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Land-based farming presents several problems for the world. In addition to real estate scarcity, the process of spraying chemicals on plants and decades of tilling has forced scientists to seek out alternative cultivation methods. Some individuals claim that the key to sustainable farming practices lies in the ocean. The answer isn’t to farm more fish. Instead, the solution could be in the way fish are farmed in controlled environments.

Q1

The Dark Side of Fish Farming

Aquaculture is a long lost art that originated from ancient Egyptians and Romans. The farming method relies on water to grow specific types of plants that thrive in submerged pens or beds, like kelp and seaweed. You might be familiar with the practice in industrial settings, also known as large-scale fish farming. The practice has a bad reputation for overcrowding fish in tight quarters, while dealing with massive amounts of antibiotics to fuel growth in horrid conditions. Most of the products end up in grocery stores, where they’re turned into fish sticks and unrecognizable seafood patties.

The description above sounds terrible because that’s the reality of industrial seafood farming when animals are involved. “Salmon farming everywhere has repeated too many of the mistakes of industrial farming — including the shrinking of genetic diversity, a disregard for conservation and the global spread of intensive farming methods before their consequences are completely understood,” wrote The New York Times. But what would happen if scientists grew crops with the same tenacity as fish farming?

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Aquaculture to the Rescue

Seaweed and kelp farming have always been around, but it’s only now that organizations are taking the cultivation method seriously. The plants are currently in great demand in the food technology space. Scientists are using the crops to create alternatives for meat, supplements and snacks. When it comes to sustainability, kelp has the ability to soak up five times more carbon compared to land-based plants. Under ideal conditions, it can grow up to 12 feet in three months.

Startups like Greenwave, a group that specializes in robust aquaculture technology, claims that it can produce roughly 30 times more biofuel than soybeans and around five times more than corn, all without touching soil or messing with the natural food chain. The company won the 2015 Fuller Challenge prize for its green contributions to the farming community. “GreenWave is a real example of what Fuller meant when he talked about what one person can do on behalf of humanity,” said Elizabeth Thompson, executive director of the Buckminster Fuller Institute. “We’re looking for ideas that are replicable and verifiable. You have to prove that what you’re proposing is achievable.”

From an environmental perspective, farming in the water is the ultimate loophole to sustainable living. It does not require fresh water or fertilizer. In a way, there’s something ironic about turning to the ocean for solutions to land farming. Conservationists have been consumed with launching projects left and right to save the ocean, when the opposite could hold more weight in the preservation movement. We are the ones that need saving, and the ocean has stepped up to save us from ourselves.

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