Proposed Swanage seaweed farm takes care not to make waves

A seaweed farm more than a mile off the Swanage coastline could help to lead a revolution in aquaculture if it is granted permission to go ahead later in 2024.

Ocean Origin Seaweed is being planned by former Royal Marine Luke Robinson, who hopes to be able to harvest his first crop in April 2025 for use as a food and a fertiliser as well as an ingredient in cosmetics and a future alternative to some plastics.

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USDA CLIMATE HUBS

Sugar kelp being farmed in Alaska on lines suspended by buoys

Little to no impact on other sea users

Before getting permission to farm from the Marine Management Organisation – as well as a licence to use the sea bed from the Crown Estate – Ocean Origin Seaweed has been keen to get the support of Swanage’s local residents.

Two small scale seaweed farms are planned – one in Swanage Bay and the other in Ringstead Bay, west of Durdle Door – but both will be well out to sea with crops suspended from buoys three metres under the water and have little to no impact on any other sea users.

A public meeting called by Ocean Origin at Emmanuel Baptist Church on Saturday 9th March 2024 was attended by some 60 people including representatives of Swanage Sailing Club, Swanage Sea Rowing Club, commercial fishing businesses and divers.

But unlike a seaweed farming scheme at Port Isaac, Cornwall, which is facing a huge protest led by actors Martin Clunes and Andrew Lincoln based on its size, Ocean Origin has gone the extra mile to put local minds at ease.

LUKE ROBINSON

Luke Robinson and his wife Kate Thompson, of Church Knowle, will run Ocean Origin

Suspended three metres under water

Luke Robinson, who will run the business with his wife Kate Thompson, said:

“In terms of size, our farms will only be 100 metres by 200 metres at most – much smaller than the site in Cornwall which is said to be the size of 180 football fields and absolutely enormous.

“The model we are trying to prove is a small scale artisanal farm. Rather than trying to produce enough seaweed for, say, bioplastic bags where you would make a penny a bag, we are looking to produce more valuable products where you don’t need a vast quantity.

“Our site is 2.5 kilometres out to sea due east of Swanage Pier, so it won’t be visible from the beach at all, and all of the seaweed will be suspended three metres under the water so there are no issues with that.

“Even the most intrepid swimmers wouldn’t go out that far – I don’t think there’s any problem with conflicting space with other users of the sea.”

VASHON BEACHCOMBER

Ocean Origin will follow the principle of a seaweed farm like this, from Washington USA

Farm will encourage crabs and fish

Luke added:

“We had people from the sailing club and the rowing club at the open meeting and they were pretty satisfied that it wouldn’t have any impact with their activities.

“The fishing community didn’t seem too worried after they heard the details – they can’t fish in the marine conservation zone anyway, which is part of the issue down in Cornwall.

“Most of the fishermen are crab potting and are most welcome to put their pots around the site, I don’t have an issue with that – the research actually suggests that what we want to do will encourage crabs, lobsters and small fish to the area.

“And I will also need to rent their boats to help with the harvesting, so I hope to build up a good relationship with the fishing community.”

ZUZYUSA

A seaweed and avocado salad, and there are plenty of other uses for the plant

Used in cosmetics and fertilisers

Although no seaweed farm has been set up on the Dorset coastline before – and seaweed farming in Europe is still in its infancy – the crop has excited climate activists looking for ways to reduce environmental damage.

Seaweed can be used as a food crop – until recently it formed about 10 percent of the national diet in Japan – and is believed to have many healthy properties, being high in protein, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals while being very low in fat.

Seaweed is also used in cosmetics, fertilisers and as a possible future replacement for lightweight plastics and while it grows, the plant absorbs carbon dioxide from the water, converting it into carbon and releasing oxygen.

And as it grows at an amazing rate – up to 30 cm a day in the right conditions – and forms dense underwater forests, it is able to absorb and lock away 20 times more carbon than an equivalent area of trees.

If a licence is granted, it is hoped that Oceans Origin will be able to put anchors into Swanage Bay and Ringstead Bay in September 2024, put the rope superstructure into place above the anchors in October and seed the farm in November.

GLOBAL SEAFOOD ALLIANCE

Harvesting the seaweed takes place in April after a winter growing season

Passionate about the environment

Luke Robinson said:

“Growing seaweed is a winter sport, so when the tourists are on the beach or the summer sailing season starts there will be nothing there, we will close down over the summer effectively.

“I’ve lived in Purbeck for a long time now and I’m looking for something that will keep me living and working here.

“I love being in the sea, I love this part of the coast and I’m passionate about climate activism, so I think this is a great way to prove that our beautiful green part of Dorset – well, blue in this case – can be both profitable and good for the environment.

“The government wants to protect 30 percent of UK waters by 2030, which is very laudable, but means you still have to find ways that people can still make a living in those protected waters and this seems like a good way to do it.

“All the science suggests that it’s really good for biodiversity and for water quality, and we see it as the raw material of the future.

It’s a rare thing when you find something that makes economic sense and is also good for the environment, those opportunities don’t come round very often.”

Bumps in the Bay
Nick Reed

Purbeck Sub Aqua Club may help to monitor the seaweed farm

Scallops, oysters and clams

All the seaweed grown will be native UK species, and scallops, mussels, oysters and clams will be farmed in the same space.

The first two years of farming is expected to be a trial to see what grows well and what quantities can be produced before looking for contracts with major companies like comestic business Lush.

But Ocean Origin does want to use a certain amount of the crop to make replacements for chemical fertilisers, and is also working with Bournemouth University to look at ways of making new low carbon materials for the 21st century.

The company is looking to get involved in local education with Planet Purbeck, Sustainable Swanage and Sustainable Wareham, and hopes that the Purbeck Sub Aqua club will help to monitor the site.

OCEAN ORIGIN

Ocean Origin will farm UK seaweed species including sugar kelp, oarweed, tangle and dabberlocks

The raw material of the future

And Luke promised that the seaweed he grows will not add to that which gets washed up on Swanage Beach, saying:

“I don’t want my seaweed washing up on the beach because I want to sell it. Most of what washes up is quite old, when its footings begin to get weak, but ours should be young and strong.

“We believe that seaweed is the raw material of the future, and a nature-based solution to address many of the climate crisis’s most challenging problems.

“Food production is thought to contribute as much as 30 percent of global carbon emissions, so to feed a growing global population on a warming planet we need to think differently about food.

“Seaweed is a delicious super food and also one of the most sustainable sources of calories on earth. It needs no land, no fresh water, no fertiliser and no pesticides.

“So Ocean Origin is working on a number of exciting ways to get more seaweed into our diets. Watch out as we take the fight against climate change to our dinner plates!”

OCEAN ORIGIN

The Swanage seaweed farm will also harvest blue mussels, king scallops and oysters

Further information

  • Learn more about Ocean Origin’s plans on its website

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