Like many coastal communities world wide, folks dwelling by the ocean in the UK have harvested and consumed seaweed for hundreds of years.
In Wales, Welsh laverbread — constructed from cooking a kind of seaweed known as laver — is a culinary delicacy so revered that it enjoys Protected Designation of Origin status.
Seaweed’s makes use of don’t finish on the dinner desk, both: In the present day, it is present in the whole lot from cosmetics and animal feed to gardening merchandise and packaging.
With issues concerning the surroundings, meals safety and local weather change mounting, this moist, edible treasure of the ocean — of which there are lots of varieties and colours — may have a significant position to play within the sustainable way forward for our planet, and the U.Ok. needs in on the act.
Towards the top of April, a undertaking dubbed the U.Ok.’s “first devoted seaweed trade facility” celebrated its official opening, with these concerned hoping it can assist kickstart the commercialization of a sector that is nicely established in different components of the world.
The Seaweed Academy, because it’s identified, is positioned close to the Scottish city of Oban. Funding of £407,000 (round $495,300) for the undertaking has been supplied by the U.Ok. authorities.
It will likely be run by the Scottish Affiliation for Marine Science in partnership with its buying and selling subsidiary SAMS Enterprise and academic establishment UHI Argyll.
In accordance with a press release from SAMS, one of many academy’s targets facilities round stimulating “the expansion of UK seaweed aquaculture.” On high of this, the undertaking will look to discover “high-value markets” and use analysis to spice up the worldwide competitiveness of U.Ok. merchandise.
Rhianna Rees is a seaweed researcher and Seaweed Academy coordinator at SAMS Enterprise. In a current interview with CNBC, she supplied an perception into the kind of jobs that went on at a seaweed farm.
“It is quite a bit much less industrial than it’d come throughout,” she mentioned. “Whenever you consider farming you consider large equipment, you consider mechanical harvesting, and that is by no means what seaweed farming is about.”
“Whenever you take a look at it from the skin, all you possibly can see are buoys within the water after which underneath the water are these lengthy strains of rope with … enormous swathes of seaweed,” she went on to elucidate.
“Whenever you need to harvest it, you go in and also you get the rope and also you pull it into the boat — and that is mainly it,” she mentioned.
The obvious simplicity of the method is one factor, however establishing a farm within the first place could be a totally different story altogether.
“Getting licenses from … the totally different organizations inside England and Scotland — it may be extremely costly and time consuming,” Rees mentioned. “So there are main challenges to coming into the trade within the first place.”
There have been additionally different elements to contemplate. “You get storm occasions, you get perhaps years the place it would not develop notably nicely, fluctuations in vitamins,” she mentioned.
There was innovation on the horizon, Rees went on to notice, however it might “take a number of years to get to the world the place we see the form of optimization that we want for actual scalability.”
The U.Ok.’s curiosity in cultivating and harvesting seaweed just isn’t restricted to the work being deliberate in and round Oban.
Within the picturesque county of Cornwall on the southwest tip of England, the Cornish Seaweed Firm has been harvesting since 2012, offering a glimpse of how the broader trade may develop within the years forward.
Tim van Berkel, who co-founded the corporate and is its managing director, informed CNBC the agency wild-harvested seaweed from the shores for meals functions.
In 2017, the enterprise supplemented this shore-based harvesting when it began to farm seaweed from spores on the web site of an present mussel farm in waters off Porthallow, a Cornish fishing village.
“They develop on strains suspended within the water, like buoys actually,” van Berkel mentioned, including that it was “much like mussel farming.” The enterprise was farming two sorts of seaweed on the web site, van Berkel mentioned: sugar kelp and alaria.
Regardless of establishing the location at Porthallow, for now the corporate’s core focus pertains to its shore-based harvesting. “That is actually nonetheless the principle enterprise,” van Berkel mentioned. “There’s 5, six, different seaweeds that we harvest … from the wild, from the shores, which is happening 12 months spherical.”
Different firms seeking to make their mark embrace SeaGrown, which relies within the coastal city of Scarborough, Yorkshire, and is engaged on establishing a seaweed farm within the North Sea.
Additional north, Seaweed Farming Scotland’s operations are positioned in Oban and targeted on the cultivation of species native to the waters there.
The worldwide image
An aerial view of individuals working at a seaweed farm in Zhejiang province, China, on November 24, 2021.
Jiang Youqing | Visible China Group | Getty Pictures
In 2020, a report from the Meals and Agriculture Group of the U.N. described seaweed farming as being “dominated by nations in East and Southeast Asia.”
The trade is large enterprise, with the FAO individually noting that the seaweed sector generated $14.7 billion in “first-sale value” in 2019.
With the U.Ok.’s industrial seaweed sector nonetheless in its early phases, it has a solution to go earlier than it competes on the worldwide stage.
Seaweed farming in Asia can typically be large-scale, with websites unfold throughout fairly appreciable areas, as proven within the above photograph of a farm within the province of Zhejiang, China.
The U.S. can also be house to a seaweed farming sector, with the Nationwide Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration stating there at the moment are “dozens of farms” in waters off New England, Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.
Alongside the industrial merchandise ensuing from seaweed farming, there are different advantages too, an apparent one being that it doesn’t require contemporary water.
For its half, the NOAA says that “seaweeds are extremely environment friendly at sucking up carbon dioxide and utilizing it to develop.” As well as, it notes that “seaweeds additionally gobble up nitrogen and phosphorus.”
Whereas there are issues associated to allowing in some components of the U.S., the trade there has expanded in recent times, with the NOAA calling it the “fastest-growing aquaculture sector.”
It provides that 2019 noticed Alaska-based farmers produce over 112,000 kilos of sugar, ribbon, and bull kelp. “That is a 200 % enhance over the state’s first industrial harvest in 2017,” it says.
Worldwide, the trade appears to have been on a fast course of enlargement over the previous 20 years or so. The FAO’s report mentioned international marine macroalgae — one other title for seaweed — manufacturing had risen from 10.6 million metric tons in 2000 to 32.4 million metric tons in 2018.
It is not all been plain crusing, nevertheless. “World manufacturing of farmed aquatic algae, dominated by seaweeds, skilled comparatively low progress in the latest years, and even fell by 0.7 % in 2018,” the FAO’s report famous.
An aerial view of a web site used for seaweed farming in waters off Bali, Indonesia.
Sasithorn Phuapankasemsuk | Istock | Getty Pictures
And whereas there would seem like a large number of merchandise and advantages linked to seaweed farming, there are additionally points these working within the trade might want to deal with and thoroughly handle going ahead.
The World Wildlife Fund, for instance, notes that, in some situations, species of seaweed have turn into “invasive when grown exterior their pure vary.”
The WWF additionally cites the “entanglement of protected species with seaweed farm rope constructions” as a “potential concern” however provides that such an prevalence is unlikely and “no credible documented marine entanglements” have taken in place in 40 years.
Again in Scotland, the Seaweed Academy’s Rees is optimistic for what the long run holds. “I feel we’re actually poised to see the expansion,” she mentioned. “I simply hope that the hype is not hype for the mistaken causes.”
“And so long as we’re all … working collectively to get the message and to get the coaching and to get improvement proper, together with assist from governments and buyers, then we’ll see one thing that is actually helpful for the world, actually sustainable.”