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June 14, 2024

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Update 2020/11/2
Food security/Renewable Energy


By Suzanne Forcese

Building an entirely new sector that spans food security, a climate-positive way of contributing to the environment, reconciliation, and economic resilience might sound like a tall order to fill. But it’s happening right here, right now.

A Vancouver Island start-up founded in 2019 by three maritime professionals is revolutionizing aquaculture and defining the development of Canada’s growing Blue Economy. A variety of environmental maladies in the ocean and on land are addressed by being in step with Nature’s own design of carbon sequestration.

Forests, which are valued as a carbon storage solution are subject to deforestation and fires which release carbon back into the atmosphere. There is now a growing global realization that trees are a temporary fix. A permanent solution can be found in our underwater forests.

Seaweed (macroalgae), with a laser-like focus potentially to solve many of our pressing issues is becoming the “charismatic carbon” story. Macroalgae play a large role in reducing the effects of global warming. Featuring an incredibly fast growth rate and ability to export a large portion of its own biomass out into the deep sea, seaweed permanently removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Research estimates around 200 million tons of carbon dioxide are being sequestered by macroalgae annually. (Nature Geoscience, Substantial Role of Macroalgae in Marine Carbon Sequestration, Dorte Krause-Jensen & Carlos M. Duarte, 2016)

Owning natural governance, it is the perfect opportunity born out of the perfect storm now happening worldwide. And the team at Cascadia Seaweed is riding a wave that has the topics of climate change; health, wellness, nutrition; and First Nation Partnerships as the wind beneath their sails.

WATERTODAY had the pleasure of speaking with Cascadia Seaweed’s Chairman, Bill Collins; and CEO Mike Williamson.

“It’s taken over a century of combined experience to make this venture an over-night success,” former Commander of Canada’s West Coast Naval Base, Mike Williamson told WT. Wanting to fulfill a self-actualizing project that would help save the planet, Williamson connected with Collins.

That goal aligned with Bill Collins’ climate-positive objective of creating a Vancouver Island business growth opportunity that would include First Nations communities. “The timing is right,” Collins said. “Climate change mitigation, health, and COVID, dominate the conversation today. Seaweed has the potential to improve these concerns.”

Boots on the (ocean) ground. Chairman Bill Collins, CEO Mike Williamson,
Chief of Marine Operations, Tony Ethier Photo Courtesy Cascadia Seaweed

“Seaweed has the ability to absorb carbon emissions, regenerate marine ecosystems, create biofuel and bioplastics. It is also a nutritious food source.”

    According to a study(Phytochemical Constituents and Biological Activities of Fucus, Marcelo D. Catarino et al, 2018) “ Seaweeds are known to be a good supply of key nutrients including carbohydrates,
    protein, minerals, polyunsaturated lipids, as well as several other health-promoting compounds capable of acting on a wide spectrum of disorders and/or diseases.”

Ocean cultivated seaweed requires no freshwater, fertilizers, pesticides or arable land to grow. It uses nutrients from the sea, sequesters more carbon than land plants, mitigates acidification, creates habitat, is renewable and fast growing. Photo Courtesy Cascadia Seaweed

“Seaweed is a sustainable crop requiring only the sea and sunlight. The World Bank reported that by 2034 seaweed farming would add about 10% to the world’s present supply of food – therein lies the opportunity.” Bill Collins

By producing large volumes of seaweed the global food security equation can be transformed. The world population is marching to 11 billion and as plant-based diets become more popular to reduce individual carbon footprints, Cascadia Seaweed feels a responsibility to develop nutritious and delicious food to meet those demands.

“We want to expand the consumer acceptance of seaweed into an everyday healthy and tasty choice.”

Collins adds, “Especially now with COVID it is so important for us to have strong immune systems. We can get our vitamins, minerals and antioxidants from this nutrient rich food source.”

Williamson said an “aha moment” struck both of them while waiting in line at a fast-food take-out. “Every third person was ordering a vegan burger!”

“Consumers are turning to plant-based proteins,” Desiree Dupuis, Cascadia’s VP of Marketing told us in a telephone conversation. Dupuis, who has been vegan herself since 2008, said “We are still in the research stage but we are working on a line of delicious food products that will be available in 2021.”

Not wanting to present their products in “triple layers of plastics”, Williamson said “We are also working with a team of researchers at UBC to create a bio-plastic from sodium alginate.” In the first year of business, seed was produced, farms were built, crops were grown and harvested from two hectares of demonstration farms. Cascadia has also signed partnerships with Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations.

“It is important for us to work with First Nations, to revitalize their economy and embrace their wisdom,” Williamson told WT. “Plus they can work at home.”

Seed Deployment “Each hectare leaves the ocean a little better,
so if you make more farm space, you’re making the ocean a lot better.” Mike Williamson

This Autumn, Cascadia is currently deploying seed over 20 hectares for cultivation in the Spring of 2021. By 2025 the plan is to have 500 hectares (the size of 1,000 football fields) under cultivation. There are also plans to seed Arctic waters.

With research constantly underway looking at the 630 species of seaweed available, and being blessed with the perfect growing conditions, Cascadia has also begun a project to reduce enteric methane emissions produced by cattle.

According to Agriculture and Agri-Foods Canada: “In one year, the amount of methane a dairy cow produces is equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions from a mid-sized vehicle driven 20,000 km.”

The research being advanced by Cascadia Seaweed’s Chief Science Officer, Dr. Jennifer Clark – plus academic, government and industry partners – is investigating the role of native seaweeds in decreasing the amount of methane produced through cow “burps”. “Along with our current cultivated species of red and brown seaweeds, there are 50 or so other target species that we think may hold the key to an effective and palatable feed additive,” Dr.Clark said.

“Not only will they assist the beef and dairy industry in reducing methane outputs, the pressure on arable land to grow monoculture crops for feed will be reduced, providing opportunities to improve soil health which in turn draws down CO2 from the atmosphere and works to restore ecological balance,” Collins adds.

As well as an agri-feed additive Williamson says adding seaweed to all human consumed foods can boost the macro and micro-nutrients that we consume. “We’re hoping to have package labelling that will show at least 50% of the nutritional values come from seaweed.”

“We are constantly looking for new verticals. Anyone can create a widget business. We decided to pioneer something that’s good for the planet. We need something that is profitable, that provides food, employment, that helps our communities, that helps the ocean save itself. That’s our percolating ethos.”
Mike Williamson, CEO Cascadia Seaweed

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