Are you aware of the environmental benefits of seaweed, specifically kelp? Sustainable kelp farming is a promising tool to address carbon in our atmosphere, reduce ocean acidification, and prevent dead zones in polluted bodies of water. If only we can create a kelp market large enough to support regenerative kelp farming along our extensive coastal regions.
While we enjoy the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, help your children connect this Japanese dietary staple with the promise of the environmental benefits of regenerative kelp farming. Check out these four sustainable science activities for kids about the benefits of regenerative aquaculture.
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Last week, my younger son asked to go out for sushi for lunch. As our food arrived, he started comparing his lunch to the playing cards in one of our favorite family games, Sushi Go. He had a collection of maki in front of him, each wrapped in a small piece of nori, a particular type of dried seaweed. His collection of maki would have a pretty solid value in Sushi Go, but the potential value of those little nori wraps as part of a larger scheme to grow the seaweed market far outweighs his Sushi Go potential.
In honor of the Tokyo Olympics, we thought it would be neat to highlight the promising environmental benefits of regenerative kelp farming as a solution to climate change, ocean acidification, and polluted dead zones in our coastal waters. Moreover, we’ve created a fun experiment to help kids understand why seaweed has so many potential environmental benefits and highlighted ways for kids to help bolster the market for regenerative kelp farming through their snack choices, baking habits, beauty routines, and more.
Related Reading: Check out more educational activities for kids about how the Olympics incorporate and support the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
What Is Seaweed?
Before diving into the amazing power of seaweed, let’s clarify what it is (and what it is not). According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, “Seaweed” is the common name for countless species of marine algae that grow in the ocean as well as in rivers, lakes, and other water bodies.”
Despite its name, seaweed isn’t a “weed” at all. Weeds tend to be plants (often invasive) that can grow quickly and overtake an ecosystem. Seaweed, however, is an integral element of many aquatic ecosystems that provides food, habitat, and climate benefits to numerous species, including humans.
Additionally, the seaweed that we hope can help save the planet isn’t the same gross algae that grow in a dirty swimming pool or an unkempt aquarium. Seaweed, like the large kelp that grows along rocky coastlines in the ocean, can be a delicious and nutritious part of a regenerative and climate-friendly diet.
What Is The Difference Between Seaweed and Kelp?
Seaweed is a broad term that includes a variety of aquatic vegetation, including kelp. Seaweed comes in a variety of sizes and can grow in many types of marine environments including oceans, lakes, and rivers. Kelp, a type of seaweed, is large and grows specifically along rocky coasts in saltwater.
Many types of seaweed offer a multitude of environmental benefits, and regenerative kelp farming is among the most attractive and exciting opportunities to grow nutritious food, create good jobs, protect our oceans, and address climate change.
How Does Kelp Farming Help Save the Planet?
Regenerative kelp farming presents an amazing opportunity for environmental healing in a variety of ways. Regenerative aquaculture aligns swimmingly with United Nations Sustainable Development Goal #14 Life Below Water. It offers benefits like carbon sequestration, a solution to ocean acidification, food supplies for marine life, and habitat restoration for the variety of sea creatures who rely on kelp forests to thrive.
Like trees and other plants, kelp and other algae perform photosynthesis to grow and thrive. Through photosynthesis, kelp absorbs carbon from the water. We’ve got a bunch more information and cool diagrams on how this works in our carbon-oxygen exchange sustainable science experiment included in this post.
Unlike trees, which photosynthesize only through their leaves, kelp and other seaweeds photosynthesize through the entire plant, which makes them particularly excellent at sequestering (or pulling out) carbon dioxide from their environments. Seaweeds use this carbon dioxide to create sugars to build their biomass, which leads to creating more surface area for carbon to be absorbed.
In a small area, kelp farms can grow deep into the water, grow quickly while drawing carbon from the ecosystem, be harvested frequently to create more space for new growth and corresponding carbon drawdown, and be a renewable resource for many industries like food, farming, beauty, and more.
Ocean Acidification and Seaweed
Oceans play a large role in absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. When carbon dioxide is absorbed in water, it goes through numerous chemical reactions to make the carbon molecules available for marine organisms to make their own food or to build their shells.
However, when there is excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, as there is today, the oceans cannot keep up with their natural carbon recycling system, and much of the carbon dioxide mixes with water and becomes carbonic acid. This is known as ocean acidification.
Ocean acidification is a condition in which the ocean has a significantly higher level of acidity than it has had in the past. Acidity is measured using a pH scale, which ranges from 0-14. A pH of 7 is considered neutral, while anything below 7 is considered an acid, and anything above 7 is considered a base.
Small changes in the pH of an aquatic ecosystem can greatly impact many things that live in the ocean. Higher acidification makes it hard for sea creatures to form shells and also leads to coral bleaching, the degradation of coral reefs. Coral reefs are home to roughly 7,000 different species of marine life. As this habitat degrades, so does the biodiversity of the areas in which they are located.
Mussels, which rely on creating threads to attach themselves to a surface in order to withstand the pounding waves of the tidal areas in which they reside, cannot attach as well in acidic waters. Some zooplankton, which play a huge role in sequestering carbon in the ocean, cannot survive in waters that are more acidic.
All of the marine organisms mentioned are crucial to the marine food chain, so a decrease in their abundance affects all marine life. Just in the last 200 years, scientists have observed that the world’s oceans have become 30% more acidic.
There are many ways in which we can work towards reversing the problem of ocean acidification. Growing seaweed is one great way to accomplish this regenerative environmental goal!
Regenerate Habitats and Food Supplies For Marine Species That Depend On Seaweed
Kelp farming is a fantastic way to heal the environment, and it also provides nutritious foods as an output. Kelp is an important source of nutrients for marine life that live in and around the kelp farms. It also creates a safe habitat for marine life to raise their young, hide from predators, and find protection from large storms and natural disasters.
Kelp forests, naturally-existing areas of dense kelp growth, have been harmed by warming sea waters. In cool, nutrient-rich waters, kelp can grow up to two feet per day. However, as seawater temperatures rise, kelp growth has decreased significantly. Kelp farms can replace some of this beneficial habitat when managed responsibly.
Kelp As An Affordable and Nutritious Food For Humans
As a regenerative, renewable, and affordable food source, kelp is a great source of nutrition for humans. As the global population grows, kelp is one healthy option for feeding the world’s communities and reducing hunger for many people. Thus, regenerative kelp farming supports United Nations Sustainable Development Goal #2 Zero Hunger.
Currently, kelp and other seaweed products are popular in certain Asian countries, like Japan (our celebrated Olympic host). These food options are less popular in many other countries around the world, but kelp farming industry advocates are actively working to find new ways to create broader and more robust kelp and seaweed markets into which regenerative aquaculture farmers can sell their habitat-healing fare.
Create Good Quality Jobs In Coastal Communities
Kelp farming offers a great opportunity for job creation that provides sustainable and productive employment in a green economy. This aligns with United Nations Sustainable Development Goal #8 Decent Work and Economic Growth.
Many areas that are optimal regenerative kelp farming locations have been home to heavy fishing industries. Due to overfishing and depleted marine habitats, these local industries have faced job loss and economic difficulties. Kelp farming provides opportunities for skilled fishermen, for example, to return to the water and make a viable living in a way that also heals the planet.
Regenerative kelp farming has relatively low-cost barriers to entry compared to other types of farming, especially land-based farming, thus making it an even more attractive option for farmers and fishermen who have lost their livelihood to degenerative industry practices and climate change. It requires a relatively small footprint because the crops can grow down into the depths of the water. Furthermore, kelp farms become healthy habitats to a variety of creatures, like scallops and other shellfish, that can also be responsibly raised and harvested as additional revenue streams.
The vertical nature of the kelp farm along with the natural complexity of living organisms and nutrients already in the water allows farmers to use the depth of the ocean to grow more crops without expensive fertilizer inputs. A kelp farm requires a smaller investment in acreage and inputs to produce sufficient output to earn a reasonable living compared to traditional land-based agriculture.
The complex aquaculture also offers a variety of revenue sources including kelp, scallops, and other edible sea life that thrive in kelp forests. The diverse aquaculture is a more economic and environmentally-friendly alternative to land-based monoculture many commercial farms use today.
Further, kelp can grow up to 24 inches per day in ideal conditions without fertilizers. Thus, kelp farmers can grow and harvest crops continuously instead of relying on a single harvest each season or year. Multiple revenue streams spread out over time provide greater financial stability for regenerative kelp farmers.
To learn more about what this looks like from an Indigenous farmer in Alaska, read A Native Perspective on Regenerative Ocean Farming by Dune Lankard, where he shares how he is building a regenerative kelp farming industry in his community.
What are the Barriers To Large-Scale Regenerative Kelp Farming?
With so many benefits of regenerative kelp farming, you might wonder why it’s not a larger industry already. One of the biggest barriers to growth for large-scale kelp farming is the lack of a mature and robust economic market into which kelp farmers can sell their crops. In other words, kelp farmers could grow all the kelp, but it’s only worth the effort and resource investment to manage these regenerative aquaculture farms if they can sell the output.
How Can We Use Kelp?
While kelp is not a consistent part of food culture in most regions around the world, seaweed has been a part of Japanese cuisine for thousands of years. The Japanese were one of the first people to incorporate seaweed as a nutritious staple in their diets. Starting with boutique restaurants and snack companies and moving into mainstream palettes and food products, we can all help kelp become a more significant element of our everyday diets.
Elements of kelp are also included in toothpaste, health and beauty products, certain dairy products, and frozen foods, as well as fertilizers and agricultural feedstocks. The more we use kelp, the more kelp can be a productive climate solution that also brings economic prosperity to the communities where it’s grown.
How Can Kids Help Grow The Kelp Market?
Kids can help grow kelp markets, and multiply the environmental benefits of these regenerative farms, by incorporating seaweed into more aspects of their life. There are a growing variety of seaweed snacks, nori chips, and sushi recipes for kids to try. New products like kelp flour are coming to market that kids can try in simple baking recipes. They can use kelp in smoothies, homemade popsicles, and salads.
Single-use plastics aren’t always the best, but there’s a time and place when they’re really useful. Manufacturers and product designers sometimes use kelp-based inputs in bioplastics, so kids can look for plastic products they would otherwise buy that are made with kelp.
Kelp is even being used as an ingredient in beauty products. While not all kids are using beauty products, children and teens can look to incorporate kelp-based or kelp-infused products into their age-appropriate self-care routine.
Sustainable Seaweed Projects For Kids
In honor of Japan hosting the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and also being a leader in the kelp consumption market, we’ve created several fun seaweed and kelp activities for kids to learn more about the sustainable science of kelp and consider ways to incorporate more kelp into their lives (and thereby grow the kelp market for aspiring regenerative farmers).
We’ve shared a bit more about each activity as well as links to download the printable workbook that includes everything described below in worksheets and lessons ready to enjoy with the youngsters in your life.
Sustainable Seaweed Activity #1 | Love Me Some Seaweed BINGO
We’ve created a Love Me Some Seaweed BINGO sheet with a bunch of different ways for kids to incorporate seaweed (or kelp) into their lives and help grow a robust market for sustainable seaweed. Join the RGK Club (our email community) below to get two free downloadable Love Me Some Seaweed BINGO boards.
We know self-care products aren’t right for all kids, so we’ve made one BINGO board that includes self-care product activities and one that does not. The downloadable workbook includes both BINGO sheets so you can choose which one works better for your kids. Encourage your kids to get BINGO by trying a variety of activities on the sheet and finding ways to incorporate kelp into their lunches and lifestyles.
In some cases, we repeated activities (like trying a new sushi recipe) on the BINGO sheet so kids can try different types of sushi and count each culinary adventure. They’ll never know how they like to eat it until they try it!
Here are a few more details as well as some relevant links for each of the seaweed kitchen activities for kids on the board.
Make a new sushi recipe | Try making a homemade sushi recipe for kids. My boys prefer simple vegetarian sushi rolls like avocado or cucumber rolls. This Rainbow Vegetable Sushi for kids recipe looks great. My kids add a bit of wasabi to their soy sauce because they like spicy food, but do what works best for their palettes.
This eggs and edamame kids sushi recipe is a bit less traditional but might be great for kids interested in trying sushi with more familiar flavors. You may need a sushi rolling mat and chopsticks to make these rainbow maki rolls.
Order sushi for dinner | Sushi requires some special ingredients, so if you’re not ready to try it yourself, order it from a local restaurant. Even if you’re not ready to try raw fish yet (which is just fine), consider ordering vegetarian maki rolls.
Do a sushi taste test | If you want to make your sushi experience a bit more fun, try a sushi taste test and compare 3-5 different types of maki rolls to find what your family likes best. You can order the sushi for a simple family dinner or make the sushi if you have a bit more time to get creative in the kitchen.
Compare and contrast different types of sushi, noting which has the best flavor, the best texture, the most seaweed, the most color, or any other characteristic that sounds fun to you and your little ones.
Try a new brand of nori chips | Nori is dried edible seaweed. There are a growing number of snack companies that sell nori chips, a crunchy, salty, and healthier alternative to potato chips.
Make homemade nori chips | These sesame garlic nori chips look delicious. Try making them yourself and maybe they’ll be your kids’ new favorite healthy snack.
Add seaweed to a smoothie | Green smoothies are all the rage and pretty healthy. Swap out greens like spinach or kale for seaweed and give it a taste!
Top a meal with seaweed flakes | Sprinkle furikake, a Japanese seasoning that includes seaweed flakes, on a savory meal or snack to top it off with some fun flavor. Don’t be fooled that it’s too fancy for kids. They’ll never know if they like it until they try it! Here’s a simple recipe to make furikake at home.
Taste seaweed salad | Try a different kind of salad made from seaweed. You can make a simple seaweed salad at home or order it from a local Asian restaurant. Maybe order it with your sushi rolls.
Use kelp flour in a recipe | Dried kelp can be turned into a powder that can replace traditional flour. Find a favorite recipe and see if you can modify it a bit to use kelp flour. (Hint: Check around the Internet for this. Food bloggers get really creative and incorporate some cool ingredients like kelp flour in tasty ways.)
Make soup or stew with kelp in it | This one is pretty straightforward. We’ll let you find a recipe that fits in your family’s palette and includes kelp or another kind of seaweed.
Explore skincare that uses seaweed | Many beauty products include seaweed or kelp in them. We aren’t experts in beauty products so we can’t recommend any specific brands, but consider trying a new lotion or cream that includes seaweed.
Try a seaweed hair mask | Seaweed is a nutrient-dense plant. We’ve seen lots of hair masks that include seaweed. Find a product or DIY that looks fun and give it a try.
Sustainable Seaweed Activity #2 | Regenerative Kelp Farming Vocabulary
Inside the printable workbook, we’ve included a regenerative kelp farming vocabulary game. After unscrambling the words, kids can match each of the following words with its definition. We’ve included an answer key in the workbook as well so you don’t have to look up all the definitions yourself. (You knew we’d have you covered.)
- Carbon Dioxide
- Ocean Acidification
- Regenerative Farming
Sustainable Seaweed Activity #3 | Observe Photosynthesis
When animals (including humans) are hungry and need energy, they must go find food. This classifies animals as consumers. When plants need energy, they make it themselves through a process called photosynthesis. This classifies plants as producers.
So what is seaweed? Seaweed is neither an animal nor a plant, but instead is part of the algae family, which belongs to the Protist Kingdom. Seaweed, however, also makes its own food through the process of photosynthesis.
But how does photosynthesis work?
In order for plants or algae to make their own food (i.e. perform photosynthesis), they need the following three ingredients:
Carbon dioxide + water + sunlight →
Once they have these ingredients, they are able to create food for themselves, which is known as glucose, and give off oxygen to their surroundings.
Carbon dioxide + water + sunlight → glucose + oxygen
When plants and algae photosynthesize, they capture carbon from their respective environments and store it in their tissues. This drawdown of carbon works towards:
- Reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from photosynthesizing plants.
- Reducing the amount of carbonic acid in the ocean from photosynthesizing algae.
We can see a product of photosynthesis with our own eyes by completing a simple science demonstration using plant leaves, and then predict how these results would compare to seaweed photosynthesis.
Pop in your email address in the form below to download the entire regenerative kelp farming activity workbook, which includes all the background information, materials, instructions, worksheets, and discussion questions to complete the sustainable science activity and observe photosynthesis. You don’t need any fancy equipment, just a few things from your kitchen and your nearest photosynthesizing friend.
Sustainable Seaweed Activity #4 Compare Plants vs Algaes
Like plants, seaweed performs photosynthesis. As mentioned above, however, seaweed is neither a plant nor an animal. Seaweed is part of the algae family, which belongs to the Protist Kingdom.
Seaweed does have a major similarity to plants though. Like plants, seaweed makes its own food through the process of photosynthesis. However, plants photosynthesize only through their leaves, while seaweed uses all of its tissues to create food.
Because seaweed uses all of its tissue to perform photosynthesis, it’s really good at absorbing carbon from its environment. The previous experiment gave budding sustainable scientists a chance to observe photosynthesis, and this activity helps them compare their observations in plants versus algae.
The downloadable and printable workbook includes an activity to compare and contrast plants and algae to better understand how they are similar and different. You’ll find images with activities to identify different parts of each organism. We’ve also included discussion questions to consider why these differences matter for the health of our oceans and the planet.
Article & Activity Sources
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Service: Seaweed Facts
- How To Save A Planet Podcast | Kelp Farming, For the Climate (Part 1 and Part 2)
- The Science of Seaweeds from University of Maine Extension
- What is Ocean Acidification? NASA Climate Kids
About The Authors
Jen Panaro, a co-founder of Raising Global Kidizens, is a self-proclaimed composting nerd and an advocate for sustainable living for modern families. She’s also a serial library book borrower and a messy gardener.
As a mom to two boys, she is passionate about helping families be more responsible stewards to their communities and the planet. She also owns Honestly Modern, an online space focused on eco-friendly living for families.
Jess Purcell, a co-founder of Raising Global Kidizens, is a science educator who is dedicated to making the science of sustainability accessible to all learners. She creates sustainability science lessons and nature activities written for students of all ages to be done in the classroom or at home to foster critical thinking skills and a love of the natural world. You can find more of her work at Thoughtfully Sustainable.
Jess lives in central Pennsylvania with her husband, two kids, and two cats and can usually be found outside, working out the kinks of an experiment, upcycling trash into “treasure”, hiking with her family, or attempting to read a book while being cajoled into a game of hide-and-seek.