My talk was titled The Role of Seafoods in Reversing the Global Crisis in Mental Ill-Health, and there was great enthusiasm in the room for my rallying cry of restoring the world’s oyster beds.
But this wasn’t just the pipedream of a room full of seafood lovers!
The human brain is at risk. I consider this the greatest crisis humanity faces. The trouble is that for the last century or so, the whole focus of nutrition and public health has been on protein. Protein, however, is not the key issue for the brain, which is made of fats, and requires them for its growth, development and function.
Human milk has the least amount of protein of any large mammal, but is rich in the fats needed for brain growth. This growth and development is largely prenatal. It is the brain that makes us different from other animals. Human evolution could not have happened without the ‘brain food’ of essential fats; and the richest source of these fats is seafood.
So how do we feed sufficient seafood to a rapidly growing population? Wild fish stocks reached their sustainable limits some time ago, so conventional fishing cannot be the answer. Aquaculture that involves feeding fish to fish can’t go much further either, as the fish catch has plateaued. Some aquafarms are now using pellets made from chicken offal to feed the fish, which is nutrient-poor, resulting in farmed fish with vastly reduced omega-3 DHA and other essential nutrients.
Marine agriculture is the way forward. Restoring oyster beds is a vivid example. In losing these resources in the past we have lost a vital element of our diet, and have also cancelled a major source of CO2 sequestration. 270,000 metric tonnes of CO2 were being embedded in oyster shells over the course of one year in Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay alone, in the late 19th century. By the early 21st century this had been reduced to 7000 tonnes.
Encouragingly, Chesapeake is now actively restoring its oyster beds. New York has made a great start too. That’s a boost for brain food and an active move against CO2-based climate change. Imagine the impact of that if rolled out on a worldwide scale!
It’s an awful fact that estuaries across the planet have, in effect, been killed. This has happened in my lifetime. Shellfish populations have been heavily reduced, and those which remain have become toxic due to estuary pollution. If we were able to restore those regions, to produce oysters on a scale achieved by Chesapeake Bay at its peak a couple of centuries ago, it would take just 840 estuaries to soak up all the CO2 humans produce in a year.
This doesn’t take into account the amount of Carbon dioxide produced by the oysters themselves; but the shells, when placed back in the water, are a haven for the plants and microflora that grow on them, and that acts as a powerful CO2 ‘sponge’.
Nations need to take immediate action. We have to agriculturalize the oceans. It’s the only sustainable solution for saving humanity. If we lose our brains, we lose everything.
My thanks to The World Oyster Society and the NRN-LCEE (National Research Network for Low Carbon, Energy and Environment) for inviting me to speak at this year’s event. I’m pleased to say that you can watch my presentation, The Role of Seafoods in Reversing the Global Crisis in Mental Ill-Health, in full on the NRN-LCEE website.