Deep-ocean resources and biodiscovery: enabling a sustainable and healthy low-carbon future (DEEPEND project)

Deep-ocean resources and biodiscovery: enabling a sustainable and healthy low-carbon future (DEEPEND project)

Deep-ocean resources and biodiscovery: enabling a sustainable and healthy low-carbon future (DEEPEND project)

Countries: Fiji, Cook Islands

Partners: Natural History Museum, National Oceanography Centre, University of Aberdeen, University of Strathclyde Glasgow, University of Southampton, Pacific: Cook Islands Seabed Minerals Authority, University of the South Pacific, Pacific Community

Summary: The climate change crisis has increased the demand for natural resources, such as lithium, cobalt, and manganese, due to their role in the green energy transition as important components for batteries of electric vehicles. With vast reservoirs of minerals present in the deep sea, mining in our oceans is already being discussed and could start within the next decade, but little is known about the biodiversity and Marine Genetic Resources (MGR) present in these deep-sea regions. DEEPEND looks to develop a long-term project to understand the true value of biodiversity in deep-sea regions at risk from mining and climate change. It utilises molecular approaches to provide fundamental knowledge on biodiversity, explore pharmaceutical applications of deep-sea microbes and invertebrates, inform policy on seabed mining, deliver development outcomes, enable understanding of future climate scenarios and provide long-term research and development value.

Related links: DEEPEND: Deep-ocean resources and biodiscovery | Natural History Museum 

 

Impacts of kelp harvesting for marine biodiversity and ecosystem services (KELPER2 project)

Countries: Argentina, Chile, Peru

Partners: UK: Newcastle University, Marine Biological Association, Scottish Association for Marine Science; Latin America: IMARPE (Peru), IBIOMAR (Argentina), Catholic University of Chile (Chile)

Summary: Wild kelp harvesting is an important industry in Latin American countries, especially in Chile and Peru, with over 40% of global brown algal landings originating from these two countries and where over 13,000 people are directly employed by the industry. With previous work showing that poorly managed kelp harvesting alters the structure and formation of kelp forests, KELPER2 aims to explore the drivers that reduce the resilience of kelp forests and their blue carbon potential to different sustainable harvesting regimes.

A nature-based solution for biodiversity restoration and poverty alleviation in a time of accelerating global climate change (Innovative Seaweed Aquaculture project)

Country: Malaysia

Partners: UK: Natural History Museum, Scottish Association for Marine Science; Malaysia: University of Malaya, Jabatan Perikanan Sabah Fisheries Department

Summary: Seaweeds form some of the most productive marine ecosystems, supporting a greater diversity of species than almost any other marine habitat and providing a wide range of ecosystem services critical to the well-being of the oceans. Despite the massive importance of seaweeds, and their vital role in the global food supply chain, there has been very little effort to protect them. Their conservation remains patchy or non-existent globally. Increasing demand and temperatures mean that seaweed communities are predicted to lose up to 71% of their current distribution under certain climate change scenarios by 2100. The Innovative Seaweed Aquaculture project seeks to address this, by developing new temperature resilient seaweed stocks for farming and by outlining protection measures for seaweed globally. Seaweed cultivation offers a potential nature-based carbon neutral climate resilient solution to restore seaweed forests globally and alleviate poverty, particularly in the Global South. The project is being delivered via two main workstreams: i) the sustainable cultivation of novel red seaweed eucheumatoid strains collected locally from the wild; and ii) the conservation and management of wild seaweeds and cultivars around the world.

 

Developing novel seaweed cultivars from wild populations (Innovative Seaweed Aquaculture project ASTEC)

Seaweeds form some of the most productive systems in the marine environment. They support an immense diversity of species, provide valuable ecosystem services, and play an important role in mitigating climate change as major carbon sinks. Seaweed cultivation offers the potential for a nature-based, carbon neutral, and climate resilient solution to restore seaweed communities globally. Upscaling seaweed production offers a new, powerful approach to enhance community resilience, re-build natural seaweed communities, increase biodiversity, and enhance ecosystem services. It can also provide a socially acceptable means of restoring a communities’ local environment whilst maintaining economically sustainable livelihoods.

Eucheumatoids are tropical red seaweeds frequently used in the food and cosmetics industries. Increases in pest and disease outbreaks due to accelerating climate change, loss of genetic diversity, and biosecurity issues have led to seaweed production in Malaysia declining by 45% between 2012 and 2020, with catastrophic socio-economic impacts on the communities reliant on seaweed production. To address these challenges, there is an urgent need for new temperature-resilient cultivars derived from indigenous wild stocks, which can enhance the climate resilience of cultured stocks.

Positive Impacts

This project works with indigenous seaweed farming communities in Malaysia to collect populations from the wild for domestication trials at a research farm in Sabah. This has resulted in the discovery of new temperature-resilient cultivars that are brought into cultivation to enhance the climate resilience of cultured stocks in Malaysia. This is crucial to ensure the sustainability of the eucheumatoid industry despite the global climate change issues.

Challenges

The major challenge during the project was the impact of the water currents on farmed seaweeds. The conventional method of tying the seaweeds onto the cultivation lines using plastic ties (called ‘tie-ties’) led to high levels of seaweed loss from the lines and increased fish and turtle predation. Consequently, growth rates could not to be measured. To solve this problem, the wild eucheumatoids were placed into the nylon nets. Unfortunately, this method also proved ineffective as silt from the seabed covered the nets and smothered the seaweeds.

Following discussions with the local farmers, new baskets were deployed with a larger mesh-size to prevent the entrapment of silt. The eucheumatoids were placed into the new nets for 2-3 weeks to enable sufficient growth before tying onto the cultivation lines. This solved the problem and reduced the effects of fish and turtle predation.

Lessons learnt and next steps

The outcome of this project was to develop new temperature-resilient cultivars that can be used by seaweed farmers in Malaysia. A system was developed for coastal seaweed cultivation of new cultivars that can be replicated throughout Malaysia. Site selection, however, was found to be extremely important, particularly the levels of siltation in the water column, which can suppress eucheumatoid growth rates.