Seaweed solutions: why are people getting so hyped about kelp?

In recent times, seaweed has gone from being a tasty Japanese aspect dish, to a technique to rewild the seas, feed livestock, make plastics and take up carbon. Can this surprise plant actually assist repair the planet?

Harvesting seaweed is nothing new. It’s been gathered for hundreds of years in Britain for the manufacturing of soda ash – utilized in glass and cleaning soap manufacturing, and for bleaching linen. This was a big trade within the seventeenth and 18th centuries. Later, it was collected for extracting iodine and to be used as a gelling agent. By the flip of the twenty first century, although, curiosity had waned.

However now there’s a surge of curiosity in seaweed farming, with new enterprises bobbing up across the coasts of northern Europe. Why? Easy, says Cait Murray, co-founder of a brand new Scottish seaweed enterprise, EcoCascade. “It’s the fastest-growing biomass on the planet and thrives with out the necessity for land, contemporary water, pesticides or fertilisers. Its sustainability is excellent.”

Extra to the purpose, you possibly can eat it, and extra apart from. For a full litany of its virtues, I flip to Vincent Doumeizel, writer of The Seaweed Revolution, and a senior adviser on oceans and meals to the UN. He’s studied seaweed’s potential greater than most, and after I met him on the Hay Competition, he was carrying a jar of the stuff round with him, all the higher to sing its praises.

Begin with meals. It’s an incredible supply of vitamins, not only for folks however animals, too, he says.

“It’s richer in protein than soybean meal, it’s naturally anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and the very best pure prebiotic on the earth.” As such, it curbs the necessity for routine antibiotic therapy of livestock – a observe many imagine is compounding the issue of antibiotic resistance in people.

The benefits don’t cease there. Regionally sourced seaweed beats imported soy meal on any variety of sustainability metrics – why deforest the Amazon, asks Doumeizel, after we can harvest the stuff from our personal waters? There’s pleasure, too, in regards to the potential of some seaweeds to curb methane emissions from cows by as much as 90 per cent when added to their feed.

It’s naturally anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and the very best pure prebiotic on the earth

Then there’s its potential as a fertiliser to spice up plant progress and as a clear, inexperienced, biodegradable substitute for plastic. The current winners of the Earthshot prize, Notpla, are simply considered one of many startups seeking to exploit its ‘post-plastic’ potential.

It’s additionally extremely promising as a medication: scientists on the Shanghai Institute of Materia Medica, drawing on conventional Chinese language medication, have developed a drug from it to treat Alzheimer’s, whereas current research by scientists in India, Japan, Europe and elsewhere seem to verify the potential of seaweed to inhibit most cancers as practised in Ayurvedic and historical Japanese medication. And in contrast to most fashionable agriculture, seaweed can act – in sure cases – as a carbon sink, not a supply.

Put all these components collectively, and the vertiginous upsurge of curiosity in farming the stuff isn’t any shock. Marine Scotland has now granted practically 700 licences for seaweed harvesting, and new farms are bobbing up on a regular basis. Most of those are centered on sugar or different kelp species, grown on rope strains in lochs or offshore.

Hauling within the catch at Aird Fada, Scotland’s largest sugar kelp farm. Picture: South West Mull and Iona Improvement

At current, they’re comparatively small producers. The community-owned Aird Fada farm on the Isle of Mull is Scotland’s largest sugar kelp farm at simply six hectares. And all are eyeing up new markets. Atlantic Mariculture grows kelp in Loch Sunart on the west coast of Scotland, and transforms it into a spread of merchandise on the Tangle Inexperienced label, together with liquid fertiliser for backyard centres and Kelp Cubes for cooking. Hebridean Seaweed, the UK’s largest industrial seaweed processor, based mostly on the Isle of Lewis, not too long ago underwent a £7m manufacturing unit enlargement to satisfy demand for his or her fish, canine and horse dietary supplements.

In the meanwhile, annual Scottish manufacturing totals round 100 tonnes. However as seaweed’s potential catches on, says Murray, that is predicted to develop to 30,000 tonnes by 2040.

Eco-Cascade, a brand new neighborhood curiosity firm, goals to assist speed up the expansion by each offering processing amenities and networking between farmers and consumers.

seaweed kelp

Harvesting seaweed in Loch Scridain, on the Scottish Isle of Mull. Picture: South West Mull and Iona Improvement

In the meantime, others are considering huge, too. Devon county council, together with the Eden Mission and Plymouth Marine Laboratories, is backing a serious new seaweed farm and processing website off the north Devon coast at Bideford. Nordic international locations are catching on as effectively. In waters off the western coast of Sweden, the newly established Nordic Seafarm is setting out tens of kilometres of ropes to develop sea lettuce (Ulva).

In the meantime, Amazon is investing round $1.5m (£1.24m) in an experiment off the coast of the Netherlands. Its purpose: to see whether or not industrial seaweed manufacturing can thrive in an space of offshore wind farms, whereas on the similar time sequestering giant, measurable quantities of CO2.

There’s one thing of a gold rush really feel to all of it, and like every pioneering sector, there are pitfalls, too. Doumeizel factors to the truth that, for all seaweed’s potential, “it’s not prefer it’s skyrocketing. We have to develop demand, to develop the market.” For now, manufacturing threatens to outpace demand. Murray echoes the purpose: “Within the UK, seaweed remains to be seen as being a bit bizarre and unusual.”

It’s the fastest-growing biomass on the planet and thrives with out pesticides or fertilisers

However the temper is altering, she provides. “There isn’t a model title in each family but, however you solely need to stroll spherical any grocery store to see it gaining floor, from sushi to seaweed as an alternative choice to desk salt.” It will also be a much-needed supply of protein for the fast-growing vegan sector, too, she provides.

Will seaweed save the world? By itself, most actually not. Are we, maybe, even in peril of turning into victims of a hype cycle? Like several quick rising inexperienced trade (assume EVs, assume biomass as gasoline), a number of the claims of seaweed lovers needs to be taken with a pinch of (presumably seaweed infused) salt. But, there’s little doubt there’s substantial potential there.

For Doumeizel, there’s an amazing logic in seeking to the seas. “We can’t keep on feeding the world with the meals methods now we have in place now [with all their massive environmental impacts]. The oceans cowl 70 per cent of the world’s floor but contribute lower than 3 per cent of our meals. So if we wish to maximise the potential of our planet to feed its folks, let’s do it within the ocean.”

Photos: Aird Fada

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