University of New England researchers are operating a kelp farm in Saco Bay to study how best to grow kelp in the open ocean, with an eye toward producing biofuel if it can be grown efficiently at a large enough scale.

Part of the research is aimed at reducing production costs by studying the impacts of ocean currents and wave energy on the crop. 

Toby Dewhurst, left, and Nate Baker weigh a bag of kelp just harvested from a kelp farm in Saco Bay on Thursday. Both are with Kelson Marine and are partnering with the University of New England in researching how to best farm kelp in open-ocean conditions. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

This year, researchers are also looking into what can be done to lower levels of pathogens on edible seaweed.

Carrie Byron, associate professor of marine and environmental programs at UNE, says edible seaweed tends to be low in pathogens, but there are no legal standards.

“Seaweeds are not properly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration,” said Byron. “We want to get some data to help inform those regulations.” 

Zach Miller-Hope, a professor with the Ocean Food Systems program at the University of New England, pulls in seaweed on Thursday from a kelp farm in Saco Bay that the university is using for a three-year study researching how to farm kelp in open-ocean conditions.  Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Byron and her students are also studying how kelp farms might provide habitat for other aquatic species, such as mussels, as natural kelp beds decline.

The study, in its second year of three years, is funded by a $1.3 million research grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.

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