Choreographies of Scottish Seaweed R&D

OU Scotland

Also known as Scotland’s untouched forests, the clear waters around much of our country’s coastline
provide a thriving environment for kelp forests. These kelps and other seaweeds fulfil an important role in coastal ecosystems, being eaten by benthic animals as well as shorebirds, and providing nursery grounds for a range of fish.

Historically, seaweed has been used as fertiliser, food, medicine and biofuel. In Scotland – as it is globally – industrial activity around seaweed is increasing, with the establishment of a number of
seaweed farms, as well as the development of new cultivars and technologies. Moreover, seaweeds play a role in blue carbon storage, having been proposed as a way of potentially offsetting emissions on land.

Although much is known about Scottish species of seaweed and the places where they can be found, how Scotland’s seaweed use has developed over time, what research is performed where and how this has changed over time, and where and in what ways industrial activities are emerging now. While increased industrial use can provide a vital economic impetus for coastal communities, proposals have already given rise to public controversies, highlighting familiar tensions between nature’s preservation and use. As such it is important to map current developments and actors, to understand what role seaweed can play in making Scotland’s future economy more secure, sustainable and inclusive, while also placing Scottish seaweed research and innovation in an international and historical perspective.

In the project we will examine the following three dimensions of seaweed in Scotland:

• Algal Cultures: the historic use of seaweed in local communities and its roles in artisan and artistic
practice, while also attending to contemporary artistic engagement in relation to seaweed and specific
communities (e.g. work of Lottie Goodlet on Argyll, Oron Katss on Orkney).

• Mapping Scottish seaweed R&D: Understanding the relationship between research and innovation
actors working on seaweed through the mapping of relevant actors publications and product onto
existing maps of seaweed species in Scotland. Focussing especially on the diverse research ecology as
well as established and emerging industries (e.g. Harris Gin; Ishga cosmetics; Shøre, the Scottish
Seaweed Co).

• The policies and politics of seaweed: The ways algae feature in current Scottish government policy
related to economic (re)generation and a sustainable and just transition, against the background of
international developments (e.g. the 2020 UN Seaweed Manifesto4 and the proposed EU Mission
starfish 20305). With special attention to the challenges that coastal communities are facing in the
context of the current climate crisis as well as (economic) effects of the covid pandemic, such as
reduced income from tourism, job loss etc.