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Marine Permaculture

The number of creatures in a kelp ecosystem is extraordinary. Corallines, a branching coral like seaweed, may incrust every frond and leaf; cuttlefish dart in and out; multicolored ascidia, tiny invertebrate filter feeders, dot and cling to the waving leaves. On flat surfaces you find sea snails, limpets, mollusks, and bivalves. Permeating this undulating landscape, attached or unattached, you may find krill, shrimp, barnacles, woodlice, cuttlefish, and crabs. Sea urchins will be gnawing away at the stems, and wolf eels, starfish, and triggerfish will feed on them. Among them all will be tiny forage fish, the smelt, halfbeaks, and silversides. And circling the waters around the dense kelp growth, shimmering game fish will feed on the prey fish.

Once a systems engineering consultant, Brian Von Herzen now devotes his life to reversing global warming by increasing the primary production of oceans, using kelp. Primary production is the creation of organic compounds from carbon dioxide through photosynthesis.

Oceans face a dire situation. They absorb half of the carbon dioxide recaptured from the atmosphere, which causes acidification, and over 90 percent of the heat from global warming. Ocean deserts are expanding. Von Herzen wants to restore marine life in subtropical waters with thousands of new kelp forests—what he calls marine permaculture.

The key technology involves marine permaculture arrays (MPAs), lightweight latticed structures roughly half a square mile in size, submerged 80 feet below sea level, to which kelp can attach. Attached buoys rise and fall with the waves, powering pumps that bring up colder, nutrient-rich waters from far below. Kelp soak up the nutrients and grow, establishing a trophic pyramid rich in plant and animal life.

Plants that are not consumed die off and drop into the deep sea, sequestering carbon for centuries in the form of dissolved carbon and carbonates. Floating kelp forests could sequester billions of tons of carbon dioxide, while providing food, feed, fertilizer, fiber, and biofuels to the world.

Technical summaries for each solution will be available May 1, 2017.

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