The objectives of the proposal are to develop and test techniques for cultivating the alga Palmaria palmata under field conditions (i.e. in the sea in suitable sites) and in land-based tank cultures, and to carry out a series of biological investigations which are directly relevant to its exploitation.
The demand in developed countries for naturally derived foods, whether as basic ingredients or as dietary supplements, is increasing substantially as a result of social, environmental and health considerations. Food products obtained directly from the marine environment have a naturally healthy image, which can be used positively for marketing purposes. Seaweeds have long been exploited within Europe for their food value, although the exploitation has always been restricted to local regions, often with local preferences for particular species. Palmaria palmata, for example, which grows throughout the cool temperate zone in Europe, has long been harvested on a "cottage industry" basis for food consumption in Ireland, although it has also had a traditional, if limited, food use in Scotland, France, Norway and Iceland. A small company, based in Belfast, has established that there is an unfulfilled demand for this product as a direct health food both within Northern Ireland and within the UK as a whole. There is evidence that a substantial additional market niche may be found in the Far East and also, possibly, in Europe. We are also attracted to P. palmata as a target species by the successful development of a natural mutant ("Sea Parsley") that is currently being grown under artificial conditions and marketed in Canada.
Two main problems have held back the development of the resource as a marketable product. First, carefully controlled techniques, as demanded by major sales outlets, have not been established for the preservation, processing and packaging of the product. These techniques are currently being developed commercially within Northern Ireland together with an active marketing strategy. The second difficulty has been establishing both a continuity of supply for the product over the year and reliability of supply of the product from year to year. It is this second problem that we intend to address in the proposal within a European context.
The geographical spread of partners is designed to ensure that the potential for the exploitation of P. palmata is studied over a range of climatic and hydrographical conditions.
Two partners will set up some form of raft and suspended rope system, or a benthic frame with rigid upright tubes/poles for settlement of the alga, in the best local site for cultivation. The most suitable material for the rigs and also the optimal mode of attachment of the plants to the growing surface (e.g. by attaching vegetative thalli, by natural settlement or by inoculating with spores) will be established in these trials. The alternative approach of land-based culture of the alga will also be explored by setting up pilot tanks with a rapid supply of seawater (perhaps enhanced with nutrients by using waste water from fish farms) and plants will be grown in agitation culture under ambient climatic conditions. Close attention will again be given to optimising the growth conditions. The capital and running costs of the schemes will be monitored in all culture studies in order to assess the potential commercial value of the schemes. This information will be fully utilised in conjunction with commercial processing and marketing information to establish the overall market viability of the approach.
Each partner will also undertake a more specific study, which will input to the project as a whole. Norway will focus on biochemical studies of the algal thalli and seasonal and geographical variations in its nutritional value, with particular reference to marketing applications; Northern Ireland will undertake molecular and genetic studies of the various morphological forms, and consider the effects and implications of culturing different forms in sites removed from their natural habitat; Ireland will concentrate on physiological studies to optimise the growth rates of different forms, while Spain will investigate the nutrient uptake ability of P. palmata and whether its cultivation could be associated with intensive fish farming as a means of removing excess nutrients from waste waters.
Funding SchemeCSC - Cost-sharing contracts