Michael Ahn


A Benthic Agriculture: The Future of Food Production on the Continental Shelf

Advised by Montserrat Bonvehi Rosich

By viewing the continental shelf as a new agricultural field and territory, the boundaries between terrestrial and oceanic become blurred, allowing for symbiotic and cyclical relationships to form between human and nonhuman entities. The project reimagines the ocean, which has been portrayed as an existential threat, to become the future productive landscape to advance toward rather than to retreat from. The project draws upon the multitude of histories, practices, and processes that have been intertwined with the ocean and its spatialized entities.

Land-based agricultural production and commercial fishing extraction cannot sustain themselves given the projections of human population growth, ecosystem degradation, economic decline, and carbon emission. These issues bring the human diet into the conversation of multiscalar climate change drivers and question the stability of traditional food staples.

These ideas take shape within the territory of the Nantucket Shelf Region, focusing on key sites between the city of New Bedford and the edge of Georges Bank. These sites act as nodes in a network of farms that cultivate marine macroalgae and bivalve mollusks for food consumption and various material supply chains, forming circular economies and restorative feedback loops.

This project weaves together the multitude of contexts that have acknowledged the continental shelf—the legal, geophysical, urban, biological, and chemical—into a singular narrative thread. This narrative envisions a future system of oceanic food production, labor, and economies that resuscitate declining coastal communities and reconnect the people with the water during a transitional time in its state.

Michael Ahn, MLA I. A black and blue topographic map of the Nantucket Shelf Region.
Michael Ahn, MLA I. The ocean currents over the North American Continental Shelf are driven by two wind streams: the Labrador Stream (cyan) which drives colder waters from the Arctic and the Gulf Stream (orange) which drives warmer waters from the Gulf of Mexico.  These two currents meet and mix in the Gulf of Maine.
Michael Ahn, MLA I. The benthic and pelagic zone is composed of gradients over depth: sediment, light, temperature, salinity, density, and wave velocity.  Interaction between gradients allow and determine the distribution of benthic life.
Michael Ahn, MLA I. Irish Moss, Chondrus crispus, is a red algae that thrives in the sublittoral zone, requiring minimal light.  It is commercially harvested for carrageenan, a thickening agent, and it is high in protein and minerals.
Michael Ahn, MLA I. The Nantucket Shelf Region becomes the new agricultural field in which shipwrecks and artificial reefs in hard bottom areas with fast moving currents are sited as offshore farming operations for seaweed and shellfish.
Michael Ahn, MLA I. The offshore site is composed of a shipwreck anchoring repurposed oil platforms with an array of tethered lines.  These lines suspend seaweed and shellfish near the surface of the water and leave the artificial reef on the seafloor to develop undisturbed and protected.