“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” -R. Buckminster Fuller
SUMMARY: GreenWave is a non-profit organization that has designed the world’s first multi-species 3D ocean farms, aiming to restore ocean ecosystems and create jobs in coastal communities by transforming fishers into restorative ocean farmers.
PROBLEM SPACE: The ocean that we swim in today has changed more in our lifetime than in any other similar period in the past 300 million years. Meanwhile, over three billion people rely on our ocean’s marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods. As humans, we have a stunning capacity to destroy the environment and the resources we depend on to survive. Fortunately, millions of years ago, Mother Nature, invented two technologies designed to mitigate our harm: seaweeds and shellfish.
SOLUTION: This new approach moves us from growing vulnerable monocultures to creating vibrant ecosystems, which work to rebuild biodiversity and produce higher yields. The infrastructure is simple: seaweed, scallops and mussels grow on floating ropes, stacked above oyster and clam cages below. From these crops ocean farmers can produce food, fertilizers, animal feeds, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, biofuels and much more. The farms are designed to restore, rather than deplete our ecosystems. A single acre filters millions of gallons of ocean water every day, creates homes for hundreds of wild marine and bird species and absorbs the overabundance of nitrogen and carbon (with kelp sequestering 5x more carbon than land based-plants) that are killing billions of organisms. The design requires zero-inputs—there is no need for fresh water.
“GreenWave exemplifies beautifully Fuller’s inspirational call for individuals and groups to take the initiative, identify a critical issue, and tackle it independently, creatively, responsibly, and in a comprehensive manner,” said Michael Ben-Eli, former colleague of Buckminster Fuller and Senior Advisor to the Fuller Challenge, and Founder of The Sustainability Laboratory.
THE FULLER CHALLENGE CRITERIA:
Visionary – GreenWave synthesizes existing technologies into an integrative aquaculture system and sustainable business model that seeks to repair the way that humans interact with ocean ecosystems. Their vision of transforming the last ocean hunters into restorative ocean farmers is one that aligns with Fuller’s vision of all of humanity being able to “make it”, successfully and sustainably, by doing more with less.
Comprehensive – GreenWave not only proposes a sustainable, integrated system within its 3D ocean farm model, but also applies a whole-systems approach to real-world deployment by proposing an affordable, open-source business model. GreenWave’s combined approach to ecological restoration, innovative food production, and sustainable business would generate a cascade of economic and environmental benefits to the communities in which it is implemented. They measure varied impacts such as: jobs created, storm mitigation, nitrogen sequestration.
Anticipatory – GreenWave looks toward future possibilities for ocean-grown resources, and is actively working with both research institutes and industry partners in order to offer 3D ocean farmers a range of opportunities for product development, including: food, fertilizer, animal feed, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, biofuels, and more. In particular, they are working to develop markets for seaweed as a sustainable alternative for protein in the human diet.
Ecologically Responsible – The GreenWave model reflects nature’s underlying principles by proposing zero-input, closed-loop, multi-species aquaculture systems that filter water, restore coastal ecosystems, sequester carbon, and support biodiversity. Rather than simply minimizing harm, GreenWave’s model is ecologically regenerative, and productively enhances human life support systems by presenting an alternative to conventional agriculture, fishing, and aquaculture.
Feasible – Using simple infrastructure, GreenWave’s flagship farm on the Thimble Islands has the capacity to grow 10 tons of sea vegetables and 250,000 shellfish annually on one acre with zero input and no fresh water requirements. This same one-acre farm is able to filter millions of gallons of ocean water daily. The model’s low entry barrier requires 20 acres of leased ocean, a boat, and $30,000 of start-up costs, and can provide a higher than median income (around $70,000 per year).
Verifiable – Over 12 years, the GreenWave team has secured vital partnerships and demonstrated that their model is financially scalable. GreenWave cites research that points to the viability of seaweed to supply biofuel as well as human dietary protein. Partnerships include Echoing Green, the Hall Foundation, USDA, University of Connecticut, Yale University, Woods Hole Research Center, Fishackathon, Future of Fish, multiple National Aquariums, Points of Light, the Centre for Social Innovation, Whole Foods, Google, and many more.
Replicable – GreenWave is disseminating their model for restorative 3D ocean farms by open-source manuals, farmer training programs, and an online collaboration platform to create a network of restorative ocean farming communities. Outside of ongoing replication along the waters of the Long Island Sound, 3D ocean farmers anywhere in the world will be able to select appropriate native species to restore productive ecosystems along the coast.
For more information, please visit GreenWave’s website: http://greenwave.org
UPDATE (2018): “Since being honored with the Buckminster Fuller Award, GreenWave has undergone major expansion. We now support an emerging network of ‘GreenWave Reefs’ in New England, California, the Pacific Northwest, and Alaska – with each reef made up of ocean farmers, hatcheries, processors, and entrepreneurs – and are in the process of establishing a European program.
We are developing an open source ocean farming platform for growth combined with farm sensor technology to empower farmers to collect and aggregate farm and reef-level data and create a community space for all restorative ocean farming stakeholders. This technology would not only turn each farm into a data engine by providing real-time tracking of data points, like farm-level carbon and nitrogen mitigation banking, but would also supply the connective tissue for farmers, researchers, wholesalers, investors, and others to share data, bolster restorative ocean farming practices, spur investment, and guide future ocean farming development. We are also creating a founding set principles for our growing industry akin to the principles of permaculture developed in the 1970s.
Over the last three years, we have been featured in Time Magazine’s ‘The 25 Best Inventions of 2017′, Rolling Stones’ ’25 People Shaping the Future’, and have been awarded both the 2017 Index: Design to Improve Life Award and 2017 Sustainia Award. We credit the Buckminster Fuller
Institute for taking our work to the next level and for all the support we have received since winning the award.”