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19 February 2024

ORFC24: Wales’ First Seaweed Farm

The ocean is our biggest carbon sink and feeds many millions of people. However it is often overlooked in discussions about farming and agroecology. This is changing due to the increasing prevalence of seaweed farms in coastal regions around the world. Jo Hooper tells us more.

The Car y Môr ocean farm is the first of it kind in Wales, not only growing seaweed, but championing its myriad benefits too. This year ORFC welcomed their community outreach and education officer, Jess, to speak about their inspiring, regenerative initiative.

Located in St David’s, Pembrokeshire, Car y Môr is a Community Benefit Society. It is owned by its members, who joined a share offer, and gives back to the local community by employing local fishermen and engaging local schools in educational tours. 

Swapping tractors for barges, its primary output is seaweed. Three main varieties are grown, including sugar kelp (laminaria saccharina) and pepper dulse (osmundea pinnatifida). Seeds are brought from Holland and stuck to lines using a paste, also made of seaweed. Each seaweed line is secured to a buoy and allows for potential growth of up to seven feet. Seaweed is incredibly vigorous and fast-growing. There are generally two harvests a year – in April and then in June or July, when the seaweed lines are lifted using a winch. The produce is then dried in the polytunnel with the farm yielding an estimated 60+ tonnes.

When it comes to market potential, the farm is hoping to capitalise on seaweed’s many uses and benefits. Much of Car y Môr’s harvest is used to make bio-stimulant, a natural alternative to other plantfeeds, improving their growth and resilience. DEFRA have recently funded the construction of their new ‘bio-barn’ building where its manufacturing will be housed. As a food product seaweed is incredibly nutritious and can also be used as a salt substitute or as flavoring. Any waste from the farm is sold to companies which make bioplastics, containers and other products. So, as a crop, seaweed farming has the potential to be both a “zero-input”, as well as a zero-waste.

The wider benefits of farming seaweed are plentiful. It’s sequesters CO2 during photosynthesis and plays a key role in coastal ecosystems, providing food and habitat for many species. In the Ramsey Sound area where the farm is located, an ecological organisation is monitoring the impact of the seaweed farm and demonstrating its potential to create an increasingly fish-rich coastline. By increasing biodiversity in the ocean, Car y Môr is certainly living up to it’s translated meaning: ‘for the love of the sea’.

There have been challenges along the way: marine licensing has been tricky to navigate and frustrating. There has been some push back from the community in St Davids, unsure of what this new type of resource use would mean for their environment, but Jess’s great community engagement work is having good results to counter this. Finally, the market for seaweed remains very niche. Some London restaurants have shown uptake but there is a long way to go before we see seaweed snacks lining the mainstream supermarket checkout counters.

For now though, with a sideline in mussels, plus oysters and scallops in the pipeline, Car y Môr is an exciting venture to watch, and certainly sets an inspiring example to the regenerative farming community, whether land or marine based.

 

Jo Hooper is a communications specialist and writer working in the spheres of environmental conservation, community climate action / adaptation and small-scale food growing. As an organic grower herself, she’s interested in our wider food and farming systems, the agroecological movement and how we forge a greater connection to and respect for nature at a societal level. She enjoys experimenting with different crops and permaculture techniques on her small plot in Oxfordshire.

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