesn’t provoke thoughts of a magical undersea world filled with mysterious creatures - not as vividly as our eight legged friend, the octopus might anyway.
But we believe that it’s very special, integral in fact, to life both under the sea and above it. Seaweed, (known as kelp in its biggest form), provides one of the most productive habitats on the planet. Just like trees on land, kelp forests absorb the greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, making them a crucial tool in the fight against climate change. Even better - kelp forests are estimated to capture 20x more carbon dioxide per acre than land forest, rapidly growing by as much as 2ft per day. In choppy seas, the fronds will often break off and take captured carbon deep down to the seafloor, where it could be stored for millenia.
Kelp provides one of the most productive habitats on the planet.
Luke inspects some loose oarweed from a tidal pool to decide if it will be healthy enough to use in the culturing process
This vital part of the ocean ecosystem provides food and safe habitats for fish, seals and other marine creatures, whilst simultaneously protecting coastlines from erosion. There’s value in farming it too, as both a super healthy (and tasty) food source, and a vehicle biofuel, making kelp a key ingredient for sustainability in the future - so it is pretty magical when you think about it.
But like many wonderful and vital parts of nature, global kelp populations have been falling dramatically in recent years, due to a rise in sea temperatures and harmful industrial practices like trawling. Today up to 90% of kelp forests between Canada and Norway have been lost.
That’s where Octopus Energy steps in. We’ve been working in collaboration with marine biologists, Luke Moir and Lauren Rose, with help from our friends at Scarborough Sea Life, on a pilot study to bridge gaps in the research around British kelp reforestation, and assess the potential of large-scale conservation projects in the future.
Our goal is to help kickstart sea kelp conservation in the UK, by developing new research off the English coast. We want to investigate the benefits of sea kelp when grown off our shores, eventually paving the way for larger projects in the future.
Historically kelp studies have lagged behind research in other types of habitat restoration, such as forests on land and other marine habitats. As a relatively new science, focussed on a diverse and complex environment, insight into how kelp can be utilised to protect the climate and marine biodiversity (particularly on the British coast) has been limited - until now.
We’ve collected and cultured native kelp species with the intention of establishing an artificial reef, providing a base for kelp and other marine life to grow. From there we’ll assess the growth rates of the seaweed to determine the amount of CO2 absorbed, and measure any improvements in biodiversity. The process will look something like this…
- Collect and grow our native kelp in the lab - currently in progress
- Spray the artificial reef with cultivated kelp spores.
- Scuba dive to deploy the reef.
- Allow the kelp to grow, attracting more wildlife like fish, seals and seagulls.
- Observe and monitor for around a year to collate our research.
Luke prepares the seaweed to stimulate the release of spores.
Why Octopus and why now?
At Octopus our focus is on making energy greener and cheaper, but we recognise that there’s little point in increasing renewable energy to protect the climate, without protecting the planet’s ecosystem at the same time. Also when it comes to our love for marine life, well - the clues in the name.
Seaweed is by no means the ‘silver bullet’ for environmental issues but it is essential to the ecosystem. By improving research we can pave the way for both conservation and sustainable farming in the future, with benefits on agriculture, biodiversity, climate change initiatives and beyond. There's never been a more urgent time to help protect our oceans, and what better place to start.
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