Marine biological laboratory tests first tropical seaweed farm in Puerto Rico

David Bailey and Loretta Roberson at a seaweed farm
David Bailey (left) of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Loretta Roberson of the Marine Biological Laboratory prepare to dive on the seaweed farm site off Puerto Rico. Divers will conduct frequent ecological monitoring and routine gear assessments throughout the course of the project.

Ateam of researchers led by Loretta Roberson, associate scientist at the University of Chicago-affiliated Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, has installed the first seaweed farm in Puerto Rico and U.S. tropical waters.

The farm is intended to test a system for offshore cultivation of tropical seaweeds to support large-scale production of biomass for biofuels and other products.

“Puerto Rico has stable warm temperatures and ample sunlight year-round, as well as a wide range of exposure to prevailing winds and waves,” said Roberson, the lead principal investigator on this research effort. “These conditions make its southern coastline an ideal test bed for exploring how environmental conditions influence the biological, physiological, and chemical properties of cultivated macroalgae, as well as the impact of seaweed farms on the surrounding environment.”

Additional farms are being tested in Florida and Belize to assess how easy it is to scale up the size of farm operations.

Scientists are interested in seaweed farms because such farms may be able to reduce ocean acidification by pulling carbon dioxide out of the water, as well as pollutants like excess nitrogen and phosphorus from agricultural runoff.

UChicago News, 21 May 2021. Full article.

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