Fighting climate change with nature-based solutions

Singaporean aquaculture consultant Clarie Ng explains what restorative aquaculture is and how it has the potential to rejuvenate ocean ecosystems in Southeast Asia.

By SGN | 8 Sep 2022

From Crete to California, Scotland to Hawaii, Clarie has been on a journey around the world exploring strategies in ocean conservation and what it might take to build a truly sustainable blue economy. 

Her studies in environmental science and sustainability at Cornell University bore a focus on marine biology, while her Erasmus Mundus Joint Masters in aquaculture examined blue mussel farming in Denmark, a practice that naturally benefits the environment. 

Now based in Copenhagen, Clarie works as an aquaculture consultant at Pisco Group, a company that helps businesses solve problems ranging from biological (What locally available feed can I use?) to engineering (Which sensors should I incorporate into my farm?) to economic (How can I run an operational farm?). Pisco’s clients span the globe and include companies located in Singapore, Vietnam and the Middle East. 

“Aquaculture is essentially a sustainability venture,” Clarie explains, “because it is a way of producing food without stressing wild fish stocks.” Just like any other industry, she says, aquaculture started off being very profit-driven, leading to pollution and mangrove deforestation, but priorities have shifted. 

“Disregarding the environment is bad for business, and companies today are under increased scrutiny. With the right practices, aquaculture has also become an important method to increase food security and uplift farmer communities.” 

Clarie’s Erasmus Mundus Joint Masters thesis was on blue mussel farming in Denmark.

What are nature-based solutions?

Clarie’s love for the ocean sprang from childhood trips around the Indonesian archipelago with her father, swimming and snorkelling in the waters off islands like Lombok and Kepulauan Seribu. 

Sadly, the predominance of islands and low-lying areas has made Southeast Asia especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change. With rising sea levels and increased flooding, coastal settlements are at risk of destruction, and ocean acidification impacts the resilience of calcifying organisms like molluscs and crustaceans. 

One way to counter the onslaught of climate change is to employ nature-based solutions. “Nature-based solutions increase wild spaces and harness natural ecosystem processes such as the cooling effect or carbon removal ability of trees,” Clarie shares. Examples include rainforest protection, mangrove restoration, and the growing of algae and seagrasses along coastlines. 

According to recent reports, nature-based solutions could contribute over a third of mitigation needed to achieve net-zero emissions globally by 2050 and generate $4.3 trillion in annual economic value and 232 million jobs in APAC by 2030.

Clarie studied coral resilience in Hawaii as part of the Cornell Ocean Research Apprenticeship for Lynch Scholars (CORALS).

“While climate technologies like carbon capture focus on a singular effect, a nature-based solution like tree planting has a multiplier effect – you can increase biodiversity, improve soil retention and prevent flooding all at the same time,” Clarie says. 

On the other hand, she points out that nature-based solutions are a longer-term strategy whose impact can be difficult for governments to quantify at the outset. 

“You see the costs, but there’s no exact timeline,” she says. “That’s why climate tech is a good supplement to nature-based solutions. For example, drone technology can help measure biomass and classify ecosystems for the design of nature-based solutions.” 

Another notable field of climate tech is alternative proteins. Clarie says that Singapore is strong at innovating such high-tech solutions, with the emergence of startups such as Shiok Meats and Umami Meats offering cell-based seafood grown in the laboratory.

Clarie spent the first semester of the Erasmus Mundus programme at the Scottish Association for Marine Science.

Restorative aquaculture in action

Among the variety of nature-based solutions available, Clarie is most passionate about restorative aquaculture, or aquatic farming that has a positive impact on the environment. 

In 2020, Clarie’s team was a finalist in the Kellogg–Morgan Stanley Sustainable Investing Challenge. She contributed her scientific expertise in a proposal to boost the cultivation of seaweed for bioplastic production in Indonesia. 

Plastic pollution in Southeast Asia, especially from single-use plastics, is an aggravating problem that is really harmful to the oceans,” Clarie says, noting that while Thailand already produces bioplastics from cassava and sugarcane, what the region generally lacks is strong regulations like the ban the EU imposed on single-use plastics in 2021. 

Nonetheless, restorative aquaculture is steadily on the rise in Southeast Asia. In Indonesia, sustainable shrimp farming is protecting mangroves, which also serve as nurseries for baby shrimp. “It’s a nature-based solution that ends up bringing nutritional and economic benefit to the community,” Clarie says. 

Similarly, in the Philippines, restorative seaweed cultivation is increasing farmers’ income and sequestering carbon while removing pollutants from the water and allowing marine life to flourish. 

The master’s programme also brought Clarie to (left) the University of Nantes in France and (right) the Danish Technical University – she is seen here with her thesis supervisor Dr Camille Saurel.

Anticipating a bluer Southeast Asia

Although Clarie has been based in the West for the past seven years, she remains proud of her Southeast Asian roots and the region’s culture of seafood consumption. 

“The act of eating seafood is very sustainable,” she says, citing the low feed conversion ratio (FCR) of aquaculture as compared to terrestrial animals, which means far less resources are consumed and a much smaller environmental impact is made. 

“Southeast Asians live in one of the most biodiversity-rich ocean regions. We have always been consuming seaweed and different types of shellfish. Eating seafood comes so naturally to us, and this is where Southeast Asia can be a leader and a model for Western countries.” 

Clarie says the region simply needs more sustainability regulations to build up the blue economy – strong directives that translate into greater academic and startup activity in restorative aquaculture. 

“When sustainable practices are in place, we’ll already have the culture and the market to assimilate new marine products. And I’m optimistic that Southeast Asia will get there.” 

About Clarie

Based in Copenhagen, Clarie is an aquaculture consultant who believes in the power of restorative aquaculture to rejuvenate communities and natural ecosystems. She holds an Erasmus Mundus Joint Masters degree in Aquaculture, Environment and Society (ACES). 

Connect with her here.

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