Spotlight on Australia
The country is a leader in Asparagopsis cultivation, seaweed bioremediation and kelp forest restoration.
Ahead of the triannual ISS conference in Tasmania, here is an attempt to bring you up to speed on seaweed news in Australia, a leader in Asparagopsis cultivation, seaweed bioremediation and kelp forest restoration.
RegenAqua has used Ulva to clean the effluent of their shrimp farm near the Great Barrier Reef since 2021, turning the seaweeds into a biostimulant. It is now expanding that approach to treat the wastewater from the town of Burdekin. The facility is cheaper to construct and maintain than a tertiary wastewater treatment plant, will use just 12% of the energy of competing solutions and will be the first of its kind worldwide.
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Shrimp and salmon farmer Tassal is also looking at bioremediation, trialing the halophytes Salicornia and Spartina, as well as four types of green seaweed: Ulva, Cladophora, Rhizoclonium and Chaetomorpha. They are exploring commercial opportunities from soil conditioning and animal feed to human food and nutraceuticals.
Their first trial, 13 hectares of pond area at the Proserpine Prawn Farm in North Queensland, is being scaled up: 305 tonnes of seaweed had been harvested at the end of 2021 and 3,300 tonnes by mid-2022 - if correct, that probably amounts to more than all of the seaweed cultivated in Europe and US combined.
Also in Queensland, the Australian Seaweed Institute is continuing its research on seaweeds as a biofilter to protect the Great Barrier Reef from nutrient pollution. They have narrowed down their species choice to Asparagopsis or Sargassum and aim to have a pilot-scale biofilter in the water by the end of 2023, and a full-scale 150 km² filter operational by 2030.
No one had ever cultivated seaweeds on Queensland’s shores until a few months ago. In Moreton Bay, a first successful trial now ended with 4 different species (Gracilaria, Ulva and 2 browns, it seems) co-cultivated with oysters in tubular netting. In nearby Hervey Bay, SeaO2 is trialing tank-based sea grape cultivation.
In North South Wales, Sea Health Products is pioneering Ecklonia cultivation. In Tasmania, in partnership with (again) Tassal, gametophyte-seeding technology developed to restore the lost forests of giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) is now also being applied to kick-start cultivation of southern kombu (Lessonia corrugata) and golden kelp (Ecklonia radiata).
Dinko Tuna Farmers is trialing (a red?) seaweed for extraction of the pigment phycoerythrin in an IMTA setting with its finfish operations in South Australia. Aquacultr is another startup that has just acquired Barramundi RAS producer Tailor Made and wants to use its technology stack to farm a number of seaweed varieties.
A feasibility study on seaweed aquaculture in the southeastern region of Gippsland is noteworthy because it does not recommend Asparagopsis cultivation, instead pointing towards the interesting properties of local species like Phyllospora, Plocamium, Phacelocarpus, Caulocystis and Laurencia spp.
Another recently published roadmap for South Australian offshore seaweed mariculture highlights Durvillaea spp. as the species with the highest potential. Offshore research continues with a soon-to-start UTAS project that will design and trial offshore production systems and further select for kelp genotypes to cope with ocean warming.
On the product side, 2022 saw YelpKelp launch its premium dog food with kelp as the hero ingredient, Alg Seaweed moved its Rainbow Seaweed range into hundreds of Woolworths stores, ULUU got $5.4M to put their bioplastic in the market and Marinova announced a $3.2M expansion for its fucoidan manufacturing facility in Tasmania.
FutureFeed, which holds the exclusive right to distribute licenses to grow Asparagopsis for livestock methane reduction, and DSM, which owns methane-reducing supplement Bovaer / 3-NOP, have started proposals to earn Australian carbon credits from their product.
However, more research is needed as no one has yet figured out how to feed Asparagopsis to cows in a grazing system. 2022 saw a flurry of grants to solve that and other issues around commercialisation of Asparagopsis in Australia: A$8.1 million for research and a national hatchery network and an additional A$5 million for a variety of methane-busting approaches. Sea Forest received A$540,000 and A$1 million on top of that.
The Australian government has earmarked another A$15 million for Asparagopsis in stage 3 of its MERiL (Methane Emissions Reduction in Livestock) program, with Sea Forest and CH4 Global set to receive another A$3.8 million each.
Sea Forest and CH4 Global’s funding success has spurred the development of new Australian Asparagopsis companies. Expect to hear more from Seastock, Immersion Group, A-Culture, Fremantle Seaweed and Canopy Blue in the near future.
Meanwhile, the competition is also not standing still, with ArkeaBio (methane vaccines) and Rumin8 (synthetic supplements) each raising a $12 million seed round in recent months, both backed by Breakthrough Energy Ventures.
That’s already a lot of Australian seaweed news, but if you need more ISS pre-reading (it is a long flight), you can download this just-out review of the long and strong traditions of seaweed use and research in Tasmania.
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