SAN DIEGO BAY IS ALREADY AN ECONOMIC HUB.
---WITH TOURISM, SHIP OPERATIONS, AND THE MILITARY.
AND THERE'S APPARENTLY ROOM FOR MORE.
BIOLOGISTS ARE HOPING TO ADD FARMING TO THE LIST TO SATISFY THE TASTE FOR SEAWEED.
KPBS ENVIRONMENT REPORTER ERIK ANDERSON HAS DETAILS.
"So this is the farm site"
Leslie Booher walks on a floating platform between an empty fish pen and the deteriorating Grape Street Pier. (12:28:45) This is where Booher and her partner hope to see a 90 foot by 40 foot underwater farm take root.
LB 02:36:57 - 02:36: "It's quite compact, but remember we have 24 feet of water column to work with. So it's actually a pretty large cubic space when you look at it."
Twine will be strung across the space at varying depths and that rope will anchor a number of different seaweed species which started their lives in a lab. Ultimately the twine will be unwound from a spool.
LB 02:37:57 -- 02:38:15 It's just twine around PVC pipe. So once these juveniles are grown out on that spool, we transfer the spool out and then we take it on preset lines and we just unspool it along those preset lines. And it just continues to grow on that line."
Weekly dives will allow the team to monitor how the lines and the fledgling plants are doing. Booher wants to make sure other plants or animals don't move in and push their crop out of the way. Then, about every six weeks, they harvest.
LB 02:41:45 -- 02:41:57 "In order to preserve the biodiversity we don't want to clear cut every three months, right. So we want to selectively harvest and selectively plant so we can kind of keep this three dimensional structure the whole time."
The "Sunken Seaweed" company is a collaboration between Booher and her partner Torre Polizzi. He's got a bucket with a few samples of what they hope to grow. A light leafy plant he's holding in his hand is, not surprisingly, called sea lettuce.
02:15:36 - 02:15:43 "If you're a fisherman or you've been around boats you've seen this growing off the side of your boat or on the ropes."
Polizzi says most people don't know it's a very nutritious and tasty sea vegetable. And there are a few more species the team hopes to put on local plates.
TP 02:16:21 -- 02:16:32 "The sea grapes are just a beautiful species.
The purple plant has bulbs that resemble their namesake.
"They're edible. They're used a lot as decoration at high end seafood places."
Those seem perfectly suited for delicate and expensive palates, but not everything they plan to harvest has that ready for market name.
TP 02:17:24 - 02:17:29 "Another one we have here is dead man's fingers."
Maybe not the best moniker (laugh) for an ocean plant they hope ends up in a fancy eatery. Even so, Polizzi says the plants which grow near the shore where tides wash over them have a future.
TP 02:17:32 02:17:48 "You can find these out in the intertidal as well. Something that chefs have done with these is tempura them and put it in a lot of sushi recipes. It's a really spongy rather tasty species."
The small company got a boost from the Port of San Diego's business incubator. Rafael Castellanos is the Port's chair. He says tourism, ship operations, and retail already power a big chunk of the local economy, but the Port is working to broaden the bay's economic palate.
RC 02:13:23 - 02:13:35 "There's a tremendous amount of opportunity here to diversify our lines of businesses in a way that's sustainable. And that's good for the port. It's good for the environment. It's good for the region. And everybody in the state of California."
Castellanos says a fledgling oyster business near Tuna Harbor and this effort are part of what he hopes becomes part of a blue "ocean based" economy. And he says the Bay is clean enough to handle it.
RC 02:12:51 - 02:13:06 "We're getting all of the required health certifications in order to be able to sell these products. So we're not concerned about that. We're very optimistic about that and again we've been working very hard for many years to keep the bay clean and make sure it's suitable for this type of venture."
Stand up Lockout: 02:48:20 - 02:48:35 "Lobster fisherman have already figured out a way to make a living beneath the surface of the bay. And now, the Port and the folks at Sunken Seaweed are hoping to do the same. Erik Anderson KPBS News"