One of the fastest growing aspects of mariculture is that of algae, or seaweed. Initially focused in Asia, seaweed mariculture has become increasingly prevalent in Western Europe, including Ireland. Currently 44% of all aquaculture is algal aquaculture (FAO, 2002). At present, algae is used in the food, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, fertiliser, filtration, and animal fodder industries, with 90% of all commercial algae sourced via aquaculture (Walsh and Watson, 2011). However, Ireland has a long history of harvesting algae for use in fertiliser (Verling, 1990, p.40), food, and the production of pottery and glass as far back as the 12th Century (Guiry, 2010). The gathering of seaweed is also well documented in the Irish historical and art-historical record.
Irish Seaweed Mariculture
Currently, with over 500 species of seaweed identified along Ireland’s coastline, Irish seaweed mariculture has a value of €18 million per annum (Morrissey et al., 2011), and is expected to reach €30 million per annum by 2020 according to the Sea Change Strategy (2006). Despite being under similar constraints as fish farming, the industry continues to boom. Annually, Ireland produces over 36,000 tonnes of algae (Walsh and Watson, 2011) through culturing facilities, such as the Roaringwater Bay Sea Vegetable Company.
West Cork Seaweed Mariculture
In spite of this hugely growing income, vast areas of West Cork have yet to utilise even the naturally present algae for commercial purposes. Advances in the techniques for the hatchery and ongrowing, particularly of kelp and dulse (Palmaria palmata), will lend to a further increase in this industry in Ireland, providing, not only additional income and employment, but also a whole range of new marine based products already utilised in seaweed mariculture industry today.
In 2004, Bord Iascaigh Mhara set up a pilot scale hatchery to develop techniques in growing various kelp species as part of a broader board of works investigating the potential of farming seaweed in Ireland, with a preliminary focus on Atlantic Wakame (Alaria esculenta). This work was based at the Daithi O Murchu Marine Research Station on Sheeps Head Peninsula in West Cork. Advances in the techniques for the hatchery are ongoing,