An entrepreneur from Prince Edward Island is working on a project that he hopes will get rid of a perennial Island problem while helping to grow interest in the haskap berry there. Mike Cassidy is working with the UPEI Faculty of Sustainable Design Engineering to develop a liquid bio-stimulant from sea lettuce that can be used to help plants grow better.
Sea lettuce is a problematic algae that grows in large blooms or patches in the water every summer in Island waterways, fuelled by an excess of nitrates in the water from farm runoff, septic tanks and golf courses. When the sea lettuce dies it uses up oxygen in the water, creating anoxic conditions that are deadly to marine life.
Cassidy has been trying to find a financially viable way to get rid of sea lettuce for years. “In 2011, I was the person who took a sea lettuce harvester up from Florida and we were in Covehead Bay and up in Mill River trying to remove sea lettuce from our tributaries and our rivers," Cassidy said. "We all know we had an environmental problem in 2011 and we still have the same environmental problem."
Now Cassidy is working with Dr. Bishnu Acharya at UPEI on a pilot program which takes the sea lettuce algae through an extraction process. Acharya and his team have been collecting sea lettuce at Covehead Bay and processing it in a laboratory.
The extract was tested over the winter at the Dalhousie University agricultural school in Truro, N.S. "We have already tested the sea lettuce extract on tomato plants and kale plants and other kinds of plants," Acharya said. "It has shown a very positive result to work as a bio-stimulant which is helping to grow the plant better."
Now the sea lettuce extract is being tested on haskap plants at Cassidy Farms in Hampton, P.E.I. "Once that is proven, then we are planning to scale up our process and then we want to produce more so that we can do more trials next summer," Acharya said. “If that goes well, commercial sales could begin as early as next summer.” Growing haskap industry
Cassidy has planted four hectares with 10,500 haskap plants and is eager for the results of the scientific research.