While the concept has raised concerns about its potential impact on human health – an incident reportedly involving the deliberate introduction of 100 tonnes of iron sulphate off the west coast of Canada by the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation in 2012 outraged a range of international bodies – support for the practice is growing.
What does the process of ocean seeding involve and what can it achieve?
Oceaneos uses a compound consisting of key natural occurring, non-toxic micronutrients, with iron being one of the main ingredients. It's like a vitamin mix for plankton to support their growth in areas of the ocean where these nutrients are depleted as a result of climate change. We developed and tested this compound in close collaboration with 4DLabs / Simon Fraser University over the last two years. In an ocean seeding project, only 1 cup of nutrients is needed per hectare, so the amount added is very small.
The estimates based on some preliminary studies and natural ocean seeding events indicate that an increase of 25%-125% in fish biomass per project per year is feasible. However, more research must be done to refine these estimates.
How controversial is the concept?
The concept of ocean seeding is not seen as highly controversial by the science community. For instance, the Korean university (Incheon National University) and Woods Hole are planning a project before 2020. Also, the University of Tasmania has received government grants to prepare a project. Oceaneos is not related to the Haida project. It is not fair to compare us to this. It is critical that we and other research organization are able to conduct scientific research in a careful way as a potential method to provide solutions for global fishery collapse. We are transparent in what we work on and we execute this properly and in collaboration with government and industry.
How widely has ocean seeding been trialled to date?
There have been 12 meso-scale ocean fertilization experiments by different research organizations in the past 20 years. Those experiments used similar processes and the same methods, but focused on the carbon cycle, where Oceaneos observed that these experiments along with volcanos and dust storms also promoted a boost to the ocean food chain. Therefore we have developed a method that focuses on mimicking natural processes yet refined by stimulating plankton growth in targeted areas in time and space to optimize the marine food chain.
Is such an intervention tolerated by national and international regulations?
The London Protocol on the addition of materials to the ocean environment was last updated in 2010, with more thorough guidelines on monitoring and reporting. Projects in international waters need approval from the IMO, and there is an application process in place to do so. To execute a project in national waters, nations require appropriate research and environmental permits.
Our team of 10 marine scientists, including three professors, has been working for almost a year now on a project plan that exceeds the requirements for an ocean seeding research project as set out in the IMO permit documentation, which we expect to finalized in the next three months.
What interest have you received to date from governments, NGOs, scientists and fishermen?
Over the last three years, we have built a great team and an advisory board including many marine biology experts. We have been working with several universities including 4D Labs at the Simon Fraser University in Vancouver on the development of our ocean seeding compound and other technologies. We have engaged with several governments and fishery industry consortiums (both industrial and artisanal) and, fishing companies. This has resulted in real interest, active collaboration and support.
What would be the cost, scale and timeframe required for ocean seeding to make a significant impact?
Projects are executed in deep ocean areas that are both missing key nutrients for plankton to grow and are in the migratory routes or nurseries of important fish species.
After obtaining the relevant permits and government support, an extensive assessment and analysis of the ocean conditions and fish migration and recruitment processes are executed to identify the right location and timing. As per IMO guidelines, our project plan includes extensive baseline analysis (including oceanography, fisheries, chemistry, plankton, microbiology, benthos, birds, and mammals), a detailed project execution, post-project monitoring and data analysis. A typical project takes 12-16 months. We are committed to making all of the data from the projects freely available to the public.