Salt water could be
key to greener world
June 18, 1996
Web posted at: 6:15 p.m. EDT
From Correspondent Al Hinman
PUERTO PENASCO, Mexico (CNN) -- There's a limited amount of fresh water in the world and more demand for it than the supply can fill. That's one reason scientists are working on turning salt water into an alternative to fresh water for agriculture.
Carl Hodges has transformed his Mexico farm into a testing ground for saltwater farming. He has planted several halophytes, plants that can grow in either salt or fresh water.
The main crop is salicornia, which can provide more high-quality vegetable oil per plant than soybeans. Europeans perk up salads with the succulent tips of the vegetable, which is known as the "samphire" in its haute cuisine incarnation.
Just as encouraging as the production of a useful saltwater crop is the chain reaction involved in the process. The salt water at Hodges farm has already nourished two food crops before it reaches the salicornia.
Shrimp are first grown in it, and their waste makes the water a perfect environment for a fish called tilapia, an increasingly popular menu item.
"They get a double use of that water, and all the waste from the fish is extra fertilizer for the field crops," explained Kevin Fitzsimmons of the University of Arizona, which is working to increase yields from saltwater farming.
Saltwater farms have proven successful in arid regions all over the world, and Hodges' company has had a hand in transforming areas as far away as the Persian Gulf. But the eco-farmer says the company's main goal has nothing to do with money.
An environmentally conscious scientist, Hodges says saltwater farming, by increasing the amount of land covered by plants, will lower the level of carbon dioxide and diminish heat trapped in the Earth's atmosphere.
In addition, the runoff from saltwater fields and aquaculture tanks can create new wetlands in surrounding areas, nourishing wildlife.
And third, some of the halophytes can do environmental clean-up work called "remediation" -- safely taking metals and other chemical contaminants from the ground.
Don Bumgartner, a researcher at Arizona, is optimistic about the environmental possibilities for the technique. (122K AIFF or WAV sound)
Hodges foresees consequences in the realm of world peace, as well. His company is in negotiations that he hopes will end up boosting the Mideast peace process by building saltwater farms in the Sinai Desert.
In short, Hodges, said, "We're trying to green the Earth using sea water along the desert coast to produce food, to reduce global warming and ultimately to produce places where people can live."
- samphire from the epicurious dictionary
- Arizona Aquaculture
- Tilapia, trade, and the environment from the Trade and Environment Database
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