Bren Smith wasn’t always an eco-avenger. The Canadian expat started his professional life as a commercial fisherman catching crab and cod off the coasts of Alaska and New England. But then wild fish populations waned. Smith knew that something had to change; there had to be a more sustainable way to earn from the ocean. He first turned to oyster farming, leasing some shellfish beds in Connecticut, which were promptly devastated by hurricanes Irene and Sandy. So Smith tried something unorthodox: He went vertical, lifting his farming operation six feet up off the seabed.
Inspired by research on kelp farming from Dr. Charles Yarish, he attached a grid of ropes to bobbing buoys, held in place by hurricane-proof anchors. The ropes hold all of Smith’s crops, each of which was picked for its ecological benefits. There’s sugar kelp, which absorbs carbon dioxide and crates of shellfish like oysters, mussels and scallops, which filter nitrogen out of the water. Add those ocean-friendly attributes to the fact that the farms don’t require any fertilizer or extra water or pesticides, and you get an operation that’s not just carbon neutral but one that actually has a negative carbon footprint.
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Smith plans on aiding in the creation of five new vertical ocean farms a year for the next five years in New England—nine are already in the works. He will support the new farms by buying 80-percent of their kelp crops at a premium cost for the first five years. His non-profit, GreenWave, which recently received a $100,000 grant from the Buckminster Fuller Institute, will also help train new farmers.