[COVEHEAD BAY, PE] — The days may be numbered for sea lettuce in Island waterways as the province tests out a harvester to get rid of it.
Rory McLellan, the P.E.I. Shellfish Association executive director, said his group has been asking for a machine to clear out sea lettuce and is happy to see one on the Island.
“All Islanders can rest a little bit easier now that there’s some way of removing this stuff,” he said.
The machine was on display in Covehead Bay Friday as it plied the waters to remove sea lettuce that had grown near Stanhope Golf and Country Club.
For the next three weeks, the harvester will remove sea lettuce as part of a $75,000 pilot project to see how effective it is and test the potential uses of the sea lettuce once it’s out of the water.
Sea lettuce is an algae that grows where there is an excess of nutrients, such as from farm runoff, and can choke waterways by starving them of oxygen.
The harvester moves through the water using paddle wheels and a serrated blade along the bottom of a conveyor belt helps loosen the sea lettuce before a conveyor belt pulls it up onto the barge.
McLellan said the sea lettuce is worst in Covehead Bay and Mill River where it kills oyster beds when it rots and sinks to the bottom.
“Every year, the amount of bed that we have available for harvest is becoming decreased and decreased to a chronic point,” he said.
The trial that is underway will help figure out how much sea lettuce has to be harvested and for how long before it has an impact, McLellan said.
“Removing any of it is a lot better than removing none of it.”
Mike Cassidy is with Transcon International, which is the Island company that brought the harvester from Florida for the trial, along with an operator who will provide training and expertise in harvesting sea lettuce.
Cassidy said the first priority is to see how well the machine works to remove the sea lettuce.
“We have to get it out of our estuaries,” he said.
From there, the pilot project will look at ways to use the sea lettuce such as for fertilizer on farmers’ fields or compost.
But Cassidy said some places in the U.S. also use it as a biofuel to produce electricity and he is interested in exploring that potential as well.
“It’s just filled with energy and my next task will be to look at how I can take that energy and do something with it,” he said.
After the harvester finishes work in Covehead Bay, it will move on to Mill River and possibly New London if there is enough time.
Environment Minister Richard Brown said the harvester was brought in to try and oxygenate the water after recommendations from a nitrate study.
“It’s a short-term measure,” he said.
Brown said if the harvester works the province will continue to use it.
“By all indications it’s a pretty good device,” he said.