Working to unlock the ocean’s own potential to address climate issues and the growing food sourcing problem, by understanding and supporting the ocean's own needs.

The Challenge: To live in harmony with the world beneath

Oceans are often categorized as victims of warming, acidification, pollution, and vanishing species and habitats. Alternatively, they instill fear as rising sea levels threaten lives and livelihoods. Much less attention and even fewer resources have been focused on the ocean’s own formidable potential to address these issues.

Every year, our oceans absorb some 90% of the excess heat caused by greenhouse gas emissions and 30% of the world’s atmospheric carbon dioxide. To continue in this leading role, the ocean needs additional support. This will generate exceptional returns.

Aquaculture is a rapidly growing sector, crucial to ensuring global food security and nutritional needs. Yet, today’s fish cultivation in oceans and lake systems has many environmental drawbacks, like the release of excess nutrients, antibiotics and invasive species. Rising social and economic inequalities facing coastal communities in many regions, also need to be considered.

Regenerative ocean farming offers a powerful solution to addressing these challenges. It is based on how aquatic ecosystems function locally and in general, mixing a diversity of species in the cultivation system. If designed properly, it could help mitigate climate change, improve water quality, and create habitats for an array of aquatic organisms.

Seaweed, increasingly in focus as a nutritional source, is a renewable but not infinite resource. Without an understanding of its ecological context, and a significant supply of sustainably cultivated seaweeds, expanding markets will rely on wild harvests, which will deplete, rather than restore the oceans.

Harvesting oysters on a regenerative ocean farm off the coast of Connecticut. Photo: Mathew Novak

GreenWave, a Connecticut-based non-profit organization, works to develop a regenerative ocean farming model to sequester carbon, rebuild marine ecosystems and create viable, sustainable economic activity in coastal communities hard hit by climate change.

GreenWave was co-founded in 2014 by Emily Stengel and Bren Smith, director and owner of Thimble Island Ocean Farm. He is a pioneer of regenerative ocean farming and a lifelong commercial fisherman.

The organization collaborates with governments, academic institutions, corporate entities, NGOs, and community partners to achieve its mission. Stakeholders include Patagonia, LIFT Economy, Ocean Rainforest, Blue Ocean Barns, Native Conservancy, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, Port of San Diego, University of Connecticut, NOAA, The Nature Conservancy, and Schmidt Family Foundation.

“Fully implemented, the method can sequester carbon on land and sea, reduce methane production in livestock, rebuild marine ecosystems, enrich soils, and address the global plastics problem”

The Initiative: A user-friendly model for circular ocean farming

GreenWave works to restore marine health and create new job opportunities through regenerative ocean farming of seaweed and shellfish. The organization has developed a model for ocean farming that does not require fertilizers, feed or fresh water, and can be implemented on both small and large scales. The model benefits the surrounding natural ecosystem while also producing seaweed and shellfish that can be used for multiple purposes, from food to fertilizers – making it one of the most sustainable forms of food production on the planet.

These farms sit vertically below the surface, producing high yields with a small footprint, and the model is replicable at fairly low costs. A conservative estimate, based on farms in GreenWave’s network, indicates that a 20-acre farm can produce 60 tons of kelp and 90 tons of shellfish annually. This corresponds to a net value of more than 100,000 USD and has the potential to sequester 10 tons of CO2 and 30 tons of nitrogen a year.

GreenWave employs a “Regenerative Reef” model which is allowed to evolve at its own pace in each new region. A reef includes 25 regenerative ocean farms, a land-based hatchery and processing hub, and a ring of institutional buyers and entrepreneurs developing value-added products.

The organization works to replicate their farming model throughout North America, ensuring that farmers can make a living and that coastal communities have the tools and resources they need to be flexible in the face of climate change and other forms of environmental, social, and economic turbulence. To date, more than 6,000 prospective ocean farmers from every coastal state in the United States and 100 countries around the globe have requested help, proving the growing interest for circular and regenerative aquaculture systems.

GreenWave has set a 10-year goal to support 10,000 ocean farmers and catalyze the planting of one million acres of regenerative ocean farms. Its primary audiences include Indigenous groups and fishing communities directly impacted by climate change.


Photo: Read McKendree
Photo: Read McKendree

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