The Seaweed in East Anglia (SEA) project is a collaboration between University of East Anglia (UEA), the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) and led by Hethel Innovation.
With increasing demand for more sustainable resources, interest has grown in the potential opportunities from seaweed production to deliver economic, climate and food security benefits. Seaweeds could be an important future feedstock for both Norfolk and UK, with wider applications in food, fertilisers, animal feed, biofuels and bioplastics.
Seaweed farming also has the potential to support local businesses and generate employment, whilst helping to achieve net zero targets and providing ecosystem services. Since 2016, seaweed-related businesses in the UK have more than doubled, with a variety of products now available on the market.
However, several knowledge gaps and challenges need to be resolved for the industry to grow and realise this vision. In the east of England, an understanding of the potential of current supply chains and the steps needed to develop a local seaweed industry, are lacking.
The SEA project, funded by the Norfolk County Council through the Norfolk Investment Fund, aims to help address some of these knowledge gaps and provide the evidence base to encourage investment into local seaweed production, supporting the growth potential of the industry.
Dr Tomás Harrington, Norwich Business School UEA, said in a press release: “The SEA project brings together a multi-disciplinary team from UEA whose collective expertise will inform value chain activities, from onshore seaweed nurseries and offshore farming to final seaweed-based products. The project will enable us to better understand consumer preferences and behaviours in order to evaluate product and place choices and scale-up opportunities. We can then assess the potential in developing competitive supply chains in East Anglia, from both supply and demand perspectives”.
Rikke Nagell-Kleven, SEA project manager, added: “As we are looking for solutions to meet our net zero target, I believe that seaweed can be a part of the solution. Seaweed offers carbon sequestration opportunities, the ability to replace high carbon products such as chemicals in plastics and fertilisers, reducing methane production in cattle and providing food alternatives such as plant-based protein for our growing population. Through the SEA project, we will identify the opportunity Norfolk has to build a seaweed economy, focusing on Norfolk’s unique location and capabilities and examining the opportunities for co-location with other aquaculture and within windfarms”.
Over the next 10 months, the project team will scope farming methods, species and locations for seaweed aquaculture; understand Norfolk’s production capability of seaweed-based products and develop a roadmap for the industry.
Dr Elisa Capuzzo, Cefas’ principal investigator of the SEA project, said: “The seaweed industry in the UK has increased rapidly in the last few years, but there is still a lot of untapped potential. Building on our experience in developing feasibility studies for aquaculture, we will help identify seaweed species and farming practices that are appropriate to the Norfolk region and help identify suitable locations for aquaculture, while also contributing to the development of the roadmap for driving a seaweed economy in East Anglia”.