Seaweed’s vital role in fighting climate change

New UK Seaweed Academy hopes to positively impact sustainability
09 June 2022 , By Kerry Taylor-Smith

Amid concerns about food security, the environment and climate change, seaweed could play an important role in the sustainable future of our planet.

Demand for seaweed is growing in Europe amid concerns about the environment, food security and climate change, and the UK has taken a huge step in commercialising its emerging sector by opening its first dedicated seaweed farming industry facility.

The Seaweed Academy, based in Oban, aims to stimulate the growth of the country’s seaweed aquaculture and develop the competitiveness for UK products globally using the latest research generated at the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS).

Seaweed could play a vital role in the sustainable future of our planet; it has a low carbon footprint, doesn’t require fresh water, needs minimal land-based infrastructure, and can be used in a number of industries aside from food, including agriculture, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals, and as a biofuel.

The Seaweed Academy, which received £407,000 funding from the government’s Community Renewal Fund, will also promote seaweed production as a means of bioremediation to help mitigate the impacts of climate change. The plant sequesters carbon dioxide through growth, along with phosphorous and nitrogen too.

“Using our own seaweed farms and the most up-to-date research, we have been laying foundations for a thriving UK seaweed farming industry.”

“Using our own seaweed farms and the most up-to-date research, we have been laying foundations for a thriving UK seaweed farming industry,” said Professor Nick Owens, SAMS Director. “Seaweed farming is an industry that can support coastal communities, like the ones we have across the Highlands and Islands, while showing others an example of the best of the blue economy.”

The Seaweed Academy operates its own nursery comprising mineral-rich seaweeds such as Alaria esculenta, Saccharina latissima, and Laminaria hyperborea from gathered spores. It will provide the emerging seaweed industry with seeded lines for grow-out, offer advice to start-ups, and train workers in key areas like farm set-up, infrastructure, harvesting and coppicing. The hope is that such training and education in seaweed farming will help regional growth in an industry that could have a vital role in the country’s net zero ambitions.

The Seaweed Academy is one of 56 projects across Scotland receiving funding from government to help level up the country and curb carbon emissions. It is one of many seaweed farms springing up across the UK, like SeaGrown in Scarborough, Biome Algae in Devon, and the Cornish Seaweed Company.

The Cornish Seaweed Company has been harvesting sugar kelp and alaria from shores for food purposes since 2012 and has teamed up with the University of Exeter (UoE), where scientists want to understand more about seaweed cultivation in the South West, and establish environmentally and commercially sustainable techniques for farming seaweed.

UoE Project Lead, Dr Ian Ashton said of the partnership: “It is great to work with an up-and-coming local business, helping overcome the challenges to develop a product that is both commercially and environmentally sustainable.”

The global seaweed farming industry is worth an estimated US$15 billion annually and dominated by East and South Asian countries.

 

Image credit: Shutterstock

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