Making the deep blue more green: How Scotland’s biotech industry is protecting our oceans

Douglas Martin

by Douglas Martin

OUR oceans are the planet’s largest ecosystem, covering 70 percent of the earth’s surface and providing food, energy and water. However, our underwater worlds are under increasing pressure, with the UN calling an “ocean emergency” last year, with more focus needed on the sustainable development goal of conserving and sustainably using the oceans, seas and marine resources. 

I’ve always been fascinated by our oceans and started my career working offshore, installing cables between windfarms. This renewed my respect and admiration for the ocean, it also galvanised my desire to protect it as an ecosystem. All around Scotland, many of our, often fragile, rural economies are closely linked with the sea, be that fishing, aquaculture, tourism or offshore power.  

It was while working in the North Sea that inspiration occurred. My crew’s operations were halted by a fast-growing algal bloom. I’d studied biotechnology at university, and after a few years of ruminating the idea started to really take hold. So much so that in my spare time, I started brewing and testing different strains of algae, looking for a sustainable and practical method of growth. Two years later, I stopped working offshore and started MiAlgae, a biotech-for-good which brings sustainable and innovative algae solutions to the feed supply chain. As global demand for sustainable food production grows, the seafood sector is doing more to address this without jeopardising the environment. 

To produce more fish and protect our oceans, we need to tackle the fundamental challenges of fish farming from the root and bring greener fish feed solutions to the forefront.

This week, I’ll be attending the world’s biggest aquaculture conference, AquaNor, in Norway. As part of Team Scotland, this opportunity showcases the best of Scottish innovation in aquaculture on a global stage. This year’s theme – ‘solutions’ – focuses on increasing the amount of food we can grow from the oceans, rather than land. Ultimately, we need new ways to safeguard food supplies and support industry growth responsibly. 

At MiAlgae, we recently started our transition out of “stealth mode” with the launch of our first product, NaturAlgae™ – a sustainable alternative to the traditional source of Omega-3 from fish oil. NaturAlgae™ is an Omega-3 rich powdered ingredient for the feed industry. Our algae is grown using the co-products of the Scotch Whisky industry. Championing the circular economy, our process increases water-stewardship by recycling the water from local distilleries. As we scale, we aim to play our part in reducing reliance on wild-caught fish by supporting the additional demands for Omega-3 oils globally.

Our novel process demonstrates the power of biotechnology to produce ingredients with minimal impact on the environment, and without taking away from human food sources. Crucially, it also protects our marine ecosystems. Biotechnology allows us to produce healthy nutritious food locally and with full traceability. 

 One of Scotland’s fastest growing sectors, biotechnology is bringing a wealth of opportunity to feed everyone sustainably. We are proud to be a part of a growing ecosystem of companies with a determination to develop environmentally friendly methods of food production.

Over the next few days at AquaNor, it’ll be encouraging to see Scotland represented as a leader in aquaculture and sustainable food production. I’m looking forward to meeting other experts in the sector and identifying opportunities for cross-collaboration and innovation, all with the goal of better serving our oceans. 

Douglas Martin is Founder & Managing Director at MiAlgae 

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