Seaweed! Slimy, slippery and super!

This month the Scottish Seaweed Industry Association (SSIA), an independent Members Association, held their Annual General Meeting.  SSIA encompasses a group of people and organisations who make their living from adding value to seaweed and seaweed-based products and who wish to strengthen the industry by influencing the market, government, regulatory bodies and other industries.

The AGM was followed by their 2nd Annual SSIA Conference in Oban.  The line-up of speakers and conversations throughout the day reflected the diversity of views from harvesters, growers, processors, end users, academics and policy makers, all seeing an opportunity for the industry to grow significantly, but more importantly in a sustainable and responsible way.    

Innovation is driving the industry from developing the supply chain sustainably to considering applications and new products exploiting the functional properties seaweed species possess.  The Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) highlighted their project, funded by Highlands and Islands Enterprise, looking at the potential for wild harvesting of seaweed as diversification for fishermen, which has resulted in a knowledge base for planning and management.  In addition to the significant expertise of the academics, they have also relied on the latest modelling and predictive mapping from NASA satellite data on chlorophyll and ocean colour to determine seaweed availability.

There are hundreds of seaweed species found in UK waters, and the functional properties and qualities attributed to them either as an ingredient or in their natural state have a range of benefits which were highlighted throughout the day. 

Charles Bavington from Glycomar presented some of his products which are focused on the health care sector where seaweed polysaccharides have anti-inflammatory properties and perform on a level equivalent to pharmaceutical drugs His latest development is a product for eczema patients which can be used as an alternative to steroid treatment.

Lynn MacNeish spoke about seaweed as a key ingredient for the cosmetics industry, where there is solid evidence for skin benefits such as anti-inflammatory, anti-wrinkle, hydration and natural sunscreen.  In contrast, Biotechnica manufacture a biostimulant seaweed extract for plant growth.  They anticipate their market share doubling over the next 5 years to 10 million litres a year as a result of the yields and performance the seaweed properties provide.

Craig Rose from Seaweed & Co presented on the benefits of seaweed as an ingredient. Like others in the Association they have invested significantly in developing a high-quality seaweed supply chain, accredited and independently verified, supplying into some of the UKs largest food manufacturers. They have also recently won an Innovate UK award working with the University of Glasgow to research the health benefits of iodine in seaweed. Various species have been found to offer better nutritional properties, on a gram for gram basis, than foods such as bananas and whole milk.  Seaweed can also be used to enable weight management following university research on the correlation between weight and blood sugar which demonstrated reduced fat absorption and slow release of glucose to the blood.

The wide range of activities and new developments presented at the conference is just a snapshot of what is happening and what is possible from using seaweed.  Scotland is well placed to capitalise on this major growth industry through the powerful combination of environmental factors, clean coastal waters and remote natural landscape and the responsible sustainable approach, passion and innovation of those involved in the industry.