This project has two (2) overarching research objectives supported by four (4) strategies:
1) Conduct a spatiotemporal analysis of nutrient availability and crop characteristics for kelp farms in Casco Bay
a. Characterize relationships between observed nitrogen availability and the morphological characteristics of kelp on existing kelp farms in Casco Bay
b. Model spatial and temporal variability in bioavailable nitrogen throughout Casco Bay
2) Generate siting and harvesting recommendations for current and prospective kelp farmers
a. Explain how nitrogen incorporated into kelp tissue over a growing season compares to nitrogen dynamics both observed at specific sites and projected throughout the bay
b. Summarize observations about environmental conditions that support peak biomass or other desirable characteristics of kelp
The purpose of this project is to support value-added siting of kelp farms. Despite its popularity in eastern Asia, kelp farming is relatively new to the United States. In 2009 the first kelp farm was launched in the coastal waters of southern Maine. During the past 10 years, the number of kelp farmers in the state has risen from a handful to dozens but decisions regarding where to site kelp farms are still somewhat haphazard. Farmers currently take into account parameters like access to the coast, potential user conflicts, benthic composition, depth, and wave exposure, but very few, if any, are equipped with the instruments or methodology that allows them to consider the role that nutrients play in the growth and composition of their kelp. This is akin to a terrestrial farmer not knowing the nutrient composition of their soil or the fertilizing regime applied to their crop. Although not a plant, kelp is a primary producer and thus it requires ample amounts of nitrogen to produce biomass via photosynthesis.
Approximately 35 limited purpose licenses or standard leases for kelp aquaculture in Casco Bay have already been approved by the Department of Marine Resources. This is the highest density of farms in Maine and, likely, the entire United States. As such, a spatiotemporal analysis of coastal nitrogen data for Casco Bay will provide a large group of kelp farmers with substantially more knowledge about how the Bay’s nitrogen varies in space and time. These patterns in nitrogen dynamics can then be compared to observations of morphology and kelp growth at specific farms in the Bay to shed light on how farmers might increase net farm income through informed siting or harvesting. Results from this effort will also help to validate the ecosystem services offered by kelp farms (i.e. improved coastal water quality for fisheries and recreation). This information can be used by kelp farmers to promote the sustainability of their activities and influence future initiatives or policy around kelp farming activities.
During the first 6 months of this project I have been compiling and formatting my collected water, morphology, biomass, and tissue composition data so that it I can preform statistical analyses on it. I have begun this analysis but do not have any final results to report at this time.
Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary
January 9 – 11th, 2019 I will share news of project and progress with aquatic farmers from across New England via one-on-one discussion and presentation at the Northeast Aquaculture Conference and Exposition in Boston, MA.