Charlotte Quigley: Researching how water temperatures affect kelp growth
I’m a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Marine Sciences at the University of Maine in Orono. My degree will be in marine biology. My marine ecology phase was my favorite phase in college. Then I kind of completely went sidetracked and got a job in Costa Rica working in cloud forest, working with plants and being a naturalist down there and working with ecotourism and students. But then I kind of wanted to circle back to New England. I’m originally from Hanover, Massachusetts and I grew up in Dover, Massachusetts.
SEANET is looking for sustainable and ecological ways to have aquaculture come to Maine. My work is ensuring that our crops that we’re going to be producing for our sea farmers are going to be sustainable in terms of climate change. And so with the warming waters here in the Gulf of Maine, it’s important to keep that in mind. And so if I’m going to supply a kelp line for a farmer I want that genetic line to be able to withstand high temperatures. That’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to discover temperature tolerance types of kelp, of the Alaria kelp.
What I’m going to be doing is some thermal experiments. So if I take the seed stock structure, which is called a gametophyte, by exposing these gametophytes to higher temperatures I can first of all ensure that they can in fact survive those high temperatures and still produce a viable crop, enough of a crop for a farmer to actually be able to get enough out of it.
We’re just sort of at the tip of the iceberg of what’s going to come in the next few years. And so what Charlotte is doing is to develop the strains that are going to allow the industry to develop sustainably.
My hope is that being able to look at these differences in the DNA I’ll be able to find what we call gene markers. And this are little signatures that we can say, “Huh, that line of kelp, that strain, may be a more tolerant strain to higher temperatures.” So that might be something that we want to be able to supply for our sea farmers so that we can make sure that their crops are going to be sustainable throughout the warmer climates that we are expecting.
So the ones that we are going to eat are just like our vegetables out of a garden. So we prefer to call them sea vegetables. And as you can see, so things like dulse, laver and alaria are really sea vegetables.
If you have long lines or buoy systems that are already in existence, it’s very easy to incorporate sea vegetable growth on your farm. So it becomes what we call polyculture so folks can grow multiple crops on the same site. We really need to switch to farming instead of wild harvest again just to amp up production. We are safe at our current wild harvesting techniques and such but we want to make this something that we can do for years to come.