The high seas area beyond EEZ, which has been declared Common Heritage of Humanity by United Nations Convention on the law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in 1982, covers half of the world ! About to be ruled by UNO in the next years, this space should really benefit to everybody on earth, and not only to hegemonic nations or world companies, who have the capacity to uphold their interests and plunder the riches. That is why, I think that UNO should create an independent entity which belongs to each human being, passing over the nations. With an appropriate constitution, this entity could be able to govern the Commons and remunerate directly each of us on earth in sharing equitably the benefits. It will be few things for us the rich, but many for all the poor people, the beginning of an universal income.
Meanwhile, I wish to pay my taxes in kind, as a part of my production, left for example at the disposal of the World Food Program (WFP). This set apart, what a fairer distribution of wealth, when the same animal protein is affordable and directly consumed by the poorests, while it is used as animal feed by the richest, who will finally pay more for their food.
Alongside the production of proteins, this intended high sea infrastructure is also a good opportunity to provide natural ingredients for the cosmetics industry. Thanks to the biological affinity between our blood and seawater, between our cells and marine ones, cosmetics containing marine active agents provide the best skin affinity. The constantly growing market of natural cosmetics already faces scarcity in uncontaminated materials in sufficient quantities. The consumers’ understandable tendency to seek for natural ingredients in their cosmetics, no longer allows the industry to reproduce artificially molecules they find interesting in the nature. In order to be both accepted and praised, these ingredients need to be produced naturally in a healthy and sustainable way. Chemically synthesized molecules or even cultures in stainless steel or plastic tanks will not be able to compete with cultures in natural seawater from before the Anthropocene.
Another opportunity is a possible carbon sink. By a low average of 200 tons mussels on long lines per hectare per year, 75% composition that is shell, represents 150 tons of calcium carbonate (aragonite and calcite) containing 12% of carbon, that are 18 tons per hectare, permanently removed each year. In comparison, a forest on land retains only 4 tons of carbon per hectare per year, and only as long as it is growing.
But there is a scientific debate about the relative importance of the different carbon fluxes occurring during shellfish production. On one side it is a carbon sink due to evident carbon sequestration by shells (calcium carbonate is a fossil carbon reservoir of biological origin, like coal or petroleum), on the other side it is a carbon source due to the absorption of the existing dissolved calcium bicarbonate in seawater and the induced CO2 released during the biomineralization process, alongside with the animal's breathing which also produces CO2.
At first sight, it seems that the amount of sequestered carbon for shell formation is less important than these released during calcification process and respiration. This is why shellfish cultivation, unlike reforestation, has not been taken into account as a carbon offset in the international carbon trading system implemented by the Kyoto Protocol. In my opinion, however, these isolated carbon fluxes have to be understood in correlation with other adjacent natural cycles.
- Dissolved calcium bicarbonate Ca(HCO3)2 in seawater has required two carbon atoms taken from the carbon dioxide CO2 of the hydrosphere and releases only one during the biomineralization. Calcium being one of the most common ions in seawater, the released carbon will quickly find a second one to form calcium bicarbonate again and rebalance the chemical exchanges regulated by physical properties like temperature or pressure which have not been affected by this process.
- Mussel's breathing, on its side, is due to metabolic activities, fueled by the ingestion of phytoplankton's carbon, which belongs to ocean's biological carbon reservoir, like all other marine organisms. After a more or less long residence time there, only a fraction of this reservoir's carbon reaches the sea bottom, sediments and is then sequestered for a sufficient long period, say millennia and more. When phytoplankton is ingested by shellfish, the carbon track is exactly the same, but involves only the animal's soft body with its metabolism, not its shell formation.
- Shell's calcium carbonate, elaborated by the mollusk's mantle with calcium bicarbonate from seawater, which carbon originates ultimately from the atmosphere, is a plus that has to be counted apart. The important thing is what remains after the animal's death. The shell's carbon is effectively and permanently sequestered in a mineral form, indigestible and chemically stable for at least as long as the one that has reached the sea bottom, say geological times.
The same pattern occurs with forests. The carbon reservoir is represented by the biomass of wood, leaves, roots and all the ramping, flying and running animals. When a forest is mature, it doesn't bind any more atmospheric CO2 through photosynthesis as it releases through decaying by legions of bacteria and fungi, except for the part which is sustainably managed for wood. Firewood remains at most two or three years until it is dry enough to be burned. Timber for furniture or buildings may retain its carbon between a few decades to several centuries in the best case, until it is decayed or burned, but not longer. Sustainably managed wood is pretty good for a mature forest, its live and its living area. At this stage, the forest represents an important carbon reservoir which has to be treasured, but it isn't a relevant carbon sink anymore. Forests are relevant carbon sinks, but only as long as they grow.
Being accepted by the international carbon trade, reforestation is an appreciated opportunity for industries who need to improve their carbon print. The problem is to find enough free land for new forests, and to secure their growing, which is nor given everywhere, and certainly not in water stressed regions. Time limited efficiency - only as long as the forest grows - is also a major handicap. If the planted tree species are unsuitable to the local environment and unable to create a self-sufficient biotope, they will die and release their carbon again.
In contrast, an expansion of shellfish cultivation, if it is accepted as a carbon sink in the frame of the carbon trading system, would be much more sustainable and easier to perform. Marine spaces in coastal areas are easier to find as continental land which tends to be used primarily for agriculture when it is free and not desertified. The needed workforce for shellfish cultivation could be paid directly by the resulted meat production. The contribution of polluting industries wishing to improve their carbon print, could thus be limited to studies, infrastructure, equipment and learning requirements to enhance shellfish cultivation around the globe, with healthy marine proteins as a gift, especially for developing countries, where the most coastal sea areas are still free from commercial exploitation and where quite a billion people suffer from undernourishment.
You can read more about it with Dr David Moore's publication "a biotechnological expansion of shellfish cultivation could permanently remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere".
Set apart the intended mussel production by my project for aquafeed on Davis Bank, a carbon sink, if it is really one, could also be deployed easily and very massively from this place towards the high seas. Given the large biomass of mussels' larvae (each female spawns millions of eggs), combined with the fact that in oligotrophic waters, mussels can build quite normal shell without growing much meat (revealed by a failed attempt of the French IFREMER in the eighties to cultivate mussels on high seas), can constitute an important calcium carbonate production. Little biodegradable swimming devices with fixed mussel larvae from Davis Bank can be abandoned in the surface passing Brazil Current (BC), flowing then south-easterly towards the South Atlantic Gyre. The shells will grow and, after a while, will sink by their weight. The carbon will then be sequestrated in the ocean's depths, at least until reaching the Carbonate Compensation Depth. Even from there on, released carbon, carried by the global thermohaline circulation, would take a good thousand years to surface again.
Considering all this arguments, it seems that shellfish farming is the only industry able to scale up massively against climate change, while improving global food supply at the same time. The most harmful effect of climate change being the undermining of the ecological basis of food production, my proposal to include shellfish cultivation in the carbon trading system, may hit two targets with one bullet.
Another perspective flirts nearly with full happiness. The created oasis of life on Davis Bank will also result in numerous interactions with wild animals and inspire other challenges. Sea breams, for example, will come and crunch mussels. Dolphins, seals or other marine mammals will also be attracted and could bring the final touch. Indeed, those particular species can be formed (educated) to select wild fish shoals in the surroundings and gather them into settled nets for this purpose.
They have proven at several places on earth to be very collaborative in hunting down fish together with mankind, in Brazil, but also in Mauritania and in Myanmar as well. These symbiotic bonds are lasting since generations, even since the 15th century in Mauritania, and are based on trusting relationships between individuals who do well out of it together. Combined with the dophins' ability to recognize geometric figures and colors, as demonstrated on a daily basis in marine parks, their goodwill could certainly allow to herd schools of targeted fish species towards prepared fishing nets.
This could be the solution to avoid today’s fisheries’ bycatch and stop their too large energy spending that makes them economically unsustainable without subsidies.
Take a look at the trailer below about cooperative fishing between dolphins and fishermen in Laguna, Brazil!
(Courtesy: Longtail Distribution Network)
We need to change our old hunter habits and imagine new possibilities to take advantage of our oceans and preserve them at the same time. We can start settling the "Far Wet" on Davis Bank because of its ideal environment, but there are lots of seamounts awaiting us until this technology has been validated.
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