Seaweed scientist tackles climate change

One of the world’s leading scientific publishers has named a paper co-written by a NIWA scientist as one of 250 ground-breaking findings that could “help change the world”. Springer, a US-based company, selected 250 published scientific findings across all disciplines in an initiative called Change the World, One Article at a Time.

The paper selected was by Dr Wendy Nelson, a principal scientist at NIWA in Wellington, who co-authored a paper that explores the potential of commercial seaweed farming in mitigating global carbon dioxide levels, a key greenhouse gas.

Dr Nelson is part of a group of experts raising interest in what has become known as “blue carbon”, which is carbon stored and sequestered in coastal ecosystems such as mangrove forests, seagrass meadows, saltmarshes and seaweed beds. These marine ecosystems are capable of storing up to 10 times the amount of carbon as the same area of land-based forests.

Dr Nelson said the paper tackled whether it would be possible to develop more seaweed aquaculture to mitigate the impacts of ocean acidification and the potential for converting their biomass to biofuel.

Seaweeds are harvested for use as food, feed for aquaculture, fertiliser for agriculture, and in industrial and pharmaceutical applications. The industry is well-established in several Asian countries but is in its infancy in New Zealand and Australia. While the paper focused on the potential of fleshy algae for these uses, Dr Nelson says that coralline algal beds were also slowly being recognised as having a key role in our changing climate. Large beds recently discovered in the Kermadecs could be very important.

“We need to consider the fate of carbon being absorbed by marine systems. How we protect the marine environment to maintain these ecosystems is an exciting area of research,” she said.

The paper is available online: Carbon dioxide mitigation potential of seaweed aquaculture beds (SABs)

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