GENetic diversity exploitation for Innovative Macro-ALGal biorefinery

Seaweed: the next big step for Irish food and farming?

The health and food potential of the ocean’s foliage is clear, and it makes economic and environmental sense to develop the sea-farming industry.

Once regarded merely as the stinking gunge one steps over on the way for a swim, seaweed these days is having a renaissance. The excitement surrounding its potential as a human superfood, a biofuel, an ocean cleanser and animal feed is reminiscent of tulip mania. This fast-growing and mineral-rich crop which sequesters carbon and purifies water is being hailed as a bountiful resource that could ultimately replace environmentally damaging crops, such as soya and corn, and offer vital chemicals for use in cosmetics, fertilisers and food production, as well as many of the key nutrients needed for human health: Vitamin B12, omega-3 fatty acids and trace minerals.

So what are the pioneering developments in seaweed production and who is spearheading them in Ireland? The most exciting development is the farming of seaweed, as opposed to harvesting the wild plants along the shore. While the Chinese and Japanese have been perfecting this over decades, the practise got a boost in international media recently with the example set by Bren Smith, a former commercial fisherman from Newfoundland, who established a system of seaweed and shellfish farming which he claims can be set up for €28,000 and provide an annual income of €64,000. His inspiring Ted Talks tale has been featured in The New Yorker and the Washington Post and on CNN.

The major innovation that Smith has pioneered is to grow long lengths of sugar kelp on ropes suspended from buoys, beneath which can hang mussels and scallops, with crates of oysters below those again, and clams growing in the mud beneath. It’s a vertical column of intensive ocean farming in which everything is in symbiosis, with the kelp eating up carbon, and the shellfish filtering and cleansing the water and creating an artificial vertical reef that shelters crabs, shrimps and scores of other marine species. He calls it 3-D vertical ocean farming.

Source: The Irish Times