There is increasing interest in macroalgae farming in European waters for a range of applications, including food, chemical extraction for biofuel production.
This study uses a 3-D numerical model of hydrodynamics and biogeochemistry to investigate potential production and environmental effects of macroalgae farming in UK and Dutch coastal waters. The model included four experimental farms in different coastal settings in Strangford Lough (Northern Ireland), in Sound of Kerrera and Lynn of Lorne (north-west Scotland) and in the Rhine plume (the Netherlands), as well as a hypothetical large-scale farm off the UK north Norfolk coast.
The model could not detect significant changes in biogeochemistry and plankton dynamics at any of the farm sites averaged over the farming season. The results showed a range of macroalgae growth behaviours in response to simulated environmental conditions. These were then compared with in situ observations where available, showing good correspondence for some farms and less good correspondence for others. At the most basic level, macroalgae production depended on prevailing nutrient concentrations and light conditions, with higher levels of both resulting in higher macroalgae production. It is shown that under non-elevated and interannually varying winter nutrient conditions, farming success was modulated by the timings of the onset of increasing nutrient concentrations in autumn and nutrient drawdown in spring. Macroalgae carbohydrate content also depended on nutrient concentrations, with higher nutrient concentrations leading to lower carbohydrate content at harvest. This will reduce the energy density of the crop and thus affect its suitability for conversion into biofuel. For the hypothetical large-scale macroalgae farm off the UK north Norfolk coast, the model suggested high, stable farm yields of macroalgae from year to year with substantial carbohydrate content and limited environmental effects.