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Contracts Awarded for Seaweed Development

Increasing demand at home and abroad for seaweed and seaweed-based products, fertilisers and animal feed to cosmetics, medicines and food is stated to be the reason for the award to three Irish consortiums of Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contracts by the Marine Institute and Enterprise Ireland for the development of a national intertidal seaweed resource. The contracts will run for four months and will involve scientific observations by satellite, drone and light aircraft to produce accurate estimates of seaweed distribution and biomass, and improve our understanding of Ireland’s coastal marine habitat and ecosystems. Successful projects may then proceed to scaled-up demonstrations and wider regional resource mapping during 2021.

Thirty-two countries actively harvest over 800,000 tonnes from wild stocks and natural beds annually. The Marine Institute says that commercial interest in the sector is growing. Mick Gillooly, Director of Oceans, Climate and Information Services at the Institute, said there is increasing awareness of the economic value of seaweed, so mapping the extent of this resource is vital for sustainable management decisions. This is an exciting collaboration between industry, small business and research institutions, which will utilise the latest innovations and the expertise of Ireland’s national seabed mapping programme INFOMAR.”

Among the three consortiums in receipt of these contracts are four SMEs, two research groups and two industry partners. Supported by IT Carlow, Aerial Agri Tech bring their drone mapping expertise from the terrestrial to the marine domain with industry partner Bláth na Mara (Aran Islands Seaweed). Fathom, a business technology consulting company based in Dublin, has partnered with Earth and Ocean Sciences at NUI Galway and Arramara Teo to focus on the potential for satellite data augmented by direct observations. Techworks Marine, a provider of oceanographic solutions to monitor the marine environment, has teamed up with GeoAerospace, a geospatial information technology company with expertise in space-borne and airborne remote sensing, cloud platforms and machine learning and with NUI Galway’s School of Botany and Plant Science.

The three groups are to develop projects and feasibility plans for evaluation early next year. Chosen projects will receive further funding for eight months to demonstrate proof of scalability and lay out a path to commercialisation. “Successful partnerships will have the potential to develop a niche coastal habitat mapping service that could be used to tackle marine pollution, harmful algal blooms or invasive species,” according to the Marine Institute and Enterprise Ireland.