From increased levels of acidification caused by climate change, to declining fish stocks and plastic pollution, our oceans have detrimentally changed. We are not yet doomed, but we need to move quickly and decisively if we have any hope of making a positive impact and helping to right the ship. Fortunately there are a number of solutions available right now that can help to reduce our emissions, bring back fish, and ultimately set our course for a more sustainable ocean. The following is a list of just five of these science-backed solutions -- focused on the areas of food, energy, water, and waste – which are currently being studied and perfected by USC’s Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies on Catalina Island.
As an added bonus, aquaculture involving bivalves like oysters and mussels can improve local water quality since they help filter the water they live in. Let’s grow more of those, and clean the water too.
Food - Aquaponics
Growing food at home is an easy way to eat more fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs, and to grow them free from harmful pesticides and other chemicals. Sustainable farming systems like aquaponics are increasingly helping people to grow good food locally, while also reducing negative impacts on the environment. So what is aquaponics? Simply put, it involves the cultivation of fish and plants together in a constructed, symbiotic ecosystem. Through the circular cycle of an aquaponics system, nothing goes to waste – fish are raised in an aquarium and produce waste that serves as fertilizer for plants, and the plants in turn filter the water that returns to the fish. What results is a simple solution to growing food at home, year round, while also using only about 10% of the water that a conventional farm would need.
Energy - Kelp Elevator and Biofuels Project
Generating energy from renewable sources instead of fossil fuels can improve our climate and and reduce air pollution. Scientists such as those with the Wrigley Institute’s Kelp Biofuel Project are finding that kelp may represent a renewable energy solution, and cultivating kelp could simultaneously help draw down carbon dioxide and support ocean ecosystems too.
Essentially, kelp is renowned for its growth rates, but to grow it needs both sunlight found at the ocean’s surface and essential nutrients found in deeper waters. The Kelp Biofuel Project is testing the viability of “depth cycling” kelp to enable large-scale cultivation of this valuable renewable resource. The team is testing the concept by placing kelp on structures that raise it into the light during the day, and drop it into the cold nutrient-rich water at night. This project could make an amazing environmental impact in a number of ways, opening the door to kelp as a renewable source of biofuel and kelp-based materials to reduce our dependency on plastics. Imagine if the energy companies invested in this instead of off-shore drilling.
Water - Harmful Algal Blooms
Harmful algal blooms, or HABs, occur when colonies of toxic microscopic algae grow out of control. These blooms are a growing problem in every U.S. coastal and Great Lakes state, with an increase in frequency and severity of HAB events in recent decades.While algal blooms are a naturally occurring event -- they can be triggered by imputs from the weathering of rocks or by ocean mixing of water currents -- we’re now learning that urban runoff and wastewater may be contributing to an uptick in HAB conditions. With more people living in coastal watersheds, there are more nutrients entering our waters from wastewater, urban run-off, and farming. And this run-off from our activities is creating more frequent and intense algal blooms that threaten our public health and compromise our access to important resources such as seafood, recreation and clean water. To minimize the problem, we need to focus on minimizing our impact and better understanding the cause, dynamics and consequences of HABs in the environment.
Waste - Black Soldier Flies
Food waste is one of the leading causes of climate change -- most of our uneaten food ends up in landfills where it is left to rot and produce methane, a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide. Reducing food waste in our landfills is therefore vital for reducing our climate impacts. One simple solution can be found in the Black Soldier Fly. As larvae, these game-changing little waste recyclers consume organic material before it ever has a chance to decompose, thus eliminating the associated methane emissions entirely. What’s even better is that these fly larvae could serve as a potential protein source for sustainable aquaculture, livestock, and maybe even humans. They offer an effective, affordable solution for food waste. Someday we may see them used in schools, hospitals, malls, and eventually city waste management. Look for more details about the fascinating use of these creatures in the Seven Crossings Project!
Air – Tracking Carbon Dioxide Patterns
Cities have many atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) ‘sources’: from our energy consumption, transportation, and the daily activities of tens of millions of people. But other areas across each city actually absorb CO2. These areas are known as ‘sinks’ and include parks, forests and coastal habitats; other smaller sinks are less well known. Using sensor networks, experts are trying to model CO2 circulation in cities like Los Angeles to understand how greenhouse gases move through our urban landscapes. If we can understand and connect source-sink dynamics, cities could reduce their overall CO2. Armed with this knowledge, urban planners may soon begin to strategically place sinks closer to sources to manage a city’s overall CO2 levels and help sustain our planet’s climate.
What You Can Do
As you can see, there’s a number of ways you can practice sustainability. Of course not every solution may work for you, but the most important thing you can do is adopt whatever practices you can. Make a commitment to living a more sustainable lifestyle; Get involved by demanding that more companies adopt sustainable solutions, and lobby your employers and local policitians to enact more sustainable measures. Connect with others and share your enthusiasm; if you lead by example, others will follow. Remember, we’re in a race to save our oceans and ultimately ourselves, but it won’t happen overnight. Start by sharing the Seven Crossings Project and the amazing work that the USC Wrigley Institute is doing with 7 people you know, and together we’ll get there… one step (or paddle) at a time.
If you’d like to learn more about USC’s Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies, check out their website. They manage an incredible research facility in a pristine Marine Protected Area on Catalina, and do wonderful education work throughout the region.