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Financial kelp: seaweed farmer raises $1.5m for expansion

Ocean Rainforest's kelp is grown on lines and is harvested by cutting above the plant's holdfast. This allows re-growth and a second harvest in one season. Photo: Harald Bjoergvin.
Ocean Rainforest's kelp is grown on lines and is harvested by cutting above the plant's holdfast. This allows re-growth and a second harvest in one season. Photo: Harald Bjoergvin.

Faroe Islands seaweed grower Ocean Rainforest has raised US$1.5 million in an investment round led by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which contributed $850,000.

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The money will enable Ocean Rainforest to scale farming operations, utilising its novel farm technology designed to withstand the demanding conditions of the North Atlantic.

Chief executive Olavur Gregersen said: “This investment by WWF and others will allow Ocean Rainforest to deploy new farms at scale, enabling the company to meet the growing demand for its products. But most importantly, it is an affirmation of our sustainable approach to cultivating seaweed in our ocean waters, improving people’s wellbeing, and making a unique and positive contribution to our blue planet.” 

Carter Roberts: Seaweed cultivation can contribute to a more balanced relationship with nature. Photo: WWF.
Carter Roberts: Seaweed cultivation can contribute to a more balanced relationship with nature. Photo: WWF.

Pressure on nature

Carter Roberts, president and chief executive of WWF in the United States, said: “Rising global demand for food, fibre, and fuel – as well as where and how global industries obtain vital commodities – puts increasing pressure on nature. WWF recognises that we cannot solve these challenges alone. We’re excited to support this project because seaweed cultivation holds the potential to reduce these pressures and contribute to a more balanced relationship with nature.”

As well as its work in the Faroes, Ocean Rainforest is leading a demonstration project for seaweed cultivation offshore of California through its US-based subsidiary.

Seaweed farming requires no freshwater, arable land, fertilisers, or pesticides. As the farms operate, they perform positive ecological services within the farm waters and the surrounding water column. Seaweed is highly efficient at absorbing the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO₂) from the ocean, reducing ocean acidification. By absorbing CO₂ and nutrients from the sea, seaweed farms create a cleaner water column while producing a highly nutritious biomass.

Bigger farms required

The aquaculture licensing system in the Faroe Islands means Ocean Rainforest has been growing seaweed next to a salmon farm run by Bakkafrost, as part of the farm’s licence.

Gregersen has previously pointed out that seaweed grows more quickly when fish are in the cages, because of increased nutrient levels in the water.

But he sees the future of fish farming and seaweed cultivation as separate to one another. He wants to farm much larger areas of up to 10 square kilometres, further from land, to make seaweed cultivation viable.

Above: Seaweed grown by Ocean Rainforest. Olavur Gregersen is on the right, in orange oilskins. Photo: Ocean Rainforest. Right: Lines of floats that support the ropes used to grow Ocean Rainforest's seaweed. Photo: Harald Bjoergvin. Click on images to enlarge.
Above: Seaweed grown by Ocean Rainforest. Olavur Gregersen is on the right, in orange oilskins. Photo: Ocean Rainforest. Right: Lines of floats that support the ropes used to grow Ocean Rainforest's seaweed. Photo: Harald Bjoergvin. Click on images to enlarge.
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