Could seaweed become a major part of the economy of the South West?

Why Southwest England is emerging as a hotbed of aquacultural innovation.

“The importance of a sustainable ocean economy – or ‘blue economy’ – is growing in recognition. This means innovation is thriving in the marine sector as businesses look to make a positive impact.”

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At the SeaFest on the Sidmouth seafront earlier this month, kelp was the theme:

Kelp our Oceans: Help our Kelp – Vision Group for Sidmouth

And it’s something which has been gaining lots of interest – for all sorts of reasons:

Planting seaweed and seagrass forests – Vision Group for Sidmouth

Kelp in the Scottish Highlands

Radio 4’s “On Your Farm” came from a kelp farm on Skye this week:

Could seaweed once again become a major part of the economy of the Scottish Highlands? The trade, which last blossomed 200 years ago, looks set for revival as new uses are found for the slippery plant. Richard Baynes visits crofting couple and seaweed farmers Kyla Orr and Alex Glasgow, and their business partner Martin Welsh, as they deal with their first proper kelp harvest. He takes a boat trip out to their seaweed farm, and goes into the lab with marine biologist Kyla to learn the secrets of seeding seaweed and the technology they are inventing to do it with.

On Your Farm – Reaping the Tide – BBC Sounds

Radio 5 Live paid them a visit last summer:

As it emerges from the water, it doesn’t look how you might expect it to. Not dark green, slimy and smelly, but golden, lush and translucent. The kelp being farmed off the east coast of Skye confounds expectations – and may do a lot more than that. This is one of the first big seaweed farms in Scotland and its promoters have high hopes. They believe that seaweed products could be used for vegan food, protein supplements, cosmetics, even recyclable packaging.

The seaweed farmers with high hopes for their harvest – BBC News

Here’s their website:

BROWN SEAWEED NEVER LOOKED SO GREEN…
KelpCrofting are a seaweed farming business growing kelp in the clear Isle of Skye waters, on the West Coast of Scotland.
If managed sustainably, farming kelp in Scotland’s seas will bring many environmental and economic benefits, including:

  • Generating income: Seaweed farming has the potential to generate a range of new jobs and income streams for coastal communities, both in the form of seasonal work to assist with deployment and harvesting of kelp, or full-time management of sites, hatcheries and sourcing market opportunities.
  • Creation of products that have a low carbon footprint: Kelp absorbs dissolved carbon dioxide (CO2) from the water as it grows and stores the carbon in its tissue, so when farmed kelp is used in products such as feed, food and fertilizers it in can lower the overall carbon footprint of those products.
  • Providing new habitat: Seaweed farms provide seasonal habitats for fish and small invertebrates, which can attract predators such mammals and birds, enhancing local biodiversity.
  • Water remediation: Seaweed cleans the water as it grows by absorbing excess nutrients that have entered the sea from other developments and activities.
  • Fueling environmental economies: Recent innovations have found that seaweed can be used to produce biodegradable packaging, and that including it in animal feed can reduce methane (a Greenhouse Gas) from cattle. Seaweed, when incorporated in human food and nutritional supplements also has many health benefits.

KelpCrofting

One of the farmers is a marine scientist:

Kyla Orr Marine Ecological Consulting (KORRMEC) is an independent consultancy that specializes in sustainable management of the marine environment. Since establishing as a sole trader in 2013, Kyla has worked on high profile projects with organisations such as Seafish, Marine Scotland, SRSL marine consultancy in Scotland, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Scottish Creel Fishermans Federation (SCFF). Kyla is developing a growing relationship with the inshore fishing sector, and is ideally situated on the west coast of Scotland (Plockton) to manage and facilitate fisheries projects in this region.

Consulting services

She has put together a report for Scotland’s Sustainable Inshore Fisheries Trust:

The report received coverage in The Press & Journal, The Herald and in The National (Support ‘necessary’ for establishing seaweed industry, says new report | The National) and Dr Kyla Orr, the report’s author, was interviewed on BBC Good Morning Scotland . You can listen here Good Morning Scotland – 21/03/2022 – BBC Sounds (from 2.49.25 hours).

A SIFT-commissioned report on seaweed farming in Scotland obtains extensive media coverage – SIFT

Kelp in the South West

There have been explorations of whether such a renaissance of kelp farming could also happen in the South West.

We have a very valuable marine resource in Lyme Bay… providing carbon capture and essential habitats.

Seagrass in Lyme Bay – Vision Group for Sidmouth

Meanwhile, down the coast, England’s largest seagrass planting programme has been taking place in the UK’s first National Marine Park:

“Providing homes for juvenile fish and protected creatures, stabilising the seabed, cleaning the surrounding seawater and capturing and storing significant amounts of carbon.”

Seagrass in Plymouth Sound – Vision Group for Sidmouth

Back in 2019, researchers from the Universities of Plymouth and Exeter looked at the potential for farming seaweeds:

Seaweed is an underutilised and under-cultivated commodity, but offers huge potential for a variety of products, according to a new paper from PML researchers.

Seaweed potential in the South West | Plymouth Marine Laboratory

And last year, the Fish Site spoke to the chair of the South West Aquaculture Network (SWAN) about the potential for developing this further:

The network aims to develop cross-sector, collaborative bids to draw down significant fund to benefit the blue economy in Southwest England.

Why Southwest England is emerging as a hotbed of aquacultural innovation | The Fish Site

Dorset to host England’s aquaculture innovation centre | The Fish Site

Finally, it’s all about the Blue Economy:

The importance of a sustainable ocean economy – or ‘blue economy’ – is growing in recognition. This means innovation is thriving in the marine sector as businesses look to make a positive impact.

Seaweed for Europe’s latest report explores how seaweed can be a growth engine for sustainable development in Europe. It says that by 2030, seaweed could create 115,000 jobs and mitigate around 5,000,000 tons of CO2 emissions per year. Seaweed is a food, but you can also use it to create eco-friendly packaging and as a pharmaceutical product, thanks to its mineral content and gel texture.

Ask the expert: Q&A – Why the blue economy is the new frontier for entrepreneurs and investors | Insider Media

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