Building Up The Blue Economy

Sea grapes, sea lettuce and dead man’s fingers are just three of the types of kelp that a team of marine farmers in San Diego, California hope to cultivate in their local bay harbor as a food crop. Efforts to maintain a clean and economically viable ocean based economy have supported entrepreneurial endeavors like this one.


Sea grapes, sea lettuce and dead man's fingers are just three of the types of kelp that a team of marine farmers in San Diego, California, hope to cultivate in their local bay harbor as a food crop.

Efforts to maintain a clean and economically viable ocean-based economy have supported entrepreneurial endeavors like this one.

Here's the story.

So this is the farm site.

Leslie Booher walks on a floating platform between an empty fish pin and the deteriorating Grape Street Pier.

This is where Booher and her partner hope to see a 90-foot-by-40-foot underwater farm take root.

It's quite compact, but, remember, we have 24 feet of water column to work with, so it's actually a pretty large cubic space when you look at it.

Twine will be strung across the space at varying depths, and that rope will anchor a number of different seaweed species, which started their lives in a lab.

They're growing on a large spool of... It's just twine around PVC pipe, right?

So once these juveniles are grown out on that spool, we transport the spool out, and then we take it on preset lines, and we just unspool it along those preset lines, and it just continues to grow on that line.

Weekly dives will allow the team to monitor how the lines and the fledging plants are doing.

Booher wants to make sure that other plants or animals don't move in and push their crop out of the way.

Then, about 6 weeks, they harvest.

In order to preserve the biodiversity, we don't want to, like, clear-cut every 3 months, right, so we want to selectively harvest and selectively plant so that we can kind of keep this three-dimensional structure the whole time.

The Sunken Seaweed company is a collaboration between Booher and her partner, Torre Polizzi, who's got a bucket with a few samples of what they hope to grow.

The light, leafy plant he's holding in his hand is not surprisingly called sea lettuce.

If you're a fisherman, or if you've been around boats, you've seen this growing off the side of your boat or on the ropes.

Polizzi says most people don't know it's a very nutritious and tasty sea vegetable, and there are a few more species the team hopes to put on local plates.

The sea grapes are just a really beautiful species.

The purple plant has bulbs that resemble their namesake.

They're edible.

They are used a lot as decoration at high-end seafood places.

Those seem perfectly suited for the delicate and expensive palates of local diners, but not everything they plan to harvest has that ready-for-market name.

Another one we have here is dead man's fingers.

Maybe not the best name...

These, yeah.

...for an ocean plant that they hope ends up in a fancy eatery.

Even so, Polizzi says the plants, which grow near the shore, where the tides wash over them, have a future.

Something that chefs have done with these is tempura them and put it in a lot of sushi recipes.

It's a really spongy, rather tasty species.

The small company got a boost from the Port of San Diego's Business Incubator.

Rafael Castellanos is the port's chair.

He says tourism, ship operations and retail already power a big chunk of the local economy, but the port is working to broaden the bay's economic palate.

There's a tremendous amount of opportunity here to diversify our lines of business in a way that is sustainable, and that's good for the port.

It's good for the environment.

It's good for the region and everybody in the state of California.

Castellanos says a fledgling oyster business near Tuna Harbor and this effort are part of what he hopes becomes part of the Blue Ocean-based economy, and he says the bay is clean enough to handle it.

We're getting all of the required health certifications in order to be able to sell these products, so we're not concerned about that.

We're very optimistic about that, and, again, we've been working very hard for many years to keep the bay clean and make sure it's suitable for this type of venture.

Lobster fisherman have already figured out a way to make an economic living beneath the surface of the bay, and now the port and the folks at Sunken Seaweed are hoping to do the same.