About Marine Agronomy !

Marine agronomy (MA) can be defined as the farming of seaweeds in the ocean for human food, animal feed, fiber, bioenergy, and useful chemicals.  The focus on seaweeds, as well as all of the products they can provide, distinguishes MA from typical aquaculture, which is mainly based on animal products for human consumption.  We believe this breadth of focus and products is important in moving aquaculture from a small-scale food production system to one that is comparable to other agriculture systems in its scope and value to humans.

Aquaculture today produces about 60 million tons of animal crops and 18 million tons of seaweeds for human uses.  This equates to only 1% of all of the tons of food produced worldwide in 2010.  While current seafood production is sourced from fisheries and aquaculture (about 50% each), total seafood production only accounts for about 15% of the animal products in our diet and much less of our total food needs.  We believe that to move aquaculture to a new level of importance, we must focus on seaweeds, which produce biomass from sunlight and nutrients in the ocean.  Our near term goal is to produce 500 million tons (dry weight) of seaweed annually.  In particular, we focus on expanding MA in the United States, where seaweed culture is in its infancy, in comparison with Asia.

Five hundred million tons of seaweed could produce 50 million tons of protein to be used in animal feeds, especially for aquatic animals in aquaculture systems.  It could produce approximately 15 million tons of algae oil, while removing 10 million tons of nitrogen, 1 million tons of phosphorus, and 135 million tons of carbon from the oceans.  It could produce the bioenergy potential of 1.25 billion megawatt hours, spare approximately 100,000 square kilometers of land from agricultural production, and save about 500 cubic kilometers of fresh water from agricultural use each year. Some of the 500 million tons could also be eaten directly as 'sea vegetables' in dishes such as pizza and salad thus supplementing our present food supply and improving its healthfulness.  These impressive statistics indicate that the MA system can be extremely productive, compliment agriculture in products, utilize surplus nutrients that are discharged in the ocean, and consume no fresh water.  It is this combination that makes MA particularly attractive.

In order to reach our goal of 500 million tons of seaweeds by 2050, there are three major constraints where research and development is necessary.  These are:

  1. zoning of the open-ocean areas and resolution of conflicts in the use of ocean space ,
  2. technology to produce marine seaweeds on a scale and at a cost that makes the goal financially viable, 
  3. technology to produce usable and affordable food, animal feed, and energy from marine seaweeds. 

These areas have received some research and development, but the entire field is still in its infancy.  In order for MA to move ahead, we need a vigorous pursuit of these development goals.

The earth’s land area will increasingly be burdened beyond its natural capacities by adding 2 billion people by the year 2050.  A consumer driven and expanding middle class will drive demand for food and fiber even higher than today, and there will be constant pressure for economic growth to provide new jobs.  MA could respond to these challenges by producing  biomass that can be used for food, feed, and fuel; reducing burdens on land and fresh water for agriculture; and promoting marine biodiversity, while removing nutrients from the ocean and coastal waters, as well as slowing increases in ocean acidity.  All of this could be accomplished while creating millions of jobs.  We hope the focus of this group will move us toward these goals.