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  • Amy Pilsbury


Updated: May 5, 2021

PhycoMExUK recently received funding from the Newton Fund to continue our work on creating opportunities from macroalgal biomass.

The team are really excited to have the opportunity to continue our collaboration with Mexican partners to develop sustainable solutions to increasingly problematic seaweed blooms which are affecting coastlines all over the world.

“PhycoMExUK builds on the established collaboration between innovators in Mexico and the UK. Working together towards the design and commercialisation of cutting-edge solutions to policy challenges, such as the impacts of Sargassum on Mexicao's tourist industry and oceans.”

(Arturo Mendoza, NEWTON FUND)

Seaweed blooms cause an array of problems around the world. Sargassum grows in vast mats stretching across the Atlantic Ocean and wash ashore in the Caribbean every summer in huge volumes. The seaweed damages local coral reefs, turtle nesting sites and other marine ecosystems whilst also impacting the pristine beaches which attract tourists to the area. The cost not only to the tourism industry, but also the clean-up operation is extensive in the region.

The blooms are often fed by fertiliser runoff from land, in the case of Sargassum, from agricultural activities in North America and the Amazon basin. This project seeks to recover nutrients from the ocean in a sustainable way to create a circular system creating fertile land and seas simultaneously.

Sargassum blooms on the Atlantic gyre [tidal current] have got much worse in recent years partly due to increasing intensive agriculture discharging fertiliser into the sea via rivers such as the Mississippi and Amazon.”

(Mike Allen, PML/UoE)

Solutions to the problem are welcomed and a multi-faceted infrastructure will need to be developed to find sustainable uses for the excessive biomass.

(Photo: Michael William)

Historically, macroalgae has been vastly underused as a biomass resource, but research in the field is increasing. Seaweed is of growing interest for a range of applications from high value nutraceuticals and plastics, to lower cost biofuels and bulk materials. We have also identified smaller scale uses developed by local people including; seaweed bricks, seaweed plates, seaweed stationary and even seaweed shoes. However, uncertainty and high costs often hinder the commercialization of products from seaweed and economic viability assessments are rarely conducted.

“We are working to create a suite of solutions that can be deployed globally at different locations for different purposes.”

(Mike Allen, PML/UoE)

There is some fantastic work going into creating sustainable seaweed farms, which provide cultivated biomass and have a proven benefit to marine ecosystems. The biomass can be cultured to meet demands and has a variety of commercial uses. However, we also believe wild harvesting may offer a more economically viable route to commercial seaweed use, although the sustainability of wild resources is rarely evaluated.

(Photo: Caylon la Mantia)

With new support from The Newton Fund, we will continue to build on our work creating opportunities for excess seaweed biomass and support global challenges. Using our knowledge of microalgae as a nutrient recycling resource, we aim to develop next generation seaweed-derived biofertilisers, which can help tackle issues by utilising the problematic seaweed to enhance crop quality on land; leading to cleaner beaches, higher incomes for farmers, better storage and more nutritious food for consumers.

"With the Newton Fund, PhycoMExUK will continue to develop and deliver exciting new algae-based technologies for industry in Mexico and the UK"

(Julio Suarez, UABC)

We will continue to build strong relationships with stakeholders and share knowledge within the research community to tackle the key challenge of food security and develop sustainable futures for those affected by problematic seaweed blooms.

The project is a collaboration between: University of Exeter, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, University of Bath, University of Baja California and Biorganix.

Supported by the Newton Fund.

Follow us on Twitter @PhycoMExUK

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