Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty
Under the waters of the North Atlantic, hundreds of meters of seaweed rope lines used to farm algae are being strung up—the magic ingredient, a growing clutch of startups believe, in fighting climate change. While 97 percent of seaweed farming currently happens in Asia, British companies are looking to muscle in on the $13.3 billion industry—and maximize on the natural advantages their location brings to regenerate the planet.
Given the scale of Asia’s operation, the UK has its work cut out. But it’s a challenge that Olly Hicks believes is worthwhile “in myriad different ways.” Hicks, the first person to row solo across the Atlantic from the U.S. to the UK, is the founder of Algapelago, an algae farm in Bideford Bay, four miles from the coast of North Devon in southwest England. He has secured a license to cultivate a nearly 300-acre area along with his cousin Humphrey Atkinson, product manager at Notpla, a startup that uses seaweed as a biodegradable replacement for single-use plastics.
While Notpla and other enterprises focus on harnessing the aquatic plant for packaging, food, and cosmetics, Algapelago is working on a less-common use for the slimy stuff: cow feed. A 2021 study from the University of California, Davis found that mixing a small amount of seaweed into cow feed over five months reduced Earth-polluting methane emissions by 82 percent—making it a potential green goldmine.