PLANNING

FOR THE
FUTURE:

Developing a road map for
commercial seaweed farming in the
UK & Malaysia

Highly nutritious and carbon
dioxide absorbent, seaweed is
increasingly being explored as
one of the potential solutions
to food scarcity and climate
change. While its global
production has been on the
rise, the UK and Malaysia
remain relatively small players
in the world market.
As such, a few dedicated
experts from both countries,
backed by the Newton-Ungku
Omar Fund, have set out to
investigate the opportunities
for
commercial
seaweed
farming in the UK and Malaysia.
The Newton-Ungku Omar
Fund supported a bilateral visit
between Malaysian scientists
and their counterparts in
the UK, enabling knowledge
exchange in the fields of ocean
engineering,
oceanography,
marine biology and marine
governance.

“The field
of offshore
aquaculture is
[relatively] new.
Large-scale
seaweed farming
will require
multidisciplinary
expertise [to be
successful],”
28

said
Associate
Prof
Dr
Olanrewaju Sulaiman, one
of the grant holders and a
passionate ocean engineer
from
Universiti
Malaysia
Terengganu (UMT).
The UK and Malaysian experts
will jointly produce a report
outlining the potential scientific
and regulatory challenges to
starting large-scale seaweed
farming in the UK and Malaysia.
Malaysia is one of the world’s
medium-scale
seaweed
producers, producing about
120,000 tonnes a year. Existing
production is mainly based in
Sabah. In comparison, the UK’s
production is even smaller,
less than 1,000 tonnes a year.
The production is artisanal,
concentrated in parts of
Scotland and Cornwall.
Dr Sulaiman believes seaweed
farming could provide an
alternative livelihood to the
local coastal communities in
Peninsula Malaysia as well as
serve as a source of biofuel.
Some of his current research
projects involve engaging local
communities and collaborating
with
offshore
technology
giant Technip and aircraft
manufacturer Airbus to explore
the possibilities of harvesting
seaweed as a sustainable
energy source.

“There are
many species of
seaweed, different
species grown in
different waters.
They are useful for
different purposes:
from nutrition,
pharmaceutical,
bioenergy,
carbon capture to
systematic water
filtration [and
more],”
added the bubbly scientist
from Burkino Faso.
Comparing both countries, Dr
Rodney Forster, another grant
holder and a senior marine
biologist from the University of
Hull, said there is more interest
in harvesting seaweed as a
food source in the UK than as
a biofuel.
“I have been doing research in
this direction for the past five
years in the North Sea. We
think the condition is good for
seaweed farming. But the North
Sea is incredibly busy, there are
a lot of activities going on: from
oil and gas, fishing, transport,
tourism, to wind farms,”
explained Rodney, who is also
the director of the Institute of

Estuarine and Coastal Studies
at the University of Hull.
In the UK, the Marine
Management
Organisation
sets out the marine plan and
coordinates among different
government agencies that
are involved in regulating the
diverse activities in the sea.
Malaysia does not have such
a
comprehensive
marine
regulatory framework yet.
“We need to consider the
environmental impact of having
large-scale seaweed farms. It
may present navigational and
insurance risks. The North Sea
can be rough and you have the
monsoons in Terengganu. We
have to get the engineering, the
marine conditions right, and
the local communities must
be on board. The Newton Fund
allows us to explore these
challenges,” said Dr Katherine
Kennedy, a fellow project
team member and a marine
governance expert. She is
working with local authorities
in East England to develop
an offshore pilot project for
seaweed farming.

Moving forward, the grant
holders will continue engaging
with other experts including
seaweed specialists from the
University of East Anglia in the
UK and Universiti Malaya in
Malaysia.

Contact:
Dr Rodney Forster, University of
Hull
(UK grant holder) r.forster@hull.
ac.uk

Dr Forster envisions more
research
collaboration
between The University of
Hull and Universiti Malaysia
Terengganu in future while
Dr Kennedy believes getting
economists involved is one of
the important next steps.

Dr Katherine Kennedy katherine@
blueconsulting.co.uk

Dr Olanrewaju Sulaiman
(Malaysian grant holder)
o.sulaiman@umt.edu.my

Dr. Gill Malin
(UK co-investigator)
g.malin@uea.ac.uk

“We know what
the marine
conditions need
to be now, and a
bit more about
the engineering.
[But] more work
needs to be done
on the economic
modelling to
assess possible
issues with the
supply chain,”
she explained.

29