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‘We’ve nine years to adapt, if we don’t it will be too late’

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Sinead O'Brien, the founder of Mungo Murphy's Seaweed Company in Co Galway

Sinead O'Brien, the founder of Mungo Murphy's Seaweed Company in Co Galway

Sinead O'Brien, the founder of Mungo Murphy's Seaweed Company in Co Galway

Sir, on November 18, an article titled, 'How Irish seaweed could help in climate fight by cutting methane in cattle’s burps', was published alongside my image and company name. I wish to add the following comments for clarity.

We are in the midst of a climate and biodiversity crisis. We need to protect our ecosystems in order to prevent further climate degradation and vice versa. The two are intertwined.

The obligation to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions is extremely urgent, so too is the need to protect our existing ecosystems. Tackling both crises simultaneously is necessary for the sake of the planet and for the health and wellbeing of young people.

Admittedly, the way children have been treated throughout this pandemic does call into question our society’s concern for young people (especially children) and their future.

Seaweed is fundamental to a healthy marine ecosystem, which in turn is fundamental to life on earth. Seaweed and phytoplankton absorb Co2 from the atmosphere and release over 50pc of the Oxygen we breathe.

Without this, humans – and most life on earth – are dead. Wild harvested seaweed cannot be allowed to be exploited to prop up an unsustainable livestock industry.

Portraying the exploitation of seaweed for livestock feed as a solution to climate change, because it has potential to reduce methane emissions by just 11-20pc (the result achieved by a Teagasc study), distracts from the reality of what needs to happen.

We need to reduce livestock numbers. We urgently need to transition to more sustainable and resilient forms of food production. This is now a food security issue.

We are facing into an imminent future of water scarcity, due to summer droughts and poor water infrastructure, longer dry periods and shorter periods of intense rainfall causing flash flooding.

Warmer temperatures year-round will run the risk of pest, bacterial and fungal infestations of crops. In the sea, we are facing increased acidification of the seawater, increased algal bloom and red tide events thanks to raw sewage and agricultural runoff.

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Yes, seaweed aquaculture is part of the solution, but not to be used to feed ruminants which continue to pollute our atmosphere, rivers, and bays.

I am speaking from the experience of working with abalone (a shellfish) in a land-based recirculating aquaculture system (RAS).

The farm was originally built by my mother because while she believed in the sustainability of farming with seawater, she did not want to risk being out on a boat to check on her farm or to harvest her product.

What we know now is that this method of farming, while costly to set up, is resilient in the face of the environmental changes taking place today and that will only get worse if we continue with the status quo.

This is just my experience, and I am sure there are other farmers out there with great ideas on how we can produce food sustainably and for a changing environment.

These methods take time to learn and perfect. We have made mistakes over the years but have had the luxury of time (we thought) to learn from them.

However, we are now practically out of time to learn the lifecycle of other species, including how to grow seaweeds of interest, sustainably, at scale, within the necessary timeframe.

We have nine years to adapt. If we don’t choose to adapt now, by the time we are forced to, it will be too late.

Yours sincerely,

Sinéad O’Brien,

Mungo Murphy’s Seaweed Co.

Co. na Gaillimhe


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