Project Madoc is Cultivating a Seaweed Industry in Wales

 Seagriculture EU 2024

“Seaweed’s potential uses are limitless,” says Doumeizel. Courtesy: Vincent Doumeizel

by Vincent Doumeizel

One of the most abundant and promising untapped resources on the planet, seaweed is among the most scalable of nature-based solutions. Alongside its economic advantages, it can offer tangible solutions to the challenges posed by climate change and provide a plethora of ecosystem services.

To do these things, however, it must be farmed at scale. Several countries are striving to lead the way in this journey of discovery: Norway, the Netherlands, Ireland, Australia, and Scotland among them. All have made significant headway through scientific research, policy, innovation, technology, and offshore colocation.

Here in Wales, we face a simple choice. Act now or get left behind.

The Study

Motivated by a shared passion for ocean health and nature-positive solutions for climate change, economic project and market developers, Fiona Trappe and Charles Blair – co-founders, and directors of The Seaweed Alliance Ltd, – initiated, led, and edited a comprehensive, 12-month European Maritime and Fisheries Funded (EMFF) feasibility study as Project Managers.

Independent specialists, contracted through a competitive public tendering and selection process, examined the viability of a Welsh cultivated seaweed industry in four parts:

  1. Economic and Market Assessment
    –  International Case Studies
    –  Seaweed Farming Innovations
  2. Social License to Operate
  3. Environmental Impact Assessment
  4. Marine Space for Farming Kelp

Various economic scenarios and timeframes were modelled, and stress tested.

The highest ambition scenario indicates that Wales has the potential to build a £105 million industry, contributing £76.3 million to Gross Value Added (GVA) and close to 1,000 jobs by 2033. This does not include the associated supply/value-chain or potential monetary value of ecosystem services derived from seaweed cultivation and resultant replacement of carbon intensive products. Viewed in the round, this equates to Wales generating £29.4 million in salaries and remuneration, £81 million revenue, with a profit of 27%.

A key decision in the development of an industry in Wales will be selecting which species to farm. The provisional recommendation is to focus on three native species: Palmaria palmata (dulse), Ulva lactuca (sea lettuce), Saccharina latissima (sugar kelp/kombu) or Alaria esculenta (winged kelp/Atlantic wakame).

The volume of biomass produced in this scenario equates to 17,700 tons per annum by 2033. While highly ambitious compared to other nations, it is achievable based on findings and growth forecasts.

Given the characteristics of this nascent industry, achieving these outcomes requires a phased growth approach – a “beachhead strategy,” focusing resources initially on a small market area to create a stronghold for the future and enable seaweed farmers, industry processors, entrepreneurs, investors, and researchers to coalesce.

Once Wales can supply high volumes of seaweed biomass, to unleash an even greater economic potential demands commensurate levels of investment in the cultivation and bioprocessing of seaweed.

The findings of the Environmental Assessment conclude that, in the Welsh context, there would be minimal negative environmental impacts. Overall, the potential environmental risks of seaweed farming would be outweighed by the benefits, including water quality improvements, enhanced biodiversity, bioremediation, and coastal protection.

The diligent work undertaken by The Seaweed Alliance to produce this comprehensive feasibility study establishes the basis for a sustainable and viable seaweed industry for Wales. It clearly illuminates the way ahead. As the author of The Seaweed Revolution, I highly commend the vision put forward in Project Madoc as an inspiration for others to support and emulate to take the industry forward.

Charting the way forward

By its very nature, a new industry is pioneering, innovative, opportunity led, and challenging, with gaps in knowledge and expertise.

While Project Madoc cannot fill all these gaps, it provides key decision makers across the political, economic, and environmental arena with a thorough evidence base to inform next steps.

It demonstrates that well-established ecosystem services offered by seaweed can form the basis of a sustainable, regenerative industry for Wales, with an array of high-value, commercial applications. It can feed the supply and value chains of a rapidly advancing Welsh bioeconomy, while at the same time replace seaweed feedstock imported from East Asia.

In doing so, it can support and promote several foundational tenets of Welsh Government policy, namely, the Welsh National Marine Plan (2019), the Innovation Strategy for Wales (2023), the Well-being of Future Generations Act (2015), and the Strategic Vision for the Food and Drink Industry (2021).

An emergent Welsh seaweed industry can form an intrinsic component of a wider new, blue economy for Wales, learning from excellent models in Europe and Australia to accelerate the agenda.

Call to action

Our comprehensive analyses conclude that, with the necessary levels of ambition, commitment and investment, a competitive Welsh seaweed industry is eminently technically, commercially feasible, and socially and environmentally desirable.

The key recommended next step is to develop a comprehensive Seaweed Industry Development Plan for Wales, steered by the “beachhead strategy” and consisting of three phases:
● promoting and supporting capacity-building and knowledge transfer, focusing on three native species – kelp, dulse, and ulva
● creating industry demand to lead to scaling of farms and bioprocessing facilities to meet the needs of a seaweed bio-based sector
● co-location with offshore wind farms

To fully realize this vision, and become market leaders in Europe, this plan should be fully costed, with the human, technical, and financial resources to create a best-in-class Welsh seaweed industry. It should reflect our intention to, once again, operate at the world’s economic frontier, and to play our full part in the new, blue industrial revolution.

All rights reserved. Permission required to reprint articles in their entirety. Must include copyright statement and live hyperlinks. Contact david@algaeplanet.com. Algae Planet accepts unsolicited manuscripts for consideration, and takes no responsibility for the validity of claims made in submitted editorial.

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