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Carbon capture and ocean acidification mitigation potential by seaweed farms in tropical and subtropical coastal environments

Fisherman pulling up sugar kelp. Seaweed cultivation may be one avenue for marine carbon dioxide removal and mitigating ocean acidification. Credit: GreenWave/Ron Gautreau.

Award amount: $1,451,575
Duration: 3 years
Funding agency: NOAA Ocean Acidification Program (OAP), National Oceanographic Partnership Program (NOPP)

Why we care
Growing seaweed in the ocean could be one way to alleviate some of the impacts by climate change and ocean acidification. We need to know how much carbon can be captured by cultivated seaweed and the potential benefits and risks to species and communities such as shellfish and corals that are susceptible to acidification.

What we will do
This project will explore the carbon capture capacity and ocean acidification mitigation in three operational seaweed farms in Florida and Okinawa, Japan. At the two smaller study sites, co-culturing of seaweed with shellfish and corals offers opportunities to assess the additive co-benefits of these combined activities, which could strengthen ecosystem resilience. The study sites in Japan are larger than any seaweed farms in the US, and studies here will help identify the risks and benefits of seaweed farming at scale. Researchers will use a state-of-the-art monitoring program with ocean sensors as well as reference-quality measurements. Drifting ocean sensors will measure water flow across the seaweed farms, which affects the productivity and the amount of carbon absorbed. Numerical modeling will elucidate the capacity of seaweed to absorb carbon under a range of different conditions. By comparing these estimates based on seawater chemistry and physics to the amount of seaweed harvested and exported each year, we can identify carbon capture efficiency to different aspects of the seaweed cultivation. 

Benefits of our work
“Learning more about its carbon uptake capacity and ocean acidification mitigation potential is an important endeavor in the context of marine carbon dioxide removal”, says principal investigator Dr. Andreas Andersson of Scripps Institution of Oceanography. “Seaweed cultivation offers many potential benefits to both marine and human communities. It has a rich history in many Asian countries with an extensive knowledge base of best practices and potential environmental impacts.” This project tests how well carbon capture and ocean acidification mitigation can be measured in seaweed farms and if these operations capture carbon and mitigate ocean acidification on different scales. Counteracting ocean acidification is one benefit of seaweed cultivation. This is especially good news for marine ecosystems and species that are sensitive to acidification, like coral reefs and shellfish. Additionally, when seaweed is grown alongside other aquatic activities like fish farming or coral restoration, it can create a positive environment for those activities because the seaweed helps keep the water less acidic and more suitable for marine life. The scale of the larger seaweed farms from Japan in this study exceeds any current farms in the U.S and provides a realistic and rigorous perspective of what is required in terms of space and infrastructure to meet certain carbon capture or local mitigation of ocean acidification goals. Since seaweed farming has a long history in Japan, lessons learned by Japanese seaweed cultivators will be invaluable to U.S. counterparts for adaptation, expansion, and advancement of seaweed cultivation in the U.S. This also can help support the development and implementation of permitting and regulatory frameworks in the U.S. 

Andreas Andersson, Scripps Institution of Oceanography
Satoshi Mitarai, Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST)
Loretta Roberson, University of Chicago Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL)
Reggie Spaulding, Sunburst Sensors
Adrienne Sutton, NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Lab

Read the news release from the University of Chicago Marine Biological Laboratory

Image: Fisherman pulling up sugar kelp. Seaweed cultivation may be one avenue for marine carbon dioxide removal and mitigating ocean acidification. Credit: GreenWave/Ron Gautreau.

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The NOAA Ocean Acidification Program (OAP) works to prepare society to adapt to the consequences of ocean acidification and conserve marine ecosystems as acidification occurs. Learn more about the human connections and adaptation strategies from these efforts.

Adaptation approaches fostered by the OAP include:


Using models and research to understand the sensitivity of organisms and ecosystems to ocean acidification to make predictions about the future, allowing communities and industries to prepare


Using these models and predictions as tools to facilitate management strategies that will protect marine resources and communities from future changes


Developing innovative tools to help monitor ocean acidification and mitigate changing ocean chemistry locally


On the Road

Drive fuel-efficient vehicles or choose public transportation. Choose your bike or walk! Don't sit idle for more than 30 seconds. Keep your tires properly inflated.

With your Food Choices

Eat local- this helps cut down on production and transport! Reduce your meat and dairy. Compost to avoid food waste ending up in the landfill

With your Food Choices

Make energy-efficient choices for your appliances and lighting. Heat and cool efficiently! Change your air filters and program your thermostat, seal and insulate your home, and support clean energy sources

By Reducing Coastal Acidification

Reduce your use of fertilizers, Improve sewage treatment and run off, and Protect and restore coastal habitats

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You've taken the first step to learn more about ocean acidification - why not spread this knowledge to your community?

Every community has their unique culture, economy and ecology and what’s at stake from ocean acidification may be different depending on where you live.  As a community member, you can take a larger role in educating the public about ocean acidification. Creating awareness is the first step to taking action.  As communities gain traction, neighboring regions that share marine resources can build larger coalitions to address ocean acidification.  Here are some ideas to get started:

  1. Work with informal educators, such as aquarium outreach programs and local non-profits, to teach the public about ocean acidification. Visit our Education & Outreach page to find the newest tools!
  2. Participate in habitat restoration efforts to restore habitats that help mitigate the effects of coastal acidification
  3. Facilitate conversations with local businesses that might be affected by ocean acidification, building a plan for the future.
  4. Partner with local community efforts to mitigate the driver behind ocean acidification  – excess CO2 – such as community supported agriculture, bike & car shares and other public transportation options.
  5. Contact your regional Coastal Acidification Network (CAN) to learn how OA is affecting your region and more ideas about how you can get involved in your community
       More for Taking Community Action