The seaweed industry is the fastest-growing of all aquaculture sectors, with an annual growth rate of 10% and a value in excess of $5bn. 95% of this cultivation is undertaken by the Development Assisted Committee (DAC)-list countries. Worldwide, seaweed farming provides income to millions of families in rural coastal communities and has enabled women to become economically active, in areas where few opportunities exist. Yet outbreaks of seaweed disease and pest infestations are threatening this industry, leading to dramatic (>15%) declines in yield and catastrophic socio-economic impacts on the communities reliant on seaweed production.

In the Philippines alone, losses over US$ 100 million a year were attributed to disease, representing 15% of their farmed seaweed production. The aim of this project, therefore, is to directly address the acute problem of disease and pest infestations by providing solutions and training with the aim of ensuring the sustainable growth of this vital industry in seaweed-producing developing countries.

The key ecological and socio-economic challenges preventing the sustainable economic growth of this industry were recently identified in a United Nation University (UNU) Policy Brief led by Dr Elizabeth Cottier-Cook (Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS)). Two main challenges highlighted were the high vulnerability of crops to disease outbreaks and pest infestation and the lack of biosecurity measures and legislation governing the movement of seaweeds between regions and continents. Red seaweeds (Kappaphycus and allies), are an iconic example of how one group of seaweeds have now been introduced to over 30, predominantly developing countries worldwide.

A key driver for the UNU Policy Brief, was the NERC International Overseas Fund programme – GlobalSeaweed, led by the deputy programme leader, Dr Claire Gachon (SAMS). This international programme has begun to influence the seaweed sector globally and has involved collaborative research, face-to-face and online training, extensive networking and far-reaching engagement with international scientific and industry organisations. It has already led to the discovery of new diseases, reached over 500 stakeholders based in 30 countries (15+ developing countries) and the UNU Policy Brief, drew on the expertise of 18 authors from 21 institutions worldwide. The 10 final recommendations of this policy brief shaped our vision for the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) GlobalSeaweedSTAR programme.

GCRF GlobalSeaweedSTAR is a £6M, 51-month programme funded by Research Council UK (RCUK) and lead by Dr Elizabeth Cottier-Cook (SAMS). This programme will be entirely focused on the needs of seaweed-producing developing countries and has a strong policy component (unlike GlobalSeaweed) to enable us to directly address 10 of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These goals include; no poverty (1), zero hunger (2), quality education (4), gender equality (5), decent work and economic growth (8), industry, innovation and infrastructure (9), responsible consumption and production (12), climate action (13), life below water (14) and partnerships for the goals (17).