Permaculture taught us to cultivate the soil with greater care. Can we apply similar practices to cultivating the sea?

Due to overfishing and increasing global demand for ‘blue foods’, such as wild fish and marine creatures, ocean farming is expanding quickly. Fish, kelp, prawns, oysters, and other species are currently extensively cultivated. Currently, farmed seafood consumption surpasses that of wild-caught fish globally.

Farms are emerging on coastlines and in offshore areas globally. Australians are likely acquainted with Tasmania’s salmon business, New South Wales’ oyster farms, and seaweed farms located along the southern coastline. Aquaculture surpasses fishing in Australia in terms of size. Aquaculture is considered a crucial source of sustenance and organic matter necessary for mitigating the harm inflicted on our oceans and supporting the nourishment of an expanding populace.

However, the thriving “blue economy” is not a universal solution. Aquaculture facilities have the potential to contaminate the water. Mangroves are frequently cut down to create space for prawn farms. Current solutions may transform into future issues. We cannot easily go from one type of environmental misuse to another.

An alternate option is permaculture. This method has demonstrated its effectiveness on land in integrating agriculture with robust ecosystems. What if it could perform similarly on water?

Improving aquaculture

Today’s most urgent issues, such as climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution, are connected to our land-based food production methods. Creating new farmland typically requires habitat removal, tree destruction, and the application of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.

Humans have been farming for over 12,000 years and currently manage almost 70% of Earth’s ice-free area for agriculture, urban development, and several other purposes.

On land, we engage in agriculture, caring for tamed creatures. However, when on the ocean, we have acted as hunters, searching for untamed populations. The waters will now be utilized for farming. We should engage in farming practices that do not harm these ecosystems.

We must avoid employing the same intense farming techniques in the waters as we do on land due to financial constraints. Considering the poor health of numerous ocean systems due to overfishing, algal blooms, and habitat destruction, there is little margin for mistakes.

What is marine permaculture?

Permaculture, as we are familiar with it, was formulated in the 1960s by Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. The second person mentioned is a co-author of the research that serves as the foundation for this piece.

The objective was to develop agricultural methods that contribute to the soil and ecosystems by utilizing techniques such as no-till farming, companion planting, and food forests. During the past five decades, farmers worldwide have embraced it.

Permaculture is based on three ethics: caring for the Earth, caring for people, and fair distribution of resources, with the goal of ensuring benefits are shared and expenses are distributed fairly among individuals and the environment.

What would a marine permaculture system entail? Recent advancements in ocean productivity and governance show similarities to the practices of permaculture practitioners.

Some now argue that aquaculture systems can be not only low-impact but also contribute to the restoration of lost or damaged ecosystems. Oyster farms are gradually restoring natural oyster reefs that used to cover shallow coastal waters, while prawn farms are being ringed by regrowing mangroves to save the coast from erosion.

Permaculture’s closed-loop technique on land shares considerable similarities with the growing sea farming method known as integrated multi-trophic aquaculture. Here, cultivating species with diverse ecological functions together increases food production on your farm and enhances natural ecosystem services.

Consumers’ food waste is recycled by seaweeds and shellfish in these systems, which then serve as food and habitat for farmed fish species. Well-designed, these benefits emanate from the farm.

Permaculture’s impact can be seen in nature-inspired design and biomimicry, which utilize natural forms to enhance nature. Australian work involves restoring rocky reefs by constructing structures that provide the necessary nooks and crannies for little sea animals.

Starting at the basic level

Currently, a small number of firms have a significantly large amount of control over fisheries and aquaculture. Partly due to their high cost, supertrawlers, motherships, and enormous blue-water fish farms are not commonly used.

Adopting a marine permaculture strategy for the blue economy would involve empowering coastal communities, similar to artisanal fishing practices.

Localized aquaculture offers tangible advantages. Individuals and groups can create customized marine permaculture systems for their specific locations by implementing design ideas from other areas or via experimentation and testing.

If something malfunctions or causes subsequent effects, individuals can observe the situation and react promptly.

Small marine farms are less likely to cause harm and can enhance resilience by supporting local social and environmental advantages.

How do we actualize this?

Governments can support small-scale producers by establishing policy frameworks that promote favorable social and ecological results.

It is crucial for governments to develop thorough spatial plans to regulate aquaculture in a certain area or region. This is crucial since it eliminates ambiguity and prevents conflicts among various usage.

Researchers can contribute by creating metrics for success and experimenting with innovative methods to assist in directing the emerging communities that will engage in sea farming.

Permaculture on land has evolved over the last 50 years into a varied movement that questions traditional methods of food production.

We will require the same high level of creative energy to bring marine permaculture into existence. It is feasible to create food-producing seascapes that contribute to the sea’s ecosystem while supporting the growth of small-scale sea farmers.

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