For our virtual June chapter meeting, we met with Ben Warner and Dave Mylet, teachers at Tacoma’s IDEA (Industrial Design Engineering and Art) High School, to discuss an exciting idea. These teachers are working with students on a pilot project to see what it would take to set up an ‘ocean garden,’ providing an opportunity for students to learn how to grow, harvest, and sell kelp.

Ocean gardening, also known as 3D ocean farming, involves growing kelp, often alongside shellfish like oysters or mussels, and it has a lot of environmental and economic potential. Kelp can grow incredibly fast, up to a 2 ft in a day in ideal conditions, sequestering carbon at 5 times the rate of terrestrial plants. All that growing requires nutrients, which kelp pulls out of the water, reducing the excess nitrogen and phosphorous that feeds harmful algal blooms and also helping reduce ocean acidification. While growing, it provides essential habitat for tons of marine organisms, and when it’s harvested, it can be turned into food, fertilizer, and even biofuel. A single adult oyster, meanwhile, can filter up to 50 gallons of water in a day, further improving our water quality while providing highly marketable seafood.

Inspired by the work of Brent Smith, founder of Greenwave.org, the students want to figure out what it would take to plant their own ocean garden. Greenwave’s business model indicates that with 20 acres of aquatic land, $50K, and a boat, you can start an ocean farm that will net around $300K a year, which equates to several decent-paying jobs.

The students’ mission and vision statement for their ocean garden project

Right now the project is only just getting started, and the teachers and students are spending their summer break researching what it would take. Permitting is the first and likely most formidable hurdle, as kelp aquaculture in the Pacific Northwest is in its infancy (although Washington SeaGrant has already begun working on it). The students will need to cultivate a network of partnerships to help them with access to the resources and expertise necessary to succeed with their ambitious plan.

If you’re interested in helping out, have any ideas or insight to share, or are just curious, feel free to email us at OlySurfrider@gmail.com, or contact Ben and Dave directly:
Dave Mylet – dmylet@Tacoma.K12.Wa.US
Ben Warner – bwarner@Tacoma.K12.Wa.US

You can watch the recording of Ben and Dave’s presentation below:

The recording of our June meeting with Ben and Dave, teachers at IDEA High School helping students with an ambitious project to explore kelp aquaculture