These 4 start-ups are using seaweed to help save the planet

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Walé Azeez, Writer, Formative Content

  • Seaweed plays a crucial role in the ocean’s ability to absorb greenhouse gases.
  • Seaweed is better at absorbing CO2 emissions than trees are.
  • Seaweed is considered a high-value source of protein for humans and livestock.

We’re all familiar with the role forests play when it comes to providing a sustainable source of food, energy and raw materials, and locking away CO2 emissions.

But perhaps we’re less knowledgeable about the potential of forests of seaweed growing in the oceans.

A type of seaweed known as kelp is being developed for its nutritional value and its ability to absorb and lock away huge quantities of carbon dioxide. Seaweed absorbs CO2 more effectively than trees. It also improves water quality by extracting harmful nutrients such as nitrogen from the sea.

What’s the World Economic Forum doing about the ocean?

Our ocean covers 70% of the world’s surface and accounts for 80% of the planet’s biodiversity. We can’t have a healthy future without a healthy ocean – but it’s more vulnerable than ever because of climate change and pollution.

Tackling the grave threats to our ocean means working with leaders across sectors, from business to government to academia.

The World Economic Forum, in collaboration with the World Resources Institute, convenes the Friends of Ocean Action, a coalition of leaders working together to protect the seas. From a programme with the Indonesian government to cut plastic waste entering the sea to a global plan to track illegal fishing, the Friends are pushing for new solutions.

Climate change is an inextricable part of the threat to our oceans, with rising temperatures and acidification disrupting fragile ecosystems. The Forum runs a number of initiatives to support the shift to a low-carbon economy, including hosting the Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders, who have cut emissions in their companies by 9%.

Is your organization interested in working with the World Economic Forum? Find out more here.

Building a new ocean economy

These benefits are familiar to a new generation of oceanic entrepreneurs. They’re working to preserve the world’s marine ecosystems, while playing a key role in combating food insecurity and climate change.

Here are four companies rising to the ocean challenge:

Kelp Blue

Kelp Blue runs giant underwater farms where it grows seaweed crops that are harvested for agri-foods, fertilizers, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. The kelp also absorbs large quantities of CO2. With a mission to “re-wild” the ocean and capture millions of tonnes of CO2 annually by 2050, Kelp Blue’s sustainability credentials are reinforced by the fact that no fertilizers, pesticides, fresh water or land are used in its production processes.

Kelp Blue is currently in the pilot phase of the project which it hopes to eventually replicate in offshore locations across the world. The government of Namibia has granted environmental clearance for the company to start farming off its coast, a location that has perfect conditions for seaweed cultivation.

a diagram explaining how kelp forests create jobs and products
Kelp forests have the potential to create jobs and planet-friendly products. Image: Kelp Blue

Sea6 Energy

This Indian company is all about scaling up and mechanizing tropical seaweed farming. It produces biomass for fuel and sustainable raw materials for industries that span agri-foods, health supplements, cosmetics, bioplastics and polymers. It has secured patents across the value chain.

Sea6 Energy has designed what it calls ‘SeaCombine’ – a tractor-like vehicle that sows seeds and harvests tropical sea plants off-shore, currently in India and Indonesia.

an infographic with statistics about the ocean on it
A 2030 prediction of the scale of the ocean economy and its environmental benefits. Image: Sea6 Energy

The infographic above predicts the scale of the new ocean economy by 2030 and details some of the planet-friendly benefits that farming ocean plants on an industrial scale could bring.

Australian Seaweed Institute

Australia has never had a seaweed farming industry, but Jo Kelly is planning to change that in her role as founder of The Australian Seaweed Institute. She believes that seaweed can help to mitigate climate change and create jobs in aquaculture in remote parts of Australia.

The Institute was founded in 2018 and is partnering with farmers, research bodies, manufacturers and government to develop a framework for the industry.

The foundation for that framework is the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 14 – addressing “life below water”. The infographic below details the blueprint for building Australia’s seaweed farming industry, which could contribute directly to reducing ocean acidification and pollution.

an infographic outlaying australia's national seaweed strategy
The Australian Seaweed Institute published its ‘blueprint’ for a farming industry. Image: Australian Seaweed Institute

The Institute is developing a biofilter network, in partnership with Central Queensland University’s Coastal Marine Ecosystem Centre. The system will be used to remove nitrogen and CO2 from the Great Barrier Reef.

It’s a pioneering project that caught the attention of the World Economic Forum and was featured at the The Davos Agenda in 2021.

Cascadia Seaweed

Cascadia Seaweed, based on Canada’s Vancouver Island, is focused on bringing its ocean bounty to more dinner tables. It hosted the Canadian province’s inaugural Seaweed Days Festival in May 2021. The UN’s senior advisor on the global impact on oceans was there to see for himself the benefits that the new ocean economy can have in the real world.

The two year-old Canadian company has farms offshore. It’s also built its own seed nursery.

Cascadia currently grows four types of seaweed, but plans to expand into more varieties in time. The company is motivated to provide increasing work opportunities for the region’s indigenous communities and has forged partnerships with local tribes as it expands its enterprise along the coast of British Columbia.

Supporting ocean economy pioneers

These start-ups are at the forefront of an emerging and promising sector of a global circular economy. Their blueprints and strategies for the future could be replicated across the world for the benefit of people and the planet.

The World Economic Forum’s UpLink platform provides an environment for entrepreneurs to present ideas that can drive the world towards meeting the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

The merits of such a platform become clear when the UN points out that widespread seaweed cultivation is being hampered by a lack of global safety standards and a lack of collaboration in building the new ocean economy.

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