Focus: Water Resources
Location: Branford, Connecticut
Bren Smith of the Thimble Island Oyster Company started his innovative ocean-farming project after having his shellfish crops destroyed in two consecutive years—first in 2011 from Tropical Storm Irene and then again in 2012 from Superstorm Sandy. Now, instead of falling prey to vicious storm surges, his vertical ocean farms work to buffer against them while improving the ocean ecosystem in myriad other ways.
Thimble Island Oysters’ 40-acre farm makes full use of the water column, suspending oyster and clam cages below anchored lines that themselves grow seaweed and mussels. These “3D” ocean farming setups create artificial reefs that serve as a home for over a hundred varieties of Long Island Sound fish. Additionally, the kelp acts as a carbon sink. Just twenty acres of kelp removes 134 tons of carbon from the atmosphere annually and shellfish and seaweed contribute in a similar fashion to improved water quality, soaking up excess nitrogen from fertilizer runoff that contributes to algal blooms and dead zones in the Sound. Smith then turns a portion of the kelp crop into liquid fertilizer for terrestrial organic farms, creating a partial closed loop in the nitrogen cycle.
Another portion of the kelp and mollusks grown on these vertical farms has been sold to high-scale restaurants in New York City. Smith advocates “eating what fish eat,” citing the nutritional benefits of the calcium, protein, and omega-3 oils in kelp. Currently, Thimble Island Oyster Company is developing kelp-based biofuels that they tout as zero-input. They also prepare Connecticut students to work in the ocean farming industry by learning how to farm and process kelp through their side program, Project Green Wave, and the Yale Sustainable Food Project . Smith and his team plan to be the catalyst for a new “blue-green economy” that harvests the massive potential of the ocean in order to supplement the land’s limited resources.
Environmental Impact: Preserved biodiversity, reduced CO2 emissions & organic aquaculture
Measurement: Thimble Island Oyster Company
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