Seaweed Cultivation – Wait, what?!
Yes, you read that right. Seaweed cultivation is a thing and it is here to stay!Around 15 years ago, seaweed would be considered just like grass on a sidewalk, harmless but undeserving of a second glance. But in the recent years, people have discovered this highly untapped potential of the seaweed and now it is all set to become its own industry. The Nordic countries, with Faroe Islands at the forefront, have discovered and researched large number of possible uses of seaweed and the research is still ongoing for more. There are two glaring benefits of this cultivation: 1. Seaweed grows at a very fast rate and hence the cultivation can be highly profitable. 2. 70% of the earth’s surface is water, making the areas available for its cultivation nearly unlimited.
The original function of the seaweed is similar to that of trees on land. It absorbs the CO2 and nitrogen in the ocean and cleans the water. It helps maintain ocean temperatures and thus combat climatic changes. This should be reason enough to cultivate and maintain a proper seaweed production. However, the uses of seaweed go far beyond this. It has been found that seaweed can be a great source of food as well as feed for other animals. Some studies even claim that seaweed is the answer to the world’s food security problems in the future. Its fast growth and ample growing space makes it a highly sustainable food option.
A recent study from Australia suggests that livestock fed on seaweed-based feed emits 60 percent less methane than if fed on traditional feed. Moreover, seaweed has qualities that can replace the use of plastic, be used in textiles and medicines, and serve as biofuels.Seaweed contains bioactive components, which have found uses in the cosmetics and biomedicine industries. Research is ongoing to tap all the useful components of the seaweed and diversify its uses as much as possible. The following video aptly summarizes the research on seaweed uses:
Companies and products
A number of European countries are taking concrete steps in converting seaweed cultivation from research laboratories into sustainable industries. The Faroe Islands are the leading hub of innovation and opportunities in this area. In September 2017, Nordic Innovation and the Macro Cascade Bio Based Industries project held a two-day event in the Faroe Islands called “Nordic Seaweed – From Research to Innovative Business Opportunities”. A number of start-ups and companies exhibited their ideas and plans in this area. This was followed by visits to the plants and cultivation centers of Faroe Islands based companies, most importantly, Ocean Rainforest and TARI – Faroe Seaweed. There are a number of other companies dealing with commercial seeding, cultivation and conditioning of seaweed. A lot of research is on regarding the state of the art extraction of bioactive compounds from seaweed for use in pharmacy, cosmetics etc. An in-depth article about business opportunities out of seaweed production can be found following this link.
Case study – Ocean Rainforest
Iceland and Norway have longstanding traditions of seaweed harvesting, and the Faroe Islands are considered a front runner in developing offshore cultivation systems. The Faroese Company Ocean Rainforest is one of the very few companies in the world that seeds, cultivates and harvests seaweed on a commercial scale in offshore conditions. In 2016, Ocean Rainforest was contacted by Catalina Sea Ranch, an American aquaculture facility operating in the LA Bay area, asking them to join a project on offshore seaweed cultivation in the US. They needed participants with offshore expertise and experience, and Ocean Rainforest was just what they were looking for. This is a testament to the expertise and innovation of Faroese companies in this industry.
The seaweed cultivation and processing industry is one of the best examples of Faroese innovation and contribution to the world in a field that is an integral part of their way of life.
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