Researchers are planning to grow 3 acres of sugar kelp north of the Hood Canal Bridge in an effort to save shellfish, and thereby larger ocean life.
"Sugar kelp is a native species. It grows naturally here in Puget Sound," said Puget Sound Restoration Fund Executive Director Betsy Peabody.
PSRF received a $1.5 million grant from the Paul Allen Family Foundation to conduct the research in partnership with NOAA and the Washington State Department of Resources.
Sugar kelp naturally consumes carbon dioxide in the water. Ocean acidity is increasing due to several factors, including ancient water that is rising to the surface as well as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
The research will test the acidity of water before it enters the kelp grow site, then again as it leaves the site.
"This is a pH sensor that I've built that's similar to what will be used in the experiment," DNR Scientist Micah Horwith explained. "This is where the water comes in contact with the device. The battery powers it for 6 months."
Researchers liken it to creating a park in a city, where trees consume carbon dioxide in the air.
"This is like putting a green space under water in an urban estuary," said NOAA Division Director Walt Dickhoff.
The Puget Sound is one of the most acidic bodies of water in the country.
They hope the kelp lowers ocean acidity, but not simply for the future of shellfish. Orcas eat salmon and salmon eat pteropods, which are not thriving due to how acidic ocean water is corroding their shells.
"A 10% drop in terapod organisms translates into a 20% drop in weight in salmon populations," Peabody said.
Once the research ends, the kelp will likely be harvested for food, biofuels, and fertilizer. Researchers hope to have the sensors in the water by next year, and all the research data available to come through by 2019.