Interest grows in ocean kelp forests
He’s been called the “world’s most powerful environmentalist”, giving away more than $US17 million ($23.6m) annually to his chosen causes though his Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment.
Now Jeremy Grantham, whose Boston-based firm Grantham, Mayo, & van Otterloo (better known as GMO) has more than $118 billion in assets, looks set to link up with a group of Australian high-networth investors to support work to regenerate the nation’s ocean kelp forests.
They also hope that the feeding of some of the harvested seaweed to livestock can help reduce the carbon emissions that flow from Australia’s agricultural sector, which largely come from the methane emitted by cattle and sheep.
In May, a delegation from the Australian branch of the Private Wealth Network, an international association for families of significant wealth, visited GMO’s Boston headquarters to meet with Mr Grantham.
There, Brian von Herzen, the executive director of the Grantham-backed Climate Foundation and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, presented them with his dream to rejuvenate the forests of the ocean through the practice of marine permaculture.
It involves sinking large carbon frames planted with kelp and interspersed with containers for shellfish and other kinds of fish 25m below the surface of the ocean. Cold water is then piped from the depth below to irrigate the kelp.
“Jeremy has been supporting us for more than two years with bridge funding and we are now looking to scale that,’’ Dr von Herzen said. “I am working with his foundation every month.
“It is a real pleasure to be able to sit with him and talk about the developments and potential. It is the scaleability of this technology that is really attractive.’’
At the May forum, he told the Australian PWN members how marine permaculture could rejuvenate floating kelp forests that could restore marine habitats and ecosystems, helping regenerate fisheries. They could also generate feed for cattle without the need for freshwater and provide fertiliser for crops.
“Richard Milroy, executive director of the PWH in Australia, liked my presentation so much he asked us to present in Australia, which we have been doing over these past few weeks,’’ Dr von Herzen said. There were presentations in Melbourne a fortnight ago. This week he presented in Sydney.
“We have got a lot of interest and support from some of the key members that were with us in Boston. They are now looking at providing impact funding for marine permaculture.”
Social impact investment — which provides investors with financial as well as social returns — has already attracted the attention of some of the nation’s biggest superannuation funds.
Dr von Herzen said the local investors were looking to match the funding for the projects provided by Mr Grantham and other US benefactors.
“One of the reasons Jeremy spoke to PWN in May was to foster additional like-minded benefactors and funders to join him in making this a reality — to regenerate life in the ocean,’’ he said. “Ideally we will develop a syndicate of Australian impact funders who will match Jeremy’s funding … It will likely be millions of dollars.”
The CSIRO and Meat and Livestock Australia have previously documented that a 1 per cent seaweed cattle feed supplement could eliminate 50-90 per cent of the methane emissions from livestock.
Dr von Herzen is now talking with Meat and Livestock Australia to collaborate on seaweed production in Queensland so that the wider deployment of the projects across Australia could help make cattle farming carbon negative by 2025.
Separately, he has been invited by the Great Barrier Reed Marine Park Authority to deploy a kelp system off the Great Barrier Reef to reverse the coral damage there and is looking at doing the same along the West Australian coastline.
He also has an active project in Tasmania to reverse the damage of salmon farming.
“If you look at WA, we have lost 1000sq km of kelp forest,’’ he said. “At the grassroots level, the support for this has been incredible in Australia.”
Brian von Herzen is advocating social impact investment