P.E.I. to study sea lettuce as compost for crops

Prince Edward Island plans a three-week pilot project to harvest a form of seaweed clogging estuaries and spread it on cropland as a possible source of compost.

The provincial government has pledged $75,000 for the project and work with the P.E.I. Watershed Alliance and P.E.I. Shellfish Association to run it.

“The amount of sea lettuce growing in estuaries harms the fishery, tourism, recreational activities, and the aesthetic value of our water and our land,” provincial Environment Minister Richard Brown said in a release Friday.

“While government is working closely with stakeholders to reduce nitrates in estuaries, this pilot project will explore the feasibility of harvesting and composting sea lettuce to restore the health of our estuaries.”

Sea lettuce, which belongs to the green algae group, is common in estuaries and in shallows relatively protected from wave action, and can produce a sewage odour when it decays.

The pilot project will examine the effectiveness of removing the algae from estuaries and will also look at the potential of “value-added opportunities” for harvested sea lettuce — specifically, to “explore its value as compost” on farm fields.

A local company has brought in harvesting equipment and an operator from Florida who will provide training to run the equipment, the province said.

“I am very intrigued about the possibility of using sea lettuce as a nutrient for crop production,” Agriculture Minister George Webster said in the same release. “This will be a very worthwhile pilot project which could result in long-term benefits for the agriculture industry.”

If the project is successful, Fisheries and Rural Development Minister Neil LeClair said, “there is huge potential to benefit the shellfish fishery, to improve water quality in the estuaries and to supply a source of nutrients to the farming community.”

A 2008 provincial report on nitrates in groundwater mapped out a strategy to reduce the sort of nitrate pollution that can cause heavy sea lettuce growth. The province said it’s “working closely with farmers and other stakeholders” to implement that report’s recommendations.

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