“We want to have 100,000 Catherine Pucketts worldwide. Women could be the architects of the blue economy.”
By Marlene Cimons
Catherine Puckett needs to be close to the ocean. “I just can’t be away from it,” she said. “It means everything to me.” She has to see it and smell it and hear the bells that ring from buoys offshore when a heavy sea rolls in from the east. When she is waist-deep in water, ankle-deep in mud, salt marsh on one side and water on the other, there’s only one way she can describe it. “It’s magical,” she said. She even wades in during the coldest days of winter, often breaking through ice to get there. “I think to myself: ‘why doesn’t everybody do this?’” she said.
Puckett, 36, known locally as “Oyster Wench,” a single mother with two young children, lives on Block Island, about a dozen miles off the Rhode Island coast. She represents a new generation of ocean farmers, one whose singular connection to the water is coupled with a passion for the environment. She grows shellfish and kelp on her farm, located in the waters of the Great Salt Pond, using sustainable fishing methods that both preserve the ocean’s ecosystems and fight climate change.
“What we are trying to do is grow food from the ocean that doesn’t hurt the environment or the climate and, in fact, is working toward restoring both,” she said.
he is one of a growing number of ocean farmers engaged in 3D farming, cultivating her crops vertically in straight up-and-down water columns, using no fertilizers, freshwater or feed. Puckett’s clams are buried and covered with nets to protect them from predators, while her oysters grow in bags. Her kelp develops on lines.
The operation helps cut down on pollution in numerous ways. The shellfish help filter pollutants from the water. They also offer a source of protein to diners, who might otherwise eat beef, which is made from cows who burp and fart methane, a potent heat-trapping gas. For those who can’t give up their beef, ocean farming can help. Research shows that when cows eat a little seaweed, they produce less methane.
Seaweed also soaks up carbon and nitrogen, two pollutants lingering in the water. Carbon released by cars, trucks, factories and power plants is entering the ocean, turning waters more acidic. Nitrogen fertilizer used on farms is making its way into rivers and then to the ocean, creating dead zones. Seaweed cleans up both. If ocean farmers devoted a little less than 5 percent of U.S. waters to growing seaweed, they could clean up an estimated 135 million tons of carbon and 10 million tons of nitrogen, according to a report from the World Bank.Share This