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    Innovations in Aquaculture: is Seaweed the Food of the Future?

    By Sophie Curtis on October 13, 2015

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    Lauded for it's benefits of helping with menopause, anxiety, fatigue, osteoporosis, to name a few, the seaweed industry is set to boom in the coming years. As it is rapidly becoming known as the superfood of the sea, and demand for it is increasing exponentially, a sustainable method of seaweed-farming is essential. 

    S3EED is an aquaculture project for researching and developing the cultivation of seaweeds for human consumption, created as a collaboration between Mara Seaweed and the Scottish Association of Marine Science. Their aim is to develop a seaweed farm using on-shore sea water tanks as a more commercially sustainable supply, in addition to what is currently being harvested by Mara Seaweed from the wild. They hope to be able to challenge other food producers with the concept that nutritious food can be economically produced.

    With the belief that food security is one of the big issues we face as a global community, the S3EED project aims to export this model of aquaculture to the developed and undeveloped coastal communities of the world, with the hope that Scotland will play a leading role in providing both a solution and an inspiration.

    We caught up with Rory MacPhee, Project Director of Mara Seaweed, ahead of his presentation at the Future of Food Production workshop next week, to hear more about the project.

    What was the motivation behind founding S3EED?
    Mara is a leading global food brand with a strong focus on macro-algae or seaweeds. It is critical to our success that we source our base product from a wide catchment area. Whilst most of our product is gathered from the wild shores of remote Scotland, we have a R&D programme to grow seaweed both on and off-shore. Off-shore seaweed farms are now a technically feasible, and we have commercial contracts in place. On-shore farms are still in their infancy, and it is here that S3EED has focused. The great prize is to be able to grow seaweeds in on-shore tanks in a controlled environment where we can have consistent and manageable nutrient profiles. We have proven in an earlier pilot project that seaweed can double its own weight in 12 growing days. Such growth is remarkable. No other foodstuff will grow with such alacrity.

    What do you feel has been essential to the success of the project so far?
    Key to the project has been the collaboration between Mara who provide the project management expertise, Otterferry Sea Fish who provide the technical platform and the Scottish Association of Marine Science who provide the research excellence. Support from our funders Innovate UK has been little short of breathtaking, whilst the Scottish Government have a proactive, consistent and coherent policy for aquaculture that underpins all of our work. This could only happen in Scotland.

    How can the technology and ethos behind it be applied in other areas?
    The project has as its prime focus the supply of food into the human food chain. However, there is a growing understanding of the importance of functional foods AND nutraceuticals. The former are foods which contain one or more ingredients that have health-promoting properties over and above nutritional value, e.g. probiotic yoghurt. The latter are naturally derived bioactive compounds that can be incorporated into food or taken as encapsulated supplementation.

    What do you see in the future for Mara Seaweed?
    Mara's purpose is to develop products for human consumption that are based on the power of macro-algae. We serve both domestic and international markets providing customers with a unique product offering which is based on collaborative working relationships and carefully chosen R&D projects. Within five years Mara will be THE leading seaweed-for-food brand with international recognition, delivering products to both amaze and enlighten.

    What do you feel are the priority challenges in agriculture that can be solved with technology?
    The sea is our soil. We know that soil security is a huge challenge to conventional agriculture. By growing plants in nutrient-rich seawater we can provide a possible solution to the need to grow more to feed a fast changing global demographic. By analogy, a lonely English algae seaweed researcher called Kathleen Drew-Baker in 1948 discovered the life cycle of a seaweed known as Nori. This allowed cultivation of Nori, which formerly had been merely wild gathered. High in protein, this single food fed post-war Japan. It is now a $2billion industry. Kathleen is revered in Japan, and is known as the Mother of the Seas. 

    Rory MacPhee will be speaking at the RE.WORK Future of Food Production workshop on 21 October, a London Food Tech Week event. Georgie Barrat, Journalist & Presenter for Tech City News, will be compèring the event. For more information and to register, visit the event page here

    Hydroponics Sustainability Future of Food Aquaculture Food Production Water


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