Farming for the Future
Tara Pierce, our Program Director, recently published a paper on Restorative Ocean Farms (ROFs) in the UC Environmental Law Journal. An ROF is a polyculture, underwater garden that mimics the ecosystem; essentially, this type of aquaculture is based on asking ourselves, “What does the ocean want us to grow?” This perspective shift unites human activity with our habitat, providing the means for human and nonhuman life to flourish together.
To answer the question, one must look at what the ecosystem provides. Generally, the ocean wants us to grow things that don’t swim away and don’t require inputs like fertilizer and pesticides. Better yet, we can grow species that regenerate the ecosystem. In cold water, this is bivalves (oysters, mussels, clams, scallops) and various species of seaweed (like kelp). The bivalves are filter feeders that improve water quality and provide a source of protein. The seaweed is a carbon sink and highly nutritious, packed with vitamins and minerals. And the entire farm creates marine habitat which also serves as a nursery for juvenile fish, which benefits fishers. On top of that, the materials to begin such a farm are minimal, making it an accessible livelihood. Income can also be earned year-round, as each species can be harvested at different times—this also provides food and income security, as ocean farmers are not dependent on a single species.
Illustration by Tara A. Pierce
Watercolor & Pen, 2022
Oysters, Clams, & Mussels
Tara’s paper examines several approaches that states can take to rapidly support ROFs without having to wait for federal legislation. The paper offers guidance through examples and precedents for states to act on their own and cooperate on a bioregional level to ensure the highest ecological and equitable socio-economic benefits.
After studying ROFs in cold waters, Tara pitched research to the Pacific Community (SPC) to study what an ROF could look like in tropical ecosystems and the potential approaches of supportive policy. SPC took her on as a legal intern, and one semester, Tara completed a regional policy brief, outlining benefits, potential legal issues, and suggestions for moving forward.
All this research was done while Tara was in law school, and we are thrilled that she has brought this knowledge with her to the Reef Life Foundation. She is excited to develop designs and work with communities to create ROFs with oceanite that meet each community’s needs on all levels.
Sea Cucumbers Join Kelp Gardens
Her research at SPC exposed her to sea cucumber farming. There is a large sea cucumber market in South East Asia and the Indian Ocean. Sea cucumbers themselves are a good food source and have been shown to reduce local impacts of ocean acidification. Additionally, sea cucumbers like to live in seagrass beds, another huge carbon sink.
Tara learned of one project that was going well until a cyclone destroyed the pens and they had to start over (to eventual success). This gave her the idea of solving multiple problems with one solution: Oceanite. Using Oceanite solves key issues: no marine-grade plastic fencing that can be destroyed by storms and increase plastic debris in the oceans; the people on land gain protection from waves during extreme weather events; and a sea cucumber farm can expand the species it grows (like coral for the aquarium trade or to be outplanted on neighboring reefs). Solving these issues will increase food security and climate resilience of coastal communities while simultaneously restoring the ecosystem on which they depend for their livelihoods. To illustrate her ideas, Tara put her art degree to work and drew a possible design.
Illustration by Tara A. Pierce
Watercolor & Pen, 2023
The Reef Life Foundation is looking forward to working with communities on projects like these. ROFs restore humanity’s role in the ecosystem.