Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Environmental Sciences

First Advisor

Jarrett E.K. Byrnes

Second Advisor

Stacy D. VanDeveer

Third Advisor

Michael F. Tlusty


Communities in the Northeastern U.S. embody a rich history of coastal reliance, resilience, and adaptation, evolving together with the ocean for time immemorial. Today the region finds itself positioned as a leader in the sustainable development of Blue Economies, particularly for one rapidly expanding ocean crop: seaweed. Popular media outlets are increasingly promoting the benefits of expanding the domestic seaweed farming industry — particularly kelps — with hopeful headlines such as “Kelp is on the way”, “Kelp is the new kale”, and “A cry for kelp”. Moreover, many states in the Northeast are actively permitting commercial kelp farms, cultivating high-yield crops, and expanding domestic seaweed market opportunities. Although global food systems are becoming increasingly effective at integrating credible sustainability science into the development of innovative and adaptable policies, several challenges remain for the seaweed sector to achieve its food security and ecosystem-based management goals.

This body of work contributes usable transdisciplinary knowledge to the growing volume of literature calling for more salient domestic seaweed policies. The research presented in this dissertation is the culmination of direct collaborations with ecotoxicologists, the seaweed industry itself, and federal and non-governmental organizations. More specifically, this work confronts commonly identified challenges associated with heavy metals uptake in wild and farmed sugar kelp (chapter 2) and public perceptions of seaweed sector expansion (chapter 3). The knowledge gained from the research completed in chapters 2 and 3 was then applied through the lenses of human health, policy, and industry needs to develop recommendations for more balanced approaches to seaweed research and communications (chapter 4). By connecting across sectors to address these challenges, this work aims to both contribute to and improve awareness of usable knowledge that will support the seaweed farming industry’s capacity to meet the triple bottom line of environmentally, economically, and socially sustainable management.


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