The introduction of seaweed farms could help combat nitrogen pollution in river estuaries, a new study at Tel Aviv University has found. Nitrogen is commonly used in agriculture for fertilization purposes, however it can be damaging to ecosystems once it reaches the ocean.
For the study, the researchers built a large seaweed farm model in the Alexander River estuary, hundreds of meters from the open Mediterranean sea where nitrogen pollution is discharged from nearby fields and towns. Since the study began two years ago, researchers have been gathering and analysing data in order to conclude how effective seaweed farms are for pollution reduction.
Their findings were promising, with an overall analysis suggesting that the seaweed farms significantly reduced nitrogen concentrations and helped to prevent pollution in marine environments. In addition the study also suggests that the farms are best placed in areas where freshwater rivers or streams meet the ocean, otherwise known as ‘river estuaries’.
Prof. Golberg, who supervised the study said ”In this study, we showed that if seaweed is grown according to the model we developed, in rivers’ estuaries, they can absorb the nitrogen to conform to environmental standards and prevent its dispersal in water and thus neutralize environmental pollution. This way, we actually produce a kind of ‘natural decontamination facility’ with significant ecological and economic value, as seaweed can be sold as biomass for human use.”
The model will allow both marine farmers and the government to plan ahead and recognize future impacts of seaweed farms, allowing them to make adjustments and maximize potential benefits such as producing the agriculturally desired protein quantities. There is also potential for the seaweed to be produced as biomass for environmentally friendly fuel.