The human population is expected to grow by another 2-3 billion over the next decades, resulting in increased requirements for food, material and energy resources. Many currently available resources have already, or will shortly reach their carrying capacity and climate change models suggest reductions in the availability and stability of arable land for agricultural production. The ocean is a major source of renewable resources that remains largely untapped at lower trophic levels. The overall vision of Ocean Bergen is to develop technology and solutions for sustainable production of food, material and energy from the sea.
SUSTAINABLE USE OF MARINE RESOURCES
Our most abundant biomass resources are generated through the process of primary production. Using solar energy (photosynthesis), or alternatively, oxidation or reduction of inorganic compounds (chemosynthesis), nutrients enter the bottom of the food chain. This is a renewable biomass resource forming the very basis for sustaining life on the planet. The amount of primary production is roughly equivalent between land and oceans; however, only 2 % of our food comes from the ocean. This is because we harvest resources throughout the food chain on land, whereas harvesting in the ocean occurs predominantly at the top, less energetically efficient, levels. Developing sustainable technical solutions to harvest low trophic resources from the ocean is therefore key to solving the global challenge of increased human population.
Sustainable production of food,
material and energy from the ocean
Ocean Bergen is currently developing a method to harvest primary production directly from the sea. A major challenge in catching the primary production in the sea is that it is very dilute. Even in areas with heavy discharge of nutrients from land, microalgae are much too dilute to be efficiently removed from the water column in an economically viable way. Ocean Bergen has developed a new method to harvest these microalgae, and is currently testing this technology in a pilot scale facility. Marine algae are major producers of omega-3 lipids that are currently in high demand within the aquaculture industry.
Filter-feeders are efficient organisms in aquatic environments that are able to feed on low trophic levels. Ocean Bergen is particularly interested in the benthic tunicate Ciona intestinalis, and has explored the use of these organisms as a new resource for both animal feed and biopolymers. Tunicates are the only animal group able to synthesize cellulose. This is due to a lateral gene transfer of cellulose synthase from prokaryotes at the very base of this tunicate lineage. In benthic tunicates, this cellulose is located in the mantle of the organism. In addition, the inner animal fraction contains very little cellulose, but is rich in both proteins and marine lipids, rich in omega-3.
There are significant challenges in the fin fish aquaculture industry. These challenges include the occurrence of the parasitic salmon lice, Lepeophtheirus salmonis; an ectoparasite causing severe threats to the industry, and escape of fish from pens, altering the genetic make-up of naturally occurring populations. Significant discharge of nutrients from fish pens can also negatively impact local ecosystems. There is a need to urgently address these key challenges. Ocean Bergen is currently developing an aquaculture system that will clean the inlet and outlet waters in an integrated, multi-trophic, semi-closed production facility using biological organisms with their own additional market value.