In 2019, one charity proposed their new way to offset Australia’s substantial carbon emissions using a miracle substance able to trap carbon 30-50 times faster than trees.
They were talking about seaweed.
Seaweed sequesters about 175 million tonnes of carbon per year, based on research from 2016 by the journal Nature Geoscience. It’s so effective because of its rapid growth and ability to spread out over large distances.
The Intrepid Foundation began “Seaweed: The Regeneration” in 2019 and were inspired by findings in their climate documentary 2040, which pointed to the massive impact seaweed could have.
Since then the project has become an award-winning part of international seaweed regrowth.
This growth is part of what’s called marine permaculture, the sea life that keeps robust ecosystems like the Great Barrier Reef intact.
Following the release of 2040, the foundation raised over $600,000, which was put into funding research at the University of Tasmania and trialling different kinds of marine permaculture off the coast of Storm Bay in South East Tasmania.
The arguable crown jewel of this permaculture growth is a quarter acre plantation in the Western Pacific.
Co-ordinating many of the projects from this funding was CEO of Climate Foundation, Dr Brian Von Herzen, whose work secured further funding and a number of awards.
These include the XPrize for Carbon Removal in April 2022 and, as one of fifteen projects to receive part of a $15 million funding pool, it was the only ocean based project to win.
Dr Von Herzen and his team then went on to win the Singapore Livability Challenge in June of this year, where four investors pledged another $400,000.
The research began by collecting the spores released by the kelp populations that had remained healthy in warmer waters and selectively breeding them in labs to encourage that heat resistance.
From there samples were planted in lines at the foundation’s breeding sites, reaching ten metres within two years. Many pass 300 metres now.
Dr Von Herzen also emphasised the importance of preparing for extreme weather events like cyclones and the coming El Nino.
“We actually experienced a category-five tropical cyclone a year ago in Cebu, we lowered the [seaweed] platform five metres below the surface before the storm,” he said.
“The platform not only survived intact, but most of the seaweed was still on it after the hurricane. We were growing seaweed the day after the hurricane, and a few months later, we actually handed out a quarter ton of seedlings to our neighbouring communities so they could restart their farms.”
That same hurricane wiped out 99 per cent of all the seaweed farms in the Central Philippines, which is one of 20 they get on average each year.
“You can just imagine it’s like a bowling ball running through and knocking down pins. And if you’re in the wrong place, your seaweed farm is going to get wiped out,” Dr Von Herzen said.
The foundation has since partnered with government and academic projects like the Blue Economy Cooperative Research Centre and Deakin University’s Blue Carbon Lab (BCL).
“The Intrepid Foundation was able to fund research into Australia’s first marine permaculture platform to create healthy seaweed forests that assist with regenerating life in the ocean,” said Brett Mitchell, the Managing Director of the Intrepid Foundation.
“[We have] built on this climate action momentum by supporting another innovative climate initiative led by Blue Carbon Lab to help restore and protect blue carbon in coastal wetlands to help mitigate climate change.”
Collaborations with Deakin’s BCL helped push community projects aiming to restore the wetlands at Victoria’s Swan Bay, Truganina Wetland and Point Lillias.
Dr Melissa Wartman of the BCL emphasised how vital these projects have been in maintaining records for the health of the region.
“It’s also an educational project, teaching [these communities] why those environments are so important, all while collecting data,” said Dr Wartman.