By Fiona Houston

SCOTLAND has an underutilised natural resource which can help our country be more sustainable, create more jobs, and be more healthy – the ocean.

We have such vast and valuable blue spaces – Scotland occupies over two-thirds of the UK’s coastal waters – which not only contribute to our country’s natural beauty, but provide potential for economic prosperity. By supporting our blue economy, we boost tourism, jobs, the environment and more. We must protect Scotland’s coastal waters so they remain both pristine and economically sustainable.

Scotland’s coastline is home to high-quality, premium seaweed, shellfish and fish, and the location of energy through ocean-based wind-turbines. But the Blue Economy is about more than that; it is about recognising the added value we can give to our natural resources – by researching, developing and financing potentially high-value commercial opportunities from these resources.

Countries worldwide are waking up to the importance of the blue economy. In August, Pakistan pledged to ensure it “fulfils its enormous maritime potential” by maximising the country’s blue economy”. Barbados promised to focus on sustainable food and marine transportation from the Caribbean, while Kenya has put its money where its mouth is and invested millions,

Scotland’s a sleeping giant. We must be next.

The worldwide ocean economy is believed to be valued at around $2.5 trillion a year, with over 350 million jobs produced in fisheries alone, producing 50% of the fish food for human consumption.

Climate changes mean less productive land, so we must look to the sea. We must nurture it for sustainable and environmentally conscious growth. We must care for our oceans, focus on sustainability in shipping, build sustainable fisheries, harness renewable energy and protect coastal communities from the effects of the climate crisis.

There are Scottish entrepreneurs who have spotted an opportunity to build a business from this blue economy, and an opportunity for far more to do so. I spotted that opportunity in seaweed as a sustainable food source, full of nutrients and alternative source of plant-based protein. It’s eaten all over the world every day. Asia dominates, with over 90% of the global aquaculture production – there so much potential for Scotland to seize the opportunity.

It’s a kelp crop for the future which captures 50% more carbon than the tropical rainforest. It’s used in the pharmaceutical, cosmetic, feed and bioplastic industries. Unlike any land crop, no fertiliser is used, soil isn’t denigrated and valuable land isn’t used up. Seaweed grows back – all it’s using is sunlight and nutrients from the water to grow. Recent estimates project seaweed market size will reach $9billion by 2024.

We see ourselves as stewards of the ocean. We hand-harvest and are now beginning to farm seaweed. Nothing goes to waste. Any leftover seaweed is used by the botanic gardens as fertiliser. Seaweed aquaculture could also curtail nutrient pollution levels coming from agriculture or sewage.

Scotland can be a world leader in seaweed farming. In doing so, we can show the world we care about the future of our planet.

Seaweed is an example of our potential to be a leading country in building a sustainable blue economy. Sustainable use of our coastal areas and produce is key to a bright economic future for our wonderful country. I’m proud our work is driving that forward. This is VisitScotland’s year of the coasts and waters. This has to be more than a slogan. It must be a sea change.

Fiona Houston, SeaEO of Mara Seaweed