Using kelp to help reduce nitrogen in Long Island waters was the subject of a May 27 press conference at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS) Marine Science Center at Stony Brook Southampton.
Christopher Gobler, Endowed Chair of Coastal Ecology and Conservation at SoMAS, spoke about a funding program that would be the first in New York State to offer “nitrogen credit” payments for kelp cultivation. This past winter, oyster farmers cultivated experimental kelp beds to study kelp’s role in reducing nitrogen, and they will receive the first-time payments for their 2021 harvest.
Gobler said kelp — grown in the winter months when boaters are less active on local waterways and an efficient consumer of nitrogen and carbon dioxide — can be a very effective tool in reducing nitrogen in local waters while large-scale introduction of advanced septic systems is phased in over the next few decades.
“We need solutions right now to protect water quality,” he said in a Newsday article on the press conference.
Gobler said his lab has used grant money over the past three years to cultivate sugar kelp on 10 different oyster farms, producing 10,000 pounds of kelp while removing 36 pounds of nitrogen. The program would have kelp farmers potentially produce more than 70,000 pounds of kelp on one-acre farms, and help extract 200 pounds of nitrogen from the waters, earning hundreds of dollars of credits during a season they are largely off the water.
Gobler’s lab has also made advances in the production of fertilizer from kelp, developing a product that has the same nitrogen and phosphorus content as popular garden fertilizers. “The next step is to scale up and make it commercially viable,” he told Newsday, envisioning a day when “we won’t need to import synthetic fertilizers on Long Island.”
Currently only around 1,000 to 1,500 such systems have been deployed in Suffolk. Gobler said 220,000 such systems are expected to be deployed by 2050.