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Sugar Kelp Farming: Benefit Our Climate, Our Water And Ourselves

Presently, there are kelp growers located in Great South Bay, Moriches Bay, Lake Montauk, Peconic Bay, Oyster Bay, and Setauket Harbor. (Photo: Courtesy of Lazy Point Farms)

For those of you unfamiliar with sugar kelp farming, be prepared to be amazed by the benefits to what most of just think of as that slimy stuff in the water, and/or trying to avoid it wrapping around our ankles! Kelp, being a "type of large, brown seaweed that grows in shallow, nutrient-rich saltwater near coastal fronts" has become the new star for climatic, nutritional and other uses producing tremendous benefits.

Lazy Point Farms (LPF) has created what is both a logical and forward-thinking initiative "To provide the structural, educational, and logistical support needed to advance the future of sugar kelp farming on Long Island." Further, "Whether you are an aspiring kelp farmer, an existing shellfish grower, or someone in the industry who is looking to use local kelp," LPF wants to connect with you.

Justin and Wendy Moore of Amagansett (and formerly Brooklyn) run the Moore Family Charitable Foundation, founded in 2019. Their mission, "We create projects that ignite positive change, and provide resources and support that lead to a sustainable and thriving farmer-driven kelp industry in New York State." LPF is one of three projects that has been launched. The couple have currently found themselves in California and working remotely.

LPF has indicated that "Most growers are also shellfish farmers. Long Island growers cultivate eastern oysters for the half shell market, and sugar kelp can be grown on the same leases that growers hold for shellfish." As an additional crop it is welcomed by many growers and one that requires far less handling than shellfish.

"LPF kelp seed spools are cultivated by Cornell Cooperative Extension in Southold and Hart Lobster in their West Sayville shellfish hatchery. Growers transfer seed spools to their grow-out lines in December where they remain until the May-June harvest."

Mature kelp plants produce spores on the fronds in late fall in Long Island waters. The spores are attached to cotton lines around PVC spools and grow out from there. After about five weeks of cultivation under controlled conditions, the seed spools are ready to be deployed to open water.

The Moores explain their involvement in sugar kelp farming as, "We really got going in the spring of 2020 - we connected with David Berg, whose work with the Long Island Nitrogen Action Plan (LINAP) has been instrumental. The LINAP work was funded by New York State to reduce the excess nitrogen entering our groundwater and bays that degrades water quality. Part of that work was the recognition that shellfish and seaweed remove nitrogen - referred to as 'bioextraction.'''

Continuing, "Long Island already has a robust shellfish industry, but not seaweed. It was during last May's Bioextraction Initiative sugar kelp harvest that we really engaged. At the same time we also connected with Matt Welling, an oyster grower working with Michael Doall, a researcher at Stony Brook who had done similar work the year before. We also met Stephen Schott, a Cornell Cooperative Extension marine plants expert who has been super helpful. We spent the summer creating plans to help support a group of growers, towns, and NGOS who were interested in growing. We now have two dozen lines in the water managed by 11 growers. We quickly learned that the aquaculture expertise and experience is already alive and well on Long Island - it's our goal to build on that interest and expertise so that Long Island can own this incredible opportunity."

Presently, those growers are located in Great South Bay, Moriches Bay, Lake Montauk, Peconic Bay, Oyster Bay, and Setauket Harbor. The Moores relayed, "Efforts this year are pilot projects designed to collect information that will be used to improve cultivation methods, identify ideal growing conditions, and provide kelp that processors can use to perfect their methods. The information will help launch the industry."

Commenting on the differences between West and East Coast sugar kelp farming, the Moores explained, "The West Coast industry is relatively small and located in the northwest and Alaska - they have different kelp species. The market for fresh kelp is local, so we have access to the New York metro area. There is also a desire by consumers to buy locally produced foods - farm to table - and to support our farmers. New York, like most states, permits only local species to be cultivated in our waters, so New York growers cultivate sugar kelp. The growth of seaweed cultivation and markets is good for the industry on all our coasts."

The Moores advised some of the benefits of sugar kelp farming include: "Kelp requires the nitrogen, phosphorus, and minerals naturally found in marine waters. Most coastal waters, however, have an excess of these nutrients, especially nitrogen. Kelp absorbs excess nitrogen and helps mitigate the water quality degradation that leads to algal blooms, low oxygen, and declining marine life. Kelp utilizes the CO2 that is dissolved in marine waters from the atmosphere. Reducing CO2 helps mitigate climate change and the ocean acidification caused by excessive CO2. Controlling acidification is critically important to shellfish whose calcareous shells require 'normal' pH.' Cultivating kelp in open waters requires no chemical, feed, or other inputs. It creates habitat for a variety of small fish, crustaceans, and other marine organisms. It's 'environmentally sustainable' as it meets a resource need of current and future generations without compromising the health of the ecosystem that provides it. Sugar kelp can be eaten fresh in salads. It can be been blanched, cut into strips and served as a healthy pasta substitute. Kelp can be added to spices to enhance flavors or made into a paste to enrich sauces. Just harvested kelp can be delivered fresh, blanched and vacuum packed, fresh frozen, or dried. Kelp has been included in a variety of animal and fish feeds. When incorporated into cattle feed, it is known to reduce their methane emissions by as much as 80%. Brown seaweeds like kelp have been used in cosmetics, particularly facial creams. Biochemicals extracted from kelp have properties that are interesting to pharmaceutical companies and food manufacturers. Fibers extracted from kelp may be used as a substitute for synthetic fibers in the manufacture of fabrics. Some have successfully utilized it in the fabrication of biodegradable packaging."

The Moores expressed their commitment as, "Kelp has a variety of end uses and allows current oyster growers to expand what they're growing and harvesting on the same footprint. There is incredible interest and enthusiasm amongst growers and end users and we're humbled and honored to build on that excitement."

For more information, go to www.mooregood.org.

Eileen Casey spent many years working in the television and music industries in New York City on the "ABC In Concert" weekly series, as well as several prime time network and cable television specials. An award-winning journalist, editor, and artist, and former Editor-in-Chief of Hamptons.com, she enjoys staying warm in Charleston and cool in the Hamptons.

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