Seaweed Conference

Peter Aldous opened a conference at the King’s Centre, in Norwich entitled ‘Growing a Seaweed Economy in East Anglia’ which examined the opportunities for seaweed farming off the Norfolk and Suffolk coast.
 
Peter's Speech
 
Growing a seaweed economy in East Anglia
 
1. Introduction
I am delighted to be here today and honoured to have been asked to make the opening speech in what I’m sure will be a fascinating day.
 
For the harvesting of seaweed to become a major UK industry, there are a number of obstacles to overcome. However based on the papers that I’ve read and having in mind the challenges that we face here in East Anglia, across the UK and around the globe, I believe that it is right that we look very carefully at this fledgling industry and do what we can to nurture it; to secure the funds to carry out a pilot and the necessary further research. The dividends could be significant.
 
What I shall do is highlight the opportunities that a seaweed economy presents and explain why I believe that East Anglia is the right place to be carrying out this pioneering work.
 
It has 3 great attractions; sustainability, enhanced food and energy security and wider economic benefits
 
2. Sustainability
The first of these; the great advantage of seaweed is its sustainability.
 
It is an industry where no land or food conflict issues arise and there are significant environmental benefits.
 
It provides a sustainable and extensive biomass resource for the production of transport fuel, petrochemical replacements, heat and electricity. Its refinery process creates other valuable bio co-products.
 
There is limited conflict with fishing, shipping interests, the oil and gas sector and wind farms. It can take place in conjunction with these opportunities, opening up a wide range of synergies and making for better use of the oceans.
 
Seaweed cultivation is potentially more sustainable than the growing of crops on land for a variety of reasons.
1. The ocean is a vast and stable environment, whilst on land the growing of crops is increasingly vulnerable to the threats of flood, fire and drought.
2. There is no food supply conflict, whereas on land we are increasingly seeing a conflict between the growing of food and fuel crops.
3. There is no need for fresh water, whilst on land large amounts of water, an increasingly diminishing resource, are needed.
4. At sea no pesticides - whilst food production on land remains very reliant on fertilisers and pesticides.
5. Seaweed grows faster than any land plant. It is just as, if not more productive and captures CO2. Contrast this to crops grown on land where in developing countries there is the widespread clearance of forests which releases C02.
6. Seaweed is an ocean biofilter, whilst on land crop rotations can lead to changes in soil pH.
 
Seaweed cultivation also has positive benefits on the environment.
1. Firstly, it increases biodiversity. Standing seaweed crops naturally attracts marine life, shelter and habitats for spawning or small fish or organisms. Increased levels of dissolved oxygen help improve water quality in the sea, which combined with habitat provision, assists in increasing fish stock.
2. Secondly, Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture has recently become an area of increased focus in many marine regions. More than 50% of the amount of nitrogen and phosphorous in fish feed is lost to the sea and seaweed can play an important role in removing such excess nutrients. Promoting seaweed cultivation in areas with intensive fish farming can bring benefits to future expansion of fish aquaculture and seaweed farming.
3. Thirdly, seaweed acts as a biofilter. It has the ability to absorb pollutants in the water and can play an important role in coastal eutrophication by providing a good water quality environment where pollution events are less likely.
4. Fourthly, the standing biomass in seaweed farms are in effect new added forests which are continually sequestering CO2. 
 
Potentially the world’s oceans are a great untapped source of food production.
 
Over 70% of the earth’s surface is covered by sea water, our seas contain 90% of the planets water and yet they only yield 2% of the world’s food.
 
There will be 9.1 billion people on earth by 2050 and traditional farming might well not be able to produce enough food for them.
 
Limited fresh water on arable land may also constrain the growth of agriculture, whilst growing affluence in the developing countries adds to the challenge, as people eat more meat and turn food crops into biofuels.
 
The only countries farming seaweed at scale at the current time are in Asia.
 
For example, China produces over 10 million tons of seaweed annually. One species, Laminaria, averages 19.4 tons of dry weight per hectare. At this level, it would only need 1% of the earth’s ocean surface to grow an amount of seaweed equal to all the food plants currently farmed on land.
 
3. Food and energy security 
The ongoing uncertainty in the Ukraine reminds us of the need for the UK to have its own secure food and energy supply.
 
This is the 2nd advantage of a vibrant seaweed industry; it will add to the nation’s food and energy security. In the UK’s waters seaweed is a resource which is virtually unexploited and has much potential. 
 
Looking at the situation from a global perspective, seaweed cultivated on an industrial scale could make a significant contribution to the world’s supply of energy, biochemicals, fertilisers, animal feed and human feed.
 
The worldwide demand for feed ingredients in fish and animal production is growing rapidly. Seaweed can provide a sustainable marine feed alternative with unique functional properties. For instance, admittedly not on the East Anglian coast [yet!]  by cultivating the seaweed in the vicinity of salmon farms, the nutrient waste from the salmon can be converted to seaweed protein, which is fed back to the salmon for a more sustainable, resource-efficient aquaculture production.
 
In the field of bio-chemicals, the extraction of alginate, a biopolymer found naturally in brown seaweeds, is an established industry in parts of Europe and Asia. Due to its gelling and thickening properties, alginate has a wide variety of applications in the food, pharmaceutical and textile industries. In a seaweed biorefinery, a range of other biochemicals can be extracted or produced through bioconversion of the seaweed sugars, creating a renewable alternative to the present petroleum based chemicals.
 
Seaweed is the ideal energy crop. It requires no fresh water, fertiliser or pesticides. It contains up to 60-70%  fermentable sugars and it grows faster than any plant on land. Through biochemical or thermochemical processes, the seaweed sugars can be converted to liquid fuel or biogas. In a biorefinery, valuable biproducts such as protein and minerals can be extracted for non-energy purposes.
 
The John Innes Centre and the Sainsbury Laboratory in their 2009 publication, “Food Security- What Next?” identified the challenge that we face in having a secure food supply:- more people, less land, less water, climate change and the large carbon footprint of crop plants.
They went on to highlight the vital role that scientists have to play to meet these challenges head on.
 
4 Rebalancing the economy
The final attraction of seaweed is the role that it can play in economic growth.
 
A global trend that has been taking place in recent years has been the emergence of the City State. In the UK we have London where more and more of the nation’s economic activity is centred. The challenge that faces politicians is to promote growth and activity in those places away from these “super cities”. This is one of the objectives of High Speed 2 and yes improved infrastructure across the UK is important. But linked to this there is also a need to build new innovative industries in these places. 
 
Coastal towns and communities have their own particular challenges – including remoteness and invariably being at the end of the line.
 
But they are next to one of the country’s most valuable yet often overlooked resources – the sea itself. Already marine industries make an essential contribution to the UK’s land-based society, generating 4.2% of GDP and supporting 900,000 jobs.
 
There remains considerable untapped potential and these industries can do a great deal more. Off the East Anglian coast, energy  provides a once in a lifetime opportunity to regenerate coastal communities such as Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft, the town which I represent.
 
Offshore wind, oil and gas and nuclear will play a key role and seaweed can be part of the energy mix alongside these technologies.
 
4. Why East Anglia?
Firstly, we have a long coast. 
 
The North Sea has played a significant role in the local economy for a long time; in the fishing industry, in the last forty years in the oil and gas sector and now in the emerging offshore wind sector.
 
Industries have developed and supply chains have been created where skills are transferrable from one sector to another. This is very much the case with regard to offshore wind and oil and gas.
 
Expertise, research and knowledge centres are well established and world renowned, such as those at Cefas and Orbis in Lowestoft and the John Innes Centre at the University of East Anglia here in Norwich. These provide the bedrock of science on which we can carry out the necessary research into the seaweed economy.
 
Moreover, the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership have very much embraced the opportunities presented by the Green Economy.
 
Their “Leading the Way – the Green Economy Pathfinder Manifesto” sets out their vision, which Iain Dunnett will tell us more about. They are playing a leading role in the transition to a Green Economy which can deliver significant benefits to both Suffolk and Norfolk.
 
Their work provides a very good framework within which to grow a seaweed economy in East Anglia.
 
5.Conclusion
Today we face many challenges in an uncertain world.
 
Feeding an ever growing population, 
 
Ensuring the lights don’t go out, 
 
Providing exciting and pioneering new jobs
 
And managing our precious and diminishing natural resources in a prudent and responsible way.
 
When one faces up to the formidable resource challenge that the world faces, we could say that the problem is too difficult and the UK on its own can do little to solve it. That approach would be to betray the next generation.
 
A seaweed economy is not the solution to these challenges, but it could play a significant supporting role.
 
It needs to be needs to be properly and fully researched and vigorously pursued.
 
In East Anglia, we have the resources, we have the expertise and I believe we have the ambition to do this.
 
I shall now sit down, shut up and listen to the experts.
 
 
For more information:

| Eastern Daily Press

The Renaissance of East Anglian Fisheries

Construction (Retention Deposit Schemes) Bill

Construction (Retention Deposit Schemes) Bill

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Peter holds regular surgeries at various locations in the constituency. Please call 01502 586568 to make an appointment.

Next Surgeries - 2018: 
Lowestoft, Wednesday 8th August

 

 

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