Ocean farmers use a ruler to check how much the seaweed has grown.

Smith’s New Farm

When a scientist suggested to Smith that he try growing a large kind of seaweed called sugar kelp, Smith was sold. He thought, “This is it!” This is the better way he was looking for. He would become an ocean farmer, growing food in one place year after year. He wouldn't be fishing, but he could still be on the water, own his own business, and feed people.

A perfect situation!

Well, not quite perfect. Smith wasn’t satisfied with growing only kelp. He wanted to produce a variety of food, and as much of it as he could, within the 40-acre plot of ocean that he leased, or rented, in Long Island Sound. This stretch of water is nestled between Connecticut to the north and Long Island, New York, to the south.

sugar kelp

Smith wondered if he could create a farm that uses not just the 20 acres on the surface or the 20 acres on the bottom, but the entire depth of the water. There was a lot to consider. How do you grow kelp? What other kinds of food crops can be raised along with kelp? How should everything be arranged in a small ocean plot? And, how can the farm be run so that it actually helps the ocean instead of harms it?

After 15 years of experiments, successes, and failures, Smith came up with a farming method that does everything he could have hoped for. He calls it 3D ocean farming. Let’s see how it works.

Explore 3D ocean farming.

3D Ocean Farming

Take a look at one version of a 3D ocean farm. Now you can see the purpose of those black buoys. They hold up ropes that form the backbone of an underwater framework. The ropes support kelp that grows downward in long, wavy ribbons. Scallops and mussels grow in nets that hang between the kelp. And below it all, oysters grow in cages on the seafloor.

Ropes are suspended 2.4 meters (8 feet) underwater.

Kelp grows fast. It’s no longer than the width of a coin when planted in December. By spring harvest, it’s 5.4 meters
(18 feet) long.

Anchors keep the buoys and ropes in place, even during violent storms.

How Do They Start?

Crops on land begin as seeds planted in the ground. So how do kelp, mussels, and other ocean farm “crops” get their start? It depends.

For kelp, the farmer collects some of the kelp each fall and brings it to a facility called a nursery. There, the kelp produce tiny round spores. The spores are attached to a string that is then rolled around a tube. The seeds continue to grow on the string until harvest.

It’s different with mussels. Young mussels called larvae swim in the ocean and attach themselves to parts of the kelp. There, the larvae grow small, hard shells. The farmer removes these baby mussels and loads them into mussel socks, where they poke through the mesh as they grow to full size.

Kelp spores grow around a tube in a nursery.

Other shellfish usually start out life in a hatchery before being moved to the 3D farm to continue growing.