The world’s largest seaweed farm, with a whopping 50 million tonnes of seaweed for harvest, is set to open in a British town
The world is starting to wake up to the enormous threat posed by the increasing popularity of seaweeds, and the need for measures to protect it, say scientists from the University of Exeter.
The research has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The seaweed farms are set to start producing large quantities of seawead, the microscopic plant material which grows on a reef or on the seafloor.
The farms will produce up to 50 million tons of seawreed annually, producing about 1 million tonnes a day.
These farms will be a significant part of a wider marine biotechnology sector, the researchers say.
“There is increasing concern that seaweeds are displacing many native species, affecting their habitats and the quality of marine life,” said lead author Dr David Poulin from the Department of Plant Sciences at the University.
“This could have serious consequences for marine biodiversity and food webs, particularly for marine food webs that rely on marine animals for food, including humans.”
Professor Poulyn explained that the growing popularity of marine biotechnologies in recent years was a significant factor behind the emergence of seawood farms.
“As seaweeds become increasingly common on the sea, there has been a shift in the global food chain, and there is a need to know how the seaweed is transported,” he said.
“The research focuses on the movement of seawater in the Pacific Ocean, and we have found that this movement can be extremely difficult to predict, especially for large seaweed harvesters like seaweed paddlers.”
It also involves a lot of variability in temperature, so there is no set standard.
“These are important questions to ask, and they need to be addressed before the seaweeds start to become an important part of the food chain.”
Professor Peter Williams, an ecologist at the School of Earth Sciences at Exeter, said:”While we have not yet seen the full effects of the growth of seaworms on marine ecosystems, the effects of their spread are very worrying and require immediate attention.”
We are working with the University and other partners to develop a more accurate and sustainable estimate of the amount of seawrop and the total biomass of seawactant that can be harvested from these seaweeds.
“The research, which was funded by the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), was carried out by researchers from the UK and Australia, and was funded in part by the European Commission.
The university said the research was a further demonstration of the “integrity and global importance” of the research project and that the seawood harvester farms would provide a valuable link to the wider marine ecosystem.”
They have a very high potential to improve marine biodiversity, which in turn benefits people and ecosystems in the region,” said Professor Williams.”
What’s more, they can be an important contributor to food security in areas where they are harvested.
“Professor Williams added:”The University of Oxford and the University at Exete have made significant contributions to the seawrop field by developing a wide range of techniques and technologies to capture and transport seawrop for further research and commercialization.
“Professor David Poulter from the Marine Biotechnology Research Centre at the Oxford University Marine Biological Laboratory said: “We are delighted that our research will provide a great example of how seawrop can be used to help reduce pollution in the ocean.
“Although we have been working on this project for a number of years, we are delighted to be able to finally move it forward with this new funding.”
Follow @BBCNewsMagazine on Twitter and on Facebook