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The Ocean Farmers

On the rugged Pembrokeshire Coast is Câr-Y-Môr, Wales’ first community owned regenerative ocean farm. Established in 2019, the venture aims to address two fundamental issues: climate change and people’s wellbeing.

Although seaweed farming is a centuries old industry originating in Japan, over the past decade worldwide seaweed production has doubled. Whether as a food source, carbon sink or renewable product, interest in seaweed is growing exponentially. Incredibly intrigued ourselves, we sat down with Dan Lewis, Stakeholder Engagement Manager for Câr-Y-Môr, to find out more.

Following a year of trailing two 3D ocean farms in Ramsey Sound, Câr-Y-Môr is set to tick yet another first by becoming Wales’ first commercial ocean farm. The new three-hectare site is predicted to produce an estimated 15 tonnes of seaweed and shellfish a year. Due to the 3D growing structure, where the seaweed is grown on vertical lines in the ocean,  one hectare on the ocean farm can produce the same tonnage of produce as 50 hectares of wheat. Yet, to be precise, growing in one site is actually three species of seaweed, 90,000 juvenile native oysters, as well as scallops and mussels – a process which requires no land, feed, fertiliser, pesticides, or freshwater.

“This polyculture vertical farming system grows a mix of seaweeds and shellfish that require zero inputs – making it the most sustainable form of food production on the planet,” said Owen Haines, Founder of Câr-Y-Môr.

Câr-Y-Môr is intrinsically tied to a vision of improving the well-being of the local community by stimulating jobs and providing young people with a route into the Welsh seafood sector – an industry of growing national importance. Anyone can invest in the venture, become a member for just £1 or volunteer twice a month.

 “Câr-Y-Môr’s education programme shows its commitment to creating long-term impact, by building the bond between the next generation and the sea and helping to instil the desire to protect it from an early age”.

Becky Price, Biologist, employee at SeaFast and founder member of Câr-Y-Môr.

As well as generating marine protein, ocean farms help to regenerate marine ecosystems, reduce coastal erosion and absorb carbon dioxide – playing a significant role in fighting climate change. Seaweed, like land plants, use photosynthesis to turn carbon dioxide into seaweed biomass. This process is known as carbon sequestration. Due to the rapid speed at which seaweed grows, it can capture and sequestrate carbon dioxide at a phenomenal rate, and, unlike trees where you don’t start seeing carbon retention and sequestration happening for at least 10 years, seaweed begins absorbing almost instantly.

Once the carbon is locked up in seaweed biomass it can be harvested for use, sunk to the seafloor, or stored underground. If harvested, seaweed provides “a platform of opportunity, in sustainability, nutrition and innovation,” claimed Pia Winberg, a Marine Systems Ecologist who runs a pilot seaweed project in Australia. The list is endless; from a natural fertiliser, animal feed, biofuel, superfood, plastic alternative and pharmaceutical ingredient – seaweed has even been hailed as the next big eco fabric. 

With sea temperatures rising and an ever increasing amount of carbon dioxide being dissolved into the oceans, natural seaweed ecosystems are depleting. Solutions lie with enterprises like Câr-Y-Môr which work with the ocean to sequester greenhouse gases and restore marine ecosystems – pioneering a new wave of regenerative, zero input ocean farming. Perhaps it’s not surprising that the name Câr-Y-Môr in Welsh translates to “For the Love of the Sea”.