SeaGrown already runs an offshore seaweed farm in the North Sea and, with the right species and setup, the partners believe seaweed farms could be provide a useful tool to help support native species and habitats.
Seaweed, also referred to as marine macroalgae, is becoming widely recognised by a number of international organisations to provide a range of benefits to the marine environment. SeaGrown and Ørsted have set out on a mission to establish data around the potential of seaweed as an ocean-climate solution by trialling a range of monitoring technologies including eDNA, remote cameras, and sonar.
Recently, seaweed cultivation has been explored as a carbon sink, with the potential to absorb significant amounts of carbon dioxide – perhaps even more efficiently than trees. Much of the utility of seaweed as a carbon sink, however, will depend on how the seaweed is used once it has grown.
There are currently no internationally recognised approaches to measuring carbon removal by seaweed, but there is huge potential for this to be an important part of the carbon puzzle and unique role our oceans play to mitigate climate change impacts.
Farming seaweed is also being considered for its contribution to improving biodiversity in our oceans - not only does it remove carbon (reducing acidity) and produce oxygen, it can also provide a substrate for marine organisms to grow on and act as a shelter for juvenile fish.
Seaweed species such as kelp grow rapidly via photosynthesis, so they use only sunlight and the naturally occurring nutrients in the sea. Not only is it fast growing, it is nutritious and grows in most of our oceans. It is therefore no surprise that it has been collected in the wild by humans for thousands of years and cultivated actively since at least the 1600s.
In busy marine areas like the North Sea, multiple users depend on access to the ocean for their livelihoods and a number of areas have also been designated for the protection of marine species and habitats.
Seaweed farming may have the potential to improve these ecosystems, but it must be sited in a way that works in harmony other sea-users - SeaGrown's pilot seaweed farm off the coast of Scarborough has been carefully located with this in mind.
Benj Sykes, Ørsted's Head of UK Environment, Consents & External Affairs, notes: "The acceleration of offshore wind deployment is vital in the global shift to a clean energy system, but it must not come at the expense of marine biodiversity. We want offshore wind to be part of the solution, not part of the problem, and getting it right always starts with understanding and measuring our impacts.
"Seaweed farms clearly have the potential to contribute to reducing greenhouse gases, as well as benefiting marine biodiversity. The aim of this new partnership is to look at how we can measure and confirm this, adding another tool to help protect and enhance marine habitats."
Wave Crookes, Operations Director at SeaGrown, added: "SeaGrown is very pleased to be working with Ørsted on this important biodiversity study. Through this forward-looking project, we are seeking to establish the best way for seaweed farming to assist ecologically-conscious operators such as Ørsted to minimize their impact and work in harmony with the marine environment to generate the green, renewable energy we all need."