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Will marine farms and gardens flourish in Lithuania?

2024-06-25

Baltic Sea region countries – Denmark, Finland, Sweden and neighbouring Latvia – are already applying innovative ocean farming methods, growing seaweed, mussels, and oysters, harvesting marine crops, and experimenting with the development of marine products. Whether the Lithuanian coastline would be fit for the cultivation of species not only suitable for food but also beneficial to the recovery of marine ecosystems, was a topic of discussion in Klaipėda.

The initiative to engage Lithuania’s coastal communities in the wave of regenerative ocean farming has been taken by the Klaipėda Science and Technology Park, under the project “Cool Blue Baltic”. The first stage brought together scientists from Klaipėda University and the Marine Research Institute, fishermen entrepreneurs, fishery producers, representatives of the coastal region’s municipalities, experts from environmental and fisheries authorities, and regenerative ocean farming pioneers from Denmark and Finland. Ambitious ideas were born, for example, the cultivation of pearls in the Lithuanian seaside.

A decade-long journey of blue community gardens in Denmark

“It seems fantastic! But we can see that our neighbours are already practicing it”, reacted the panellists to the Danish presentation of seaweed, mussel and oyster farms cultivation on floating platforms. The Danish blue community gardens and farms not only grow marine foods, but also promote seafood culture, develop recipes, organise tastings, and provide education for children on floating cultivation sites.

“Becoming an ocean farmer in Denmark is incredibly easy. We have collaborated with the authorities to simplify the procedures. You just fill in a one-page application and within a couple of weeks you receive a permit,” said Joachim Hjerl, founder of the NGO Havhøst, sharing his experience of the breakthrough in regenerative ocean farming in Denmark. DIY Ocean Farmer’s Kit, which fits in a small bag, was another Danish initiative that encouraged coastal residents to set up underwater farms and gardens.

According to the Danish expert, the set-up of blue community gardens and farms has sparked the success of regenerative ocean farming in Denmark. Local active people became the core of it, dedicating their time to meaningful activities. “It’s no longer enough to do less harm. By growing marine food, we can contribute to the restoration of marine ecosystems. It’s the low-scale multitrophic cultivation that helps the whole ecosystem to recover,” emphasised Mr Hjerl.

Opportunities for fishermen to earn extra money

Ocean warming, overfishing, and degraded ecosystems – are problems that regenerative farming methods can help address in the Baltic Sea. Even if crops grown by the Lithuanian coastline would not be suitable for food, growing certain species would help control water quality, and temperature, help fish stocks recover, and at the same time support small-scale fishing in the region, the panellists said.

In Denmark, ocean farming practices have also caught the attention of fishermen. “We are supporting local fishermen to adopt regenerative farming methods and at the same time diversify their income. We have prepared convenient budget scenarios based on the species chosen for cultivation, and the scale they intend to achieve. We have demonstrated how seasons of ocean farming and gardening can be compatible with traditional fishing,” revealed the founder of Havhøst.  

Marine harvests – for food, cosmetics, fertilisers

Scientists and representatives of fishermen and fishing businesses identified potential collaboration areas for adopting regenerative ocean farming methods in Lithuania. Scientists from Klaipėda University and the Marine Research Institute discussed what types of algae, seaweeds and mussels could grow in our low-salinity waters, and what we can learn from our Baltic Sea neighbours.

An expert from Finland, where regenerative cultivation is still in the experimental stage, provided useful insights for Lithuanians. “In Finland, we face even more challenges than Denmark – much lower salinity – because our cultivation sites are on a breaking point of saline and fresh water. We are currently researching species that would adapt well to low-salinity water. Also, we looked into the freshwater cultivation experience in the USA, Bangladesh and Mexico, and investigated how these methods could be applied in Northern conditions,” said Anita Storm of Aktion Österbotten in Finland.

Ms Storm pointed out that when selecting species, they evaluate the taste qualities of herbs and mussels from Finnish waters, check if they are certified as food in Europe, and whether they are suitable for cosmetics or enrichment of soil with nutrients.

When discussing the country’s potential in ocean farming, Lithuanian representatives almost unanimously leaned towards the cultivation of high-value-added crops and the use of biotechnology. “Pearl millet grows naturally in our waters. In Japan and China, their cultivation is widespread,” Antanas Kontautas, a hydrobiologist at the Marine Research Institute at Klaipėda University, identified one of the possibilities.

Farms and gardens on piers, bridges or wind farms

Lithuania’s open coastline would be one of the biggest challenges for ocean farming in Lithuania. Community farms anchor, buoy or otherwise fix their cultivation equipment along the Baltic Sea coasts. However, the panellists pointed out that it would be difficult to find a stretch of our relatively short coastline where underwater farms or gardens could be safely anchored without interfering with fishery and shipping routes.

Professor Artūras Razinkovas-Baziukas, from the Marine Research Institute at Klaipėda University, presented his idea of developing floating islands. “Floating islands improve the oxygen regime, reduce the water temperature in summer due to evapotranspiration, and can be used as platforms for multitrophic aquaculture,” the scientist noted.

“The future offshore wind farm near the Lithuanian coast must include compensatory measures to help restore biogenic reefs and benthic habitats damaged during construction. One of them could be the cultivation of Baltic Sea mussels, which are naturally adapted to lower salinity conditions and are an important part of reef habitats. This would help to recover the benthic reef habitats damaged by human activities and invasive species, like round goby. With the involvement of the local community, mussel cultivation sites attached to the Palanga Sea Bridge would also benefit the environment – clean the water, attract fish – and people,” said Jonas Pašukonis, representative of the State Service for Protected Areas under the Ministry of the Environment, identifying the options for the regenerative cultivation sites.

The discussion focused on how to adopt Latvia’s experience, where open seafront issues are managed by installing marine cultivation sites next to sea peers. Eglė Stonkė, head of the association “Klaipėdos regionas” (Klaipėda Region), which unites coastal municipalities, noted that in the future we may have similar conditions near Lithuanian shores, as there are plans to develop and expand the harbours in Šventoji, Nida, and Juodkrantė. 

Algae farms in USA nurtured by a Lithuanian-born scientist

PhD Simona Augytė, marine biologist, shared her insights on how to promote aquaculture in Lithuania and her inspiration to combine research and ocean farming. Having spent most of her life in the US, she has been researching seaweed and algae since her studies, worked with start-ups that use seaweed to produce methane-reducing feeds, attempting to adapt it to biofuel production, developed and tested technologies for offshore cultivation of seaweed and sea lettuce. Currently, she works as research director at Marine Biologics, a biotech company in France, which processes macroalgae and develops next-generation bioactive ingredients.

Now based in Hawaii, the scientist also uses her research experience collaborating with ocean farmers who cultivate seaweed. Lithuania could also analyse ocean cultivation technologies used in the US, as Atlantic farmers in states such as Connecticut and Maine are also facing similar challenges due to high waves, she believes.

“We have cultivated a species of brown algae that is adapted to high waviness, we have perfected the cultivation methods in the laboratory, and we have worked intensively with ocean farmers who have started to grow the species on large scales,” said PhD Augytė.

Open-shore farming systems are set up using anchors, buoys and ropes. The scientist also suggested that Lithuanians consider the alternative of growing marine crops onshore, in tanks close to the sea. According to her, this method offers more possibilities to control growing conditions, water temperature and other factors. The researcher demonstrated a similar onshore aquaculture system in Hawaii for cultivation of microalgae and oysters. 

The Lithuanian-born PhD also founded an NGO in California that organises annual seaweed festivals to promote aquaculture, marine conservation, and the use of seaweed in culinary, science and technology.

The discussion “Sea of Opportunities: innovative ocean farming practices for business” was funded by the European Union’s Horizon Europe project COOL BLUE BALTIC (CBB).

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