Site Assessment Toolkit to improve kelp farm site selection

Schery Umanzor contributed to this story.

Alaska has ideal conditions for kelp mariculture, including cold and nutrient-rich waters, working waterfronts, a skilled maritime workforce, and people interested in developing kelp mariculture operations. The process of selecting farming sites can be a challenge, however, especially in rural Alaska.

Determining the suitability of sites for the cultivation of kelp involves assessing multiple factors such as potential conflicts over use of space, geophysical aspects of the local area, and the biological requirements for kelp cultivation. In Alaska, farm sites are often selected based on proximity to supply chains, boat ramps, or ports, with a preference for areas offering protection from wind and waves. Although this criteria for site selection is important, if biological requirements needed for growing kelp are not considered, underperformance of kelp farms may hinder the industry.

Hard cover case showing brochure and scientific instruments inside.
Site Assessment Toolkit. Photo courtesy Melissa Good.

As the kelp farming industry gains momentum, there is a need for information about how to select suitable sites. To address this issue, University of Alaska Fairbanks College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences professor Dr. Schery Umanzor and Alaska Sea Grant mariculture specialist Melissa Good, with input from the Native Conservancy, are designing, assembling, and testing a Site Assessment Toolkit (SAT), a portable tool that can be used to aid site selection and for year-round environmental monitoring.

Kelp growth depends on the right combination of light, nutrients, salinity, temperature, and water flow to thrive. The SAT  contains supplies for measuring and recording environmental parameters, all within a durable, water-resistant case. The kit also includes an information booklet and illustrated directions with QR codes directing users to instructional videos on how to use the kit

Several sample kits have been assembled with funds from the Alaska Center for Innovation, Commercialization, and Entrepreneurship at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and are in the process of being tested and licensed. The team is planning to make the SATs available to current and prospective mariculture farmers and entrepreneurs.

Contact Melissa Good for more information.