William Procter Scientific Innovation Fund $100,000 Grant to Support Sustainable Kelp Aquaculture

Walpole, Maine — University of Maine Darling Marine Center is launching a project to enhance the sustainability of kelp aquaculture. With support from the William Procter Scientific Innovation Fund, the two-year research and commercialization project will be based at the Walpole campus and leverage the UMaine Aquaculture Experimental Station sea farm adjacent to DMC.

“Farmers need farm designs that make efficient use of ocean space; designs that shorten the grow-out cycle of kelp and also are decarbonized. And, finally, they need to increase on-farm yields,” said Damian Brady, lead investigator and associate professor in the UMaine School of Marine Sciences. 

UMaine research associate Struan Coleman, working with Brady and Adam St. Gelais at the Darling Marine Center, will use models and on-farm demonstration projects developed specifically for the seaweed sector to tackle these challenges. Seed lines will be deployed at the experimental sea farm adjacent to the DMC and monitored over the course of the growing season. This field trial, together with complementary modeling, will enable the team to explore how costs can be reduced and still enable environmentally sustainable kelp farming.

In partnership with researchers at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, the research team will also investigate shortening the kelp life cycle in nurseries, thereby reducing its carbon footprint and associated costs. The group also will assess the feasibility of culturing selectively bred kelp to increase on-farm yields, one of the most important drivers of financial viability.

“The Darling Marine Center is proud to host this project that reflects William Procter’s legacy as a businessman, entrepreneur and scientist,” says DMC Director Heather Leslie.

According to the Maine Aquaculture Association in the last 10 years, both the value and volume of Maine’s farmed kelp harvest has increased by a factor of 60, approaching nearly 1 million pounds in 2022 . Kelp requires no arable land or freshwater, removes excess nitrogen from the water column, and has a minimal carbon footprint. 

In addition to providing a source of nutritious food for humans, kelp can serve as a low greenhouse gas feedstock for animal feed, energy, and carbon dioxide removal supply chains. 

Despite the success of this burgeoning industry, production bottlenecks may hinder the continued expansion of the sector. Energy and labor-intensive nursery production, inconsistent kelp settlement and growth, labor intensive seeding and harvest practices, and spatially inefficient farm designs all reduce the ability of current, small-scale cultivation methods to cost-effectively scale. This project addresses those challenges. 

Thanks to support of this project by the William Procter Scientific Innovation Fund, UMaine students and industry partners will work in collaboration with researchers at the Darling Marine Center to address these outstanding research and development needs, and to contribute to this rapidly developing sector. 

“This project and complementary aquaculture research and education activities centered around our experimental sea farm, builds on more than 55 years of creative collaboration at the Darling Marine Center among scientists, entrepreneurs and other professionals,” says Leslie. “It will enable us to deepen partnerships among science and industry experts while enhancing UMaine’s contributions to Maine’s blue economy.”

Contacts: Matthew Norwood, 207.563.8220 and matthew.norwood@maine.eduStruan Coleman, struan.coleman@maine.edu

Darling Marine Center

Founded in 1965, the Darling Marine Center’s mission is to connect people to the ocean. The Center’s researchers, staff and students work alongside fishermen, aquaculture entrepreneurs, marine industry professionals and other members of the community in Maine and around the world. More information is available at dmc.umaine.edu.