by Cliodhna Ní Ghríofa
SW-GROW and Údarás Na Gaeltachta hosted a “Seimineár Feamainn” in the Connemara Coast Hotel on Wednesday 15th January. An tÚdarás has always recognised the importance of the marine resource to the creation of sustainable local and regional economic development opportunities. This event was a key initiative under the SW-Grow EU project that is funded by The Northern Periphery and Arctic 2014-2020 Programme of which Údarás is a project partner. SW-Grow’s objective is to increase economic opportunities in the seaweed industry by developing innovative working practices that can be widely adopted by the related SMEs in the NPA region.
The event was opened by Cliodhna Ní Ghríofa, the project officer for SW-Grow, where she described the work involved and the projected outcomes of the project alongside her project partner Ronan Sulpice of NUIG, see SW-Grow Project. Other expert speakers included Dr. Mark White, Údarás na Gaeltachta, Freddie O Mahony from Carton Point Shellfish, Dr. Maria Hayes from Teagasc, Dr.Julie Maguire from BMRS, James Burke, Jim Keogh from Arramara Teo, Wayne Murphy from Hatch, John Quinlan, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and Teresa Morrissey from the IFA.
It is evident that there is a strong interest in the seaweed industry – 120 people were in attendance from start-ups to well-developed companies such as Ross Campbell from CyberCollids Ltd. and state agencies such as Bord Bia. Detailed information was shared on past developments within the industry such as Teagasc’s developments in bioactive peptides from seaweed to promote heart health, the efficient use of the protein found in seaweed and their functional applications in the food industry, to current projects in BMRS that are examining the best native Irish seaweeds demonstrating anti-methanogenic properties.
Alongside the technical developments in the Industry, the seminar also outlined how companies can get access into the retail industry, export markets and Wayne Murphy described that HATCH Blue advises, connects and finds contacts in some of the largest companies in the world for their start-ups.
The open forum panel discussion included businesswoman and founder of Rí na Mara, Deirdre Uí Cathmhaoil who outlined how her business went from concept to successfully selling products. Questions were raised about the sustainability of wild harvesting and how best to manage the natural resource, questions were also raised on how to attract a younger generation into the harvesting of seaweed and interesting questions on how best to inform the public on the benefits of seaweed for health, cosmetic and from an agricultural perspective.
Certainly there is capacity and interest within this industry to further develop and innovate and become work leaders of high quality seaweed added value products, and with the proposed Marine Innovation Development Centre at Páirc na Mara- this ambition is becoming more realistic. It is envisaged that the development of marine related facilities and the supporting infrastructure will support the expansion and development of the marine resource in West Conamara and will become a key enabler for the development of the overall marine industry locally, regional and nationally. Expressions of Interest received to date, include seaweed at the core of activities with over 70% of the employment figures in biotechnology and bioproducts.
All in all, the event was a success and is the beginning of many workshops to take place in the next year. For further information on the SW-GROW project please contact Cliodhna at firstname.lastname@example.org.