Seaweed is an underexploited resource in Europe, report finds

Published 17:09 on January 13, 2023  /  Last updated at 17:09 on January 13, 2023  /  Biodiversity  /  No Comments

Seaweed farming can be a powerful tool to capture carbon and transform regional economies in the EU but it is being hindered by an overly-complicated and costly regulatory process, according to a report prepared for the European Commission and published on Friday.

Seaweed farming can be a powerful tool to capture carbon and transform regional economies in the EU but it is being hindered by an overly-complicated and costly regulatory process, according to a report prepared for the European Commission and published on Friday.

Seaweed ecosystems play a crucial role in the marine carbon cycle, with scientists agreeing that seaweed’s power as a net sequestrator of CO2 matches the potent levels of tidal marshes, mangroves and seagrass ecosystems.

The Blue Bioeconomy report is released every two years by the EU’s market intelligence service European Market Observatory for Fisheries and Aquaculture Products (EUMOFA) and provides an update on the EU micro and macro-algae sector.

The 2022 edition of the report out today highlighted that EU seaweed farming and harvesting sector is underdeveloped, noting that despite 36% of entries in a global seaweed industry database being based in the bloc, these companies were mainly start-ups and not yet commercially viable.

This is largely due to the cluttered regulatory landscape for seaweed licences and permits being “uncoordinated” and containing too many national and local regulatory bodies as well as being too costly for small companies wanting to farm at sea, the report explained.

This has resulted in the EU seaweed industry being unable to meet growing demand for seaweed products, leading to a potential loss of investment and businesses being disincentivised.

CARBON SINK POTENTIAL

The report also explored the possibility of seaweed ecosystems being used for carbon sequestration in blue carbon projects.

However, current methods of measuring seaweed’s carbon intake are currently not “robust enough for blue carbon credits to be extended to seaweed ecosystems and seaweed farming”, it said.

This is because there are many different types of seaweed that absorb different amounts of carbon and because the sequestration from seaweed mainly occurs deep-sea, thus making it difficult to determine the specific location of a seaweed’s ecosystem and assess its carbon sequestration.

Coastal ecosystems of mangroves, tidal marshes and seagrass are, on the other hand, highly sought after blue carbon projects because it is much easier to quantify their carbon intake than seaweed.

While seaweed ecosystems may not be yet used for blue carbon projects, the report highlights that they could be integrated into climate policies including conservation, restoration and farming. But before this can happen better data should be collected and knowledge gaps addressed.

The blue bioeconomy refers to any economic activity linked to renewable aquatic biological resources to make products.

Blue carbon projects seek to conserve and restore natural blue carbon sinks located in oceans. These natural carbon sinks have captured more than 60% of the CO2 emitted by humans over the past 150 years.

By Rebecca Gualandi – rebecca@carbon-pulse.com