Two scientists from UNE NORTH – The Institute for North Atlantic Studies participated in a show about seaweed on the radio show “Maine Calling” on Maine Public Radio. The show focused on the value of seaweed to Maine’s economy, the way the industry has grown and evolved over the years and the future of seaweed farming and harvesting.
Adam St. Gelais, assistant director for Science at UNE NORTH and assistant lecturer with the UNE School of Marine Programs, talked about how exciting it is as a scientist to explore the many questions we still have about farming seaweed.
“If you look at an example from terrestrial agriculture, corn for example, humans have been growing corn for thousands of years,” St. Gelais said. “We have a pretty good idea of the best way to do that. With growing something like kelp in Maine, it’s brand new. They’ve been doing it in other places for a long time, but farmers here are effectively growing almost a wild seaweed. It’s really one generation removed from wild plants.”
UNE is in the middle of a three-year research project funded with a $1.3 million grant from the Department of Energy to develop a tool for modeling open ocean seaweed farms. The project is led by Professor David Fredriksson of the U.S. Naval Academy and Professor Barry Costa-Pierce of UNE, in collaboration with Maine Marine Composites and Callentis Consulting Group.
Costa Pierce, the executive director of UNE NORTH and Henry L. & Grace Doherty professor of marine sciences, called into the show from Iceland where he was traveling with the students from UNE NORTH’s first cohort of Professional Science Masters students in Ocean Food Systems. He said we are only just beginning to see the seaweed bioproducts revolution worldwide, and that UNE and its partner universities in Iceland are studying the seaweed value chain and the variety of products beyond food that can be developed from it.
“A lot of what you see here in Iceland and our European partners at UNE NORTH, we’re seeing that they’re very far ahead in their thinking and their manufacturing, but they’re really interested in Maine,” said Costa-Pierce. “So our objective is to see the next generation of these innovators, the young people we are training in masters and Ph.D.s, moving back and forth.”