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Creating an innovative approach to seaweed cultivation

The Cornish Seaweed Company (CSC) has been harvesting local seaweed since 2012.  They search the Cornish coast for the highest quality seaweeds. These are then harvested, washed, dried and packaged by hand, ensuring the highest quality using artisanal practices. 

Their aim is to provide consumers with an honest superfood; sustainably harvested, local, edible seaweeds and to introduce these as an alternative food source that is healthy, nutritional, tasty and good for the environment.

Demand for seaweed is growing rapidly. Globally, 96% of seaweed production originates from cultivated sources. In contrast, 99% of seaweed production in Europe originates from wild harvest. Increasingly, the cultivation of seaweed across Europe is seen as a more stable and sustainable supply option.

Environmental, social and regulatory constraints limit the scope for large-scale seaweed farming in coastal waters of England. However, there are also challenges associated with land-based cultivation in water tanks. These include high energy demand and slow growth rates.

CSC have used their experience to develop a completely new system which takes an innovative approach to land-based cultivation and aims to overcome these challenges. CSC Director, Tim van Berkel, explains:

“This form of cultivation that we have developed provides various possibilities for changing environmental regimes to suit the needs of the species being cultured. Potentially, this represents the first commercially viable method to grow high-demand and high-value intertidal seaweeds such as Dulse, Sea lettuce and Nori in Europe, using a modular and scalable system.”

In order to help advance their concept, CSC engaged with the Marine-i project to get support with research and testing. Dr Carly Daniels, Business Research Fellow at University of Exeter, explains:

“We worked alongside the CSC team to carry out initial pilot trials and research. These covered key development areas such as system technology and specification; costing of the system components; examining the effect of light quality and intensity on seaweed growth; piloting and testing of the system using a range of different set-ups; and highlighting ways in which the system could be refined and developed. 

“Overall, the CSC system prototype showed great potential as an alternative form of land-based cultivation and was shown to reduce some of the shortfalls of more traditional forms of land-based culture that make them costly.” 

Prof Lars Johanning, Programme Director for Marine-i says:

“This is an excellent example of innovative thinking from the team at The Cornish Seaweed Company and will help to significantly increase the long-term commercial viability of this valuable food. It is great to see this pioneering work coming out of Cornwall, and the Marine-i team have been delighted to help CSC accelerate the development of their technology.”

Tim van Berkel of The Cornish Seaweed Company, says:

“We are really grateful for the support that we have had from the Marine-i team. The research programme that they developed gave us exactly the feedback and information that we needed, and it has taken us a big step forward in our mission to introduce this new technology.”

[Image: The Cornish Seaweed Company]