Seaweed farmer

Seaweed Farming – An interview with Mollie Gupta at WWF

Seaweed, a marine alga typically found in coastal areas, forms part of the rich biodiversity within the Earth’s waters. The plant-like organism is well known to have a number of environmental, ecological and economic benefits for the planet. It should come as no surprise that it is now therefore a key focus area for tackling marine biodiversity loss and climate change mitigation and adaptation globally. In many countries, seaweed farming practices are already commonplace. Given the known potential benefits, seaweed farming has also become increasingly popular in the UK over recent years. This is notwithstanding the complex regulatory framework within which seaweed farming currently sits.

Global environmental charity, WWF, is one of the key organisations actively supporting seaweed farmers in the UK and undertaking vital research in this area. Mollie Gupta, Seaweed Solutions Project Manager at WWF, provides some exclusive insight into the seaweed industry and the work she is involved in.

What is your role at WWF?

I am the Seaweed Solutions Project Manager, which means I coordinate with all partners to ensure delivery of our wider strategy and programme of work. This work seeks to support seaweed farms to deliver environmental benefits in the UK, both from the point of view of seaweed farms having positive impact in the ocean and from the way that seaweed products can be used to support wider food system transformation.

What does the global and UK seaweed farming industry currently look like?

Seaweed aquaculture is already prevalent in many places around the world. The main producer regions include China, Japan, South Korea and Indonesia. Seaweed is often integrated into the cultures of some of these nations and seen as a delicious food ingredient.

In contrast in the UK, it is little known that before the industrial revolution, we actually used seaweed for years in farming, pharmaceuticals and textiles. Most of this seaweed came from wild harvesting. In recent years there’s been interest in seaweed farming and we’ve seen the number of farms grow significantly in the last 10 years; an exciting trend that we hope to see continue.

Why is seaweed farming considered “regenerative”?

Growing seaweed does not require any pesticide, fertiliser, freshwater, or feed. This makes it drastically different to many other forms of food and biomass production, which usually require significant input. In addition, seaweed grows quickly, is diverse in nutrients and uses, and can be combined with other forms of aquaculture such as shellfish cultivation.

Seaweed farms are able to reduce local acidification problems, help with eutrophication, and can support biodiversity by turning empty water columns into a 3D forest. For these reasons we consider it to be regenerative for the environment.

As well as helping to regenerate the ocean, seaweed farms can be supportive to local communities by offering jobs, supporting local tourism, and providing connection to the coast.

Why is WWF particularly interested in seaweed farming?

WWF is particularly interested in regenerative seaweed farming’s ability to bioremediate excess nutrients – such as run off from agriculture and pollution from sewage. Such seaweed could then, once harvested, be used as biostimulant and returned to field to help support crops to grow, reducing the need for synthetic fertilisers. This is just one example of how seaweed in the UK could support circularity in our food system and reduction in nutrient inputs, especially as we know nitrogen is a problem in our freshwater systems.

There are other innovative uses of seaweed which we are interested in, including seaweed as a possible feed protein in the future. We are working with Oceanium to see if it is possible to extract high quality protein from UK grown seaweed species, which matches other feed proteins like soy and could therefore one day help to displace these. This is an example of how our overseas land footprint and carbon footprint could be reduced by seaweed innovation in years to come.

We believe seaweed products could help to displace carbon intensive products such as fertiliser and feed protein, and therefore lead to overall reductions in the GHG emissions from our food system. However, we need seaweed farms to reach a degree of appropriate scale to be able to support these ambitions, and hence our programme is looking to support UK seaweed farming.

Tell us a bit about some of the seaweed projects WWF are working on at the moment?

There is the Oceanuim protein project discussed above. We are also looking at how seaweed biostimulant could help us to reduce synthetic fertiliser use in Norfolk – with project partners such as Norfolk Seaweed, UEA, Cefas, Biotechnica and others.

We are supporting a PhD project at Newcastle University looking into blue carbon cycling on seaweed farms.

We are funding biodiversity monitoring work with PEBL; looking at building the evidence base around the impact of seaweed farms on local ecology.

We have a large research project ongoing called the Value of UK Seaweed which will highlight and illustrate the potential benefits of a future UK seaweed farming sector.

We’ve also recently published social science research with SAMS. And more!

Are there any developments in the seaweed farming world that you have been particularly excited about recently?

There are many! The first harvest of shellfish and seaweed from an offshore wind farm in Sweden is an exciting development.

The recent Scottish Seaweed Industry Association (SSIA) conference was also brilliant and helped to bring the sector together. There are some helpful summary documents on the website which are worth a read.

The recent work published by SAMS which WWF supported and our future Value of UK Seaweed work which I have linked above are also significant.

What advice would you give to someone looking to enter the seaweed farming industry today?

This is an exciting sector with a future full of innovation and discovery. We would really encourage those interested to join the sector to closely consider the skill-set they can offer, and place this towards an area in need of support. That could be anything from hands on skills on sea farms, to marketing and communications support, to research and evidence building.

To find out more about WWF, visit

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