There are over 11,000 edible plants that grow in the ocean. We only eat a handful of them.
We all love fish and seafood for their omega 3-fatty acids. But what many people may not realize is that fish do not produce Omega 3 themselves. They get it from the food that they eat.
When we eat ocean plants- the things that the fish are eating – we get the same benefits while reducing pressure on global fish stocks.
Global Changes in Agriculture
Our agricultural and food industries are transforming worldwide.
New technology in these industries, along with necessary changes made to minimize the damage that COVID brought to the global food industry, has made a deep impact.
Of course, this is also driven by environmental pressures to make more sustainable choices in how we grow and farm our food. Pressures like soil degradation, freshwater usage, and transformation of natural habitats into farmland have led many to consider the long-term impacts on our ecosystem and potential alternatives.
More and more, communities are considering ocean farming a sustainable solution to some of these pain points.
In 2020, Forbes wrote, “Currently, 11% of the world’s land area is used for crop production. However, this is only 3% of the entire globe’s surface area. Now, an exciting new frontier for agriculture is opening up 70% of the world’s surface that has not traditionally been used for crops – the ocean.”
How Regenerative Ocean Farming Works
Ocean farming is the growing of native ocean plants, like seaweed (often alongside scallops, mussels, oysters, and clams) in the ocean.
Organizations like, GreenWave promote a 3D structure. This structure uses a method called “vertical ocean gardens” in which ropes are hung vertically in the water. Seaweed is grown on some of these ropes, and mussels and scallop cages are interspersed on others. Both are situated above clam and oyster cages that sit on the ocean floor. The clear benefit of vertical gardening is the high production of sea plants and seafood in comparatively small areas.
In his book Eat Like a Fish, Bren Smith shares his experience moving from a worker in the industrial fishing industry to becoming an ocean farmer.
In his own ocean farm, Bren generates 25 tons of greens and 250,000 shellfish per acre every five months. He wrote of it, “If you were to create a network of our ocean farms totaling the size of Washington state, you could feed the planet.”
In other areas, like China, Indonesia, The Philippines, Norway, and Canada, seaweed farms are gaining popularity, as well. Different structures and methods are used, but the results are similar across the board – zero-input and bountiful output.
Ocean Farming and the Environment
Ocean farming requires zero inputs. It does not need fresh water, and the plants do not need to be manually fed. All of this makes it very affordable and highly sustainable.
When done correctly, it does not harm the oceans at all. The creation of these small ecosystems is highly beneficial. Seaweed absorbs carbon dioxide from the ocean around it. Oysters pull nitrogen from the water – up to 50 gallons a day. Other bivalves, like clams and mussels, also filter water by feeding on microplankton, microorganisms, and detritus (waste or debris in the water).
Ocean farms can also serve as surge protectors by breaking up waves to reduce the impacts of storms, hurricanes, and tides. And they can serve as artificial reefs by attracting other aquatic life and creating extremely biodiverse ecosystems. In this way, ocean farming can take barren acres of ocean and create thriving ecological communities.
Health Benefits of Ocean Vegetables
Most of us are aware of the health benefits of fresh seafood. It’s a good source of protein and has been connected to improvements in the brain, cardiovascular, and eye health.
We may, however, be less familiar with the overwhelming benefits of sea vegetables.
Not only do plants like seaweed contain generous amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, but they also provide fiber, essential amino acids, and a variety of vitamins. For example, seaweed contains Vitamin C doses equivalent to orange juice and more calcium than milk.
Sea plants are high in iodine – essential for thyroid health and hormone regulation- rich in iron and packed full of anti-inflammatory polysaccharides. They are immune-supporting and potentially preventative against cancer.
As mentioned above, ocean farming also is zero input, which includes no pesticides or chemicals, so those who eat sea plants can be confident that their food is free of these additives.
Where to Find Ocean Vegetables
Many local stores sell dried seaweed snacks for consumers. However, to truly tap into the variety of sea plants that exist, you should consider trying one of the thousands of other edible plants available.
Not sure where to start on your sea vegetable adventure? Try reading up on some recipes for inspiration! There are dozens of resources online to help you.
What else are sea vegetables used for?
Sea vegetables, though, are not just good for eating. They can be used as fuel, fertilizer, and feed, and a variety of other things.
Sea Vegetables as Feed
There is promising, though preliminary, research that suggests that adding algae to livestock food could reduce methane output by up to 60 percent in cattle and 80 percent in sheep.
The world’s nearly 1.5 billion cattle are a massive source of methane gas emissions, which can be harmful to the environment. Consider the impact on methane gas emissions globally if this new feeding tactic was scaled and implemented worldwide.
Sea Vegetables as Fertilizer
Seaweed can also be converted into fertilizer.
Like most organic materials, seaweed is good for soil structure. It’s rich in beneficial nutrients and minerals for both the soil and the plants growing in it. One such addition to the soil is that of carbon. It increases plant growth, nutrient retention, water absorption, and pest resistance.
Rattan Lal, a leading soil expert, has calculated that “a mere 2 percent increase in the carbon content of the planet’s soils could offset 100 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions [currently] going into the atmosphere.”
Incorporating seaweed into common farm fertilizers could help reverse soil degradation. Not only that, runoff from these types of fertilizers is environmentally friendly.
Sea Vegetables as a Plastic Alternative
Sea vegetables can also be used as a sustainable alternative to plastic. Turning seaweed into biodegradable straws, bowls, and packaging has been proven as a cost-effective substitute for traditionally manufactured plastic.
Ocean farming has wildly beneficial implications for the environment. It also opens a whole new world of nutrient-rich, sustainable food options for those trying to make better choices.
There are thousands of edible vegetables in the sea and even more possibilities. I encourage you to do research, take a look around you, pick a recipe, and give it a try!