Dr Simon Faulkner, Ocean Harvest Technology

International seaweed experts gathered in February on Sir Richard Branson’s Moskito Island in the British Virgin Islands to discuss the potential of exploiting seaweeds commonly found in the Caribbean.

12.2 OHT1 Sir Richard Branson ask a question on the use of seaweed in animal feed

Sir Richard Branson asks a question about using seaweed in animal feed

Entitled Sargassum Seaweed Phenomenon – Assessing the problem, Finding Solutions, Harnessing the Economic Benefits, the conference centred around two seaweed species: Sargassum natans and Sargassum fluitans, whose presence over the last few years in increasingly large quantities in the Caribbean region, is causing concern and will lead to a negative impact on the local tourism industry.

The first day focused on the current scientific knowledge of Sargassum, and best practices for managing and improving collaboration at a national and international level.

Experts included Dr Hazel Oxenford (Professor – Fisheries Biology and Management, University of West Indies); Emma Doyle (Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute) and Rachael McCaffery (head of sustainable tourism, INTASAVE – CARIBSAVE) who gave thought-provoking presentations that stirred a lot of debate.

Commercial applications

In contrast, day two focused on the potential commercial applications of Sargassum and the specific processing steps required to make this possible.

Dr Sheila Heymans (Scottish Association for Marine Science) and Dr Michelle Morrison (Centre for Process Innovation) discussed the potential to produce biofuel / biomethane from Sargassum biomass in the Caribbean through anaerobic digestion.

Ireland was also represented by Dr Julie Maguire (Daithi O’Murchu Marine Research Station, DOMMRS) who discussed SEABIOPLAS ― an EU Seventh Framework Programme-funded project that aims to introduce sustainably cultivated seaweeds as feedstock for biodegradable bioplastics.

OHT discussed the potential for using seaweeds in human and animal diets along with the range of seaweed-derived products we produce.

The need to ensure adequate testing, quality control measures and sustainable management practices when harvesting and processing seaweed for the production of higher value products is crucial.

Johanan Dujon (Managing director, Algas Organics) described the successful use of Sargassum as a biofertilser in the Caribbean.

The conference was deemed extremely successful overall and highlighted the requirement for further research and collaboration between scientists and government bodies in order to facilitate maximum benefit from the biomass.

Participants representing the government of the Virgin Islands, Virgin Unite, the UK foreign and Commonwealth office and the Caribbean Council, were from political, business and scientific backgrounds.