Sun | Jun 20, 2021

Earth Today | Seaweed farming bid gets thumbs up from academia, business interest

Published:Thursday | June 3, 2021 | 12:07 AM
Eleanor Jones
Eleanor Jones
Nicholas Kee
Nicholas Kee
Professor Michael Taylor.
Professor Michael Taylor.
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THE MOVE by a young Jamaican to explore seaweed farming as an alternative livelihood option for fishers and a storehouse for carbon dioxide has got the nod from local players in academia and the private sector.

Nicholas Kee, 26, co-founder of Next-Gen Creators and a Prime Minister Youth Awardee, said he was inspired to look at seaweed farming, given what he felt has been a largely defensive approach to blunting climate change impacts on the Caribbean.

“Generally, we have been experiencing the ill effects of climate change. I have been on a lot of committees and been in policy advisory roles to explore regulations and high-level work going on in the Caribbean. It felt a bit defensive instead of offensive,” he told The Gleaner.

Fuelled by the warming of the planet, climate change risks to the region include sea level rise and extreme weather events, such as hurricanes and droughts. They, in turn, threaten livelihoods, including fishing and tourism, as well as food and water security and public health.

“Climate change in the Caribbean context requires a strong mitigation as well as an unavoidable adaptation agenda. The kind of project, from what I read, addresses both. It seems to be going after the storage of greenhouse gas emissions and using a kind of nature-based solution which is good,” said Professor Michael Taylor, dean of the Faculty of Science and Technology at The University of the West Indies, of Kee’s efforts.

Taylor is also a celebrated climate scientist, who has been engaged with the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, including the special report on 1.5 degrees Celsius of global warming for which he was a lead author.

“At the same time, it is approaching it from an adaptation point of view in that adaptation to climate change also requires new livelihood options as well as one of the areas we overlook often: new innovative and creative solutions. Climate change, inasmuch as it represents a challenge, also represents an opportunity for innovation, for creativity, for new technologies. And what we badly need in the region is these kinds of things – innovation, technology and creativity that are home-grown, contextual, and which look at solutions to problems that we have. I don’t think we have enough of those types of things,” he added.

TECH SUPPORT

Kee, supported by a team with backgrounds in the environmental sciences and project management, has secured the collaboration of a local foundation that is providing the acreage to grow the seaweed of choice – sea moss – and technical inputs to refine the proposal for submission to the National Environment and Planning Agency for approval.

Seaweed, according to a growing body of research, is good not only as a climate change solution, but also as feed for animals, among other things. Kee is intent on exploiting those benefits for which he has also been given the thumbs up by Eleanor Jones, chairman and chief executive officer for Environmental Solutions Limited.

“As we speak about climate change and what it is going to do to fisherfolk, coastal communities and a number of other things, we have to look at livelihoods and alternative livelihoods. Certainly for us in Jamaica, our fish catch is diminishing – not only because of overfishing, but also because you are getting warmer waters and you find that fishermen have to go further out and some of them are not equipped. An alternative to fishing is another way of earning money and then growing crops that will absorb carbon will help to mitigate global warming. So he is seeking to achieve two things with the farming of seaweed: alternative livelihoods and generating carbon sequestration. That is very good,” she said.

Jones, also a member of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, was quick to add that such initiatives require grounding in “very sound science and a methodical approach”.

Kee and his team appear intent on satisfying just that requirement, with the plan to undertake a proof of concept ahead of full roll-out. At the same time, even as the technical proposal is subject to refinement, Kee said market research is ongoing.

“We’re doing further market research into the particular species, but generally, it follows the same trend for all other types of seaweed re market size and the market segments: food, feed for animals, fertiliser, fibre, and biofuels and biochar,” he told The Gleaner.

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