Nov 142017

Seaweed, as the name aptly reflects, is the creation of the underwater world.  However the weeds like dulse, kelp, laver, carrageen, badderlocks, and tangle with their specific traits of rich nutritious content are much more than weeds and reminiscent of any healthy and nutritious land-based food. They bloom under the sea and are exhorted as an important part of the diet amongst many Asians.  Seaweed’s specialty also lies in its effective use as a rich source of biomass energy, animal feed due to its mineral rich properties, agricultural and horticultural fertiliser, facial scrub, moisturiser and shampoo.

Recent studies by the Scottish Association for Marine Science have recommended its use in the aquaculture industry but people here still have not grasped the taste of seaweed, even though 650 edible varieties of it are growing along the 11,000 miles of UK coastline. Traditionally seaweed farming uk was being done by using storm cast or harvesting wild stands of it and even utilizing it as their main source of food, as far back as 600 AD.  However recently seaweed farming in the UK has become the most viable option for farmers due to its market value worldwide.  Moreover recently seaaweeds are being exploited as a fertiliser, as a source of iodine, for the chemicals present in it and its use in alginates production.

For harvesting seaweed for food, farmers require permission of the local authorities as the seabed is occupied by the Crown estates.  In fact oil companies are also showing their interest in seaweed harvesting for the natural oil, but this is not agreeable to the conservationists who are trying to protect the areas around coastline, for the entire coastline is not conducive for the development of aquaculture. The only option then left for the farmers is the offshore and onshore farming. Onshore farming is done by pumping water inside the tanks on land where the seaweed is grown like an organic fish. While offshore farming is possible only when offshore wind farms are constructed as they require oxygenated water for quality growth.

Seaweeds are no doubt very valuable in terms of their productivity and it has been found that brown kelps can create 16 to 65 kilos of biomass per sq m every year. But to harvest the same innovative aquatic harvester is a need of the hour to make it convenient for the banks of kelp to be cut at a faster rate and without much human efforts. Kelp forests are very dense and their growth is also very fast making it the most convenient point for periodic harvesting.

Wild seaweed could be a great initiation point but according to one of the surveys there are around 8000 sq km of habitat in Scotland sub-littoral waters but only 1,000 square kilometers of the area is suitable for harvesting of seaweed for commercial use.  It is said that in Scotland harvesting of seaweeds for biofuels is the most viable and profitable venture as it meets the needs of our daily use of energy in the form of fuels for our vehicles.

Seaweed harvesting has been a traditional form of farming in most areas of Britain but it saw a downfall in the twentieth century. But looking at the vast potentialities and the natural coastlines, seaweed farming in the UK can again become a great commercial success and a highly profitable venture for its harvesters.

Oct 312017

Why we should grow and eat more seaweed

It’s one of the healthiest, most versatile ‘weeds’ around. Asian countries have enjoyed the benefits for centuries. So where is the market for homegrown UK seaweed?

Was ever a group of aquatic plants more inaptly named? True, they’re found in the sea, but the likes of kelp, dulse, laver, badderlocks, carrageen and tangle are so much more than weeds.

Seaweed, in fact, is something of an über underwater vegetable, with all the health-giving properties of any land-lubber superfood.

Already identified as a rich potential source of biomass energy, research by the Scottish Association for Marine Science has suggested that Scotland could develop its own aquaculture industry and grow seaweed as a sustainable biofuel. In 2005, Japan began piloting waterborne seaweed farms designed to absorb greenhouse gases before being harvested as biomass.

The Philippines has unveiled plans to extract ethanol from seaweed on a 100-hectare site, while earlier this year a Norwegian company patented a floating structure to cultivate seaweed on an industrial scale out to sea, calculating that just 0.05 per cent of European coastal regions could yield 75 million tonnes of seaweed a year and 3.2 billion litres of ethanol.

Seaweed can also be used as an agricultural and horticultural fertiliser, as a mineral-rich animal feed, as a bath, a shampoo, facial scrub and moisturiser…

The one thing we don’t appear to do to any great extent in the UK is eat the stuff.

Eating British seaweed

But why not? With 650 edible varieties growing along the UK’s 11,000 miles of coastline, it’s a vast, healthy, organic and as yet untapped food resource. There’s also money in it: in 2002, the seaweed industry was worth £4 billion, with world production at 11.5 million tonnes. Most of it is grown and consumed in Asia, however, with France, Europe’s only commercial grower of any size, accounting for a paltry 35 tonnes.

According to Mark Turner of SeaVeg, a company that harvests and sells a range of seaweed (or ‘sea vegetable’) products from County Donegal in Ireland, successful commercial cultivation depends on one thing: the presence of a market. He says that while seaweed-growing has been trialled on certain UK fish farms, it hasn’t been linked to demand from consumers.

As it is, what in the Orient – China, Japan and South Korea in particular – is lapped up as a luxury simply doesn’t feature in the cultural and culinary history of this small corner of occidental Europe. Wales has its laver bread, of course (actor Richard Burton called it ‘Welshman’s caviar’) and Ireland its carrageen seaweed pudding, but for all the considerable combined coastal length of the British Isles, seaweed is eaten on a disproportionately small scale.

Large-scale seaweed farming

Having established that people want to eat their produce, prospective phycological farmers will need somewhere to grow their crop. Since the seabed is the property of the Crown estates and the coastline is the responsibility of local authorities, getting permission for a large-scale seaweed farming enterprise would be one of the major obstacles. Turner says too that environmental concerns may ironically be another barrier to the promotion of this eco friendly foodstuff.

‘Since it was announced that oil companies had an interest in harvesting seaweed to process for oils, the conservationist lobby has sought to have all areas of coastline protected. As a result there is more interest in prohibiting aquaculture than in promoting it. As a result the only remaining possibilities are onshore or offshore farming. For onshore farming, seawater must be pumped into tanks on land where the seaweed is grown, as is the case with organic fish. Offshore farming might be viable when offshore wind farms are constructed, as the best edible seaweeds need very oxygenated water, often found growing on rocky outcrops that cause foaming waves.’

The seaweed industry is thriving in Ireland, says Turner, partly as a result of having state support, but also because of the clean Atlantic waters that lap the Emerald Isle. Britain’s coastal waters are polluted by comparison (though nothing like as badly as the waters off China, where the lion’s share of global seaweed stocks are grown – nine million tonnes a year).

Article reprinted courtesy of The Ecologist