Seaweed, kelp and strengthened relations with Greenland

Wednesday 7. December 2016 | By: Birna Lárusdóttir

At the beginning of November, colleagues and ‘name-fellows’ Peter Weiss, Director of the University Centre of the Westfjords, and Peter Krost, lecturer in aquaculture at the University Centre, travelled together to Greenland. The purpose of the visit was to strengthen the University Centre’s relationships with its partners in Greenland. The colleagues also learnt about the uses of kelp and seaweed, and visited various institutions and businesses in Greenland. The visit was funded by the Staff and Faculty north2north exchange funding available from and to Danish, Greenlandic and Faroese to other north2north members of the University of the Arctic. 

The idea for the Greenland trip came about after Peter Krost was invited as a keynote speaker to January’s forum on seaweed and kelp, held by Matís in Reykjavík. The forum was organised on behalf of Det Kongelige Selskap for Norges Vel and attendees came from various countries, including Greenland and Denmark.  There the University Centre’s representatives were encouraged to closer investigate possible partnerships with Greenland.

Enhanced professional network

As well as Peter Krost’s professional interest in kelp and seaweed, the main reason for the trip was to reawaken and strengthen links with the University Centre’s partners in Greenland; as the University Centre was at one time engaged in Erasmus cooperation with the Danmarks Tekniske Universitet/Artek in Sisimiut, which mainly provides technical education at the university level in Greenland. As well as this, the University Centre has been in regular contact with the University of Greenland since 2008; though no Greenlandic student has yet visited the Westfjords through this partnership. On the other hand, University Centre students have travelled to Greenland in connection with their studies in Coastal and Marine Management. Among them were Alexander Stubbing from Iqaluit/Nunavut, who was a University Centre exchange student at DTU/Artek during his studies, and Hildur Sólveig Elvarsdóttir, who wrote her thesis in Greenland.

Sustainable utilisation of seaweed

On their trip, Peter and Peter met with nearly everybody connected to the utilisation of seaweed and kelp in Greenland, and there are a great number of ideas there about the uses of these marine plants. The only operational seaweed company to date is found in Sisimiut: Ulrik Lyberth and his company Maki Seaweed. He uses a boat to go out and harvest sheets of seaweed that come loose during storms, dries it and sells it as a foodstuff. He expects a better price per kilo than seaweed producers in the Westfjords, though his total production is tiny by comparison. Discussion with Ulrik centred on expansion opportunities, the time taken for renewal of the seaweed, and various licencing issues, as well as possible cooperation opportunities. As Ulrik ‘fishes’ for sheets of seaweed that have already drifted off, there is no environmental disruption from his production, which is highly unusual.   As a rule of thumb, seaweed is believed to have a roughly five-year renewal period, meaning it is important not to overexploit the resource. It should be noted that the Icelandic Marine Research Institute is currently evaluating exactly this, connected to utilisation in Breiðafjörður. Greenland is certainly a long way away from overexploiting the resource.

UArctic – network of university institutions in the High North

The University Centre of the Westfjords has, for a whole decade since 2006, been a member of UArctic, the formal network of university-level institutions in the North.

In Nuuk, the Peters had a long conversation with Dr. Ole Geertz-Hansen at the Pinngortitaleriffik Greenlands Insttitute of Natural Resources, which sees to measuring stock sizes in Greenland, among other things and is a member of UArctic. Ole has been on an expedition on the eastern coast of Greenland, where there are forests of seaweed stretching far to the north, despite all the sea ice. They also visited DTU/ARTEK in Sisimiut and discussed student exchanges with the deputy rector and international representatives of Ilisimatusarfik/Grønlands Universitet, as well as visiting several companies. 

Greenlandic delicacies

Peter and Peter naturally accepted invitations to taste local delicacies, and the first to offer was Kåre Henriksen, a teacher at DTU/Artek. He invited his colleagues from the University Centre to try the meat of a musk ox and the rector of the University of Greenland, Tíne Pars, also extended an invitation, serving steaks of reindeer her husband had hunted himself.

Remoteness is relative

It was strange stepping aboard the plane in central Reykjavík, the same one that usually flies to Ísafjörður, hear the same flight attendant relay the same safety information and then fly all the way to Greenland. On the way home, however, it had already become second nature. Passengers were reminded to fasten their seatbelts as the plane flew over the Greenland ice sheet before heading out over the Denmark Strait, but then, midway through the three-hour flight in deep darkness, there were lights on the ground below: the lights of Tasiilaq and Kulusuk. If anyone ever thought we were isolated here in the Westfjords, it would be worth reassessing, considering the situation in Greenland!