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Design & Nature Reimagined: An ocean of innovation

First off, the ocean is like an alien planet. The creatures that live there are fascinating, and we know so astronomically little about the majority of the ocean. Scientists have only explored and charted about 5% (FIVE PERCENT!) of the total ocean. Oceans make up 70% of the earth's surface. Which means there is 65% of the earth that we just know absolutely nothing about. This is one of the (many) reasons figuring out cause and effect within the environment is so difficult. Everything is interconnected and we don't have even half of the picture. So today we're going to talk about just a few wonders of the sea.

The light that lives

Something particularly beautiful and amazing about sea creatures is the prevalence of bio-luminescence in creatures. Bio-luminescent creatures produce a chemical reaction within their own bodies that produce light. An example of a bioluminescent sea creature is the Angler fish, the guy with a little light like a lamp at the end of a tendril that he uses to attract prey. And some companies, like Glowee, are starting to learn how to harness that light. While this is still very much in the research and discovery phase, unlocking how this is done could lead to different ways of creating, storing, and using energy to create light in a way that is much more eco-friendly and climate conscious.

Forests under the sea

I talk a lot about trees in the forest, but there's an entirely different forest in the water. Kelp forests. Kelp forests (also known as seaweed) are vital for carbon sequestration, but lax fishing practices and regulations often mean that kelp forests are easily decimated. But, kelp grows really fast—up to 2 feet per day! In a great push by scientists to expand our thinking on how we are naturally able to sequester carbon dioxide (CO2), there are now programs that help reforest on the land, but also reforest kelp in the water. This is called marine permaculture and is an intermediary way to naturally trap carbon dioxide. Seaweed is more efficient at trapping carbon than trees, but stores it for a shorter period of a few decades, before releasing it back into the atmosphere. And trees are slower to pull in CO2 but are better at storing carbon and putting it back into the soil. So, imagine if, at the same time we did marine permaculture, we were replanting forests on land? We need a multi-faceted solution to climate change, and creating forests in the sea and on land is a great step forward.

And speaking of seaweed

One of the really exciting and hopeful things about reducing our climate impact and combatting climate change is the range of new industries, businesses, and groups that are going to continue sprouting and growing.

One of these companies is called Oceanium, which aims to start developing food, nutrition products, and home compostable bio-packaging materials from sustainably harvested seaweed. This company is really, really new... as in they just got started in 2019. So I think they're still in the research, discovery, and ideation phase as well, but the fact that we're seeing more focus on our oceans is a good sign. I'm excited to see how this and other companies start growing as our technology and farming practices improve, and as our understanding of the ocean expands. Those of us with western, euro-centric backgrounds are finally starting to grasp the true interconnectedness of this planet that Native and Indigenous cultures have been telling us about for centuries.** To save one piece of the planet is to save many unknowable others down the line as well. **We have the opportunity, and the duty, to save the only home we've got.

Today I want to leave you with a picture and a Twitter account to follow, if Twitter is your thing. This is Rebecca R. Helm, and she's an associate professor at the University of North Carolina, Asheville. She posts beautiful ocean photography and can give you a glimpse into this amazing world we know so little about, but that is part of sustaining life on this planet.

A blue button jelly with floating tentacles.


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