Science for Everyone


Kelp: Cultivating Health, Habitat, and Science

Post by Bailey Moritz, Scallop Research Intern

Sugar Kelp growing commercially

As an island rich with tide pooling enthusiasts, we tend to view seaweed as a slipping hazard on our way down the rocks. It’s something that clings to docks and the bottom of our boats. But for Paul Dobbins, kelp enthusiast and owner of Ocean Approved kelp farm near Portland, this marine plant holds so much more potential. From food to biofuel to skin care products, the uses for kelp are numerous and growing. Hurricane Island is gearing up to start our own educational aquaculture program and we were lucky enough to have Paul and his wife come out this past week to give us valuable advice about the process.

Paul shares a photo of sugar kelp in its early stages of growth

The first and most technically involved step in growing kelp is seeding the line. Kelp sporophytes, only a handful of cells large, are placed in a water-filled container with a spool of thread and some nutrient solution. After only 24 hours, the little kelp seeds will have attached themselves to the thread and start to grow. Once a visible brown film is present, the thread is ready to be spun out around a thicker rope suspended in the ocean. Kelp is an incredible crop in that it doesn’t require any inputs once it’s in the water. It utilizes nutrients already in the water column, and can actually help to clean water near populated areas. Since the farms are generally placed over muddy bottom, they create excellent habitat for juvenile species like lobster and fish where there wasn’t before. One of the fastest growing organisms in the world, the kelp will be 8-14 ft long after only about 12 weeks, which is harvestable size. Paul Dobbins' company processes and sells the kelp as a food product, such as a slaw or smoothie powder. It’s considered a superfood given the concentrated amount of nutrients, particularly iodine. Maine is the first state in the U.S. to grow kelp commercially so there is a lot of potential for growth in the market place and it’s a relevant field for students to engage in.

Determining future aquaculture sites on Hurricane Island

We look forward to involving student in the process of growing and taking care of their own kelp ropes this winter as part of our new in-school winter programming. As Paul made clear, growing your own kelp is very doable, with tangible results over a short amount of time. And there is a strong emphasis on the scientific process. Students will be able to see the tiny kelp cells under a microscope as they grow, monitor temperature, manipulate nutrients to optimize growth, and eventually reap their harvest. Aquaculture success is closely linked to the environment in which the products are growing. Walking around the island, Paul agreed that the sandy, protected cove of Gibbons Point would be ideal for growing oysters. Placing a line of kelp out there would also help to buffer waves coming into shore. The opposite end of the island by Two Bush Island seems to be the most promising for kelp that prefers high wave action. Now its just a matter of getting our gear together. The knowledge Paul Dobbins brought to our future kelp operation was incredibly helpful and inspiring. We’re super excited to get growing! 

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