Request > Macro-algae culture and ecosystem services

What is the state of knowledge regarding the potential of macro-algae culture in providing climate-related and other ecosystem services, focusing on knowledge gaps?

Requester: DG Maritime Affairs & Fisheries, Unit for Maritime Innovation, Marine Knowledge and Investment.


Type of request: Knowledge Synthesis

This request aimed to explore and map existing knowledge and identify knowledge gaps and trade-offs, to inform future development of macro-algae culture strategies and policies. Furthermore, more knowledge is needed to evaluate impacts in terms of water, energy and land use, changes in sedimentation rates and structure of local communities, and potential pollution and risk of releasing invasive species into the environment and can contribute to the development, promotion and implementation of adequate and timely policy frameworks.

Reference: Request CfR.5/2020/1 

Expert Working Group
  • Ricardo Bermejo (University of Cádiz, Spain)
  • Alejandro Buschmann (University of Los Lagos, Chile)
  • Elisa Capuzzo (Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas), UK)
  • Elizabeth Cottier-Cook (Scottish Association for Marine Science, UK)
  • Vincent Doumeizel (United Nations Global Compact / Lloyd’s Register Foundation, France)
  • Anna Fricke (Leibniz Institute of Vegetable and Ornamental Crops (IGZ), Germany)
  • Olavur Gregersen (Ocean Rainforest, Faroe Islands)
  • Claire Hellio ( University of Western Brittany, Institut Universitaire Européen de la Mer, Biodimar, France)
  • Ignacio Hernández (University of Cadiz, Spain)
  • Laurie Hofmann (Alfred Wegener Institute , Germany)
  • Rui Pereira (A4F, Algae for Future, Portugal)
  • Michele Stanley (Scottish Association for Marine Science, UK)
  • Sander van den Burg (Wageningen Research, Netherlands)
Contact points

KCB Focal Point: Ana Lillebø , Simo Sarkki (deputy)
EMB Contact Point: Marie Vandewalle, Tânia Pereira (deputy)

The issues related to macro-algae aquaculture touch upon different aspects of the Green Deal initiative:

a) Increasing EU’s climate ambition for 2050 (low emission food and feed production
b) the Farm to Fork strategy (through sustainable protein production)
c) the Zero pollution ambition (through the removal of nutrients and possibly other dangerous substances)
d) Preserving and restoring ecosystems and biodiversity (by enhancing the local biodiversity, but also through protection functions)
e) Supplying clean and possible affordable energy (through the production of biofuels).

Taking into consideration the variant areas where macro-algae culture can contribute in the Green Deal, but also the importance of the overall algae sector for the development of a sustainable European Blue Bio-economy, DG MARE is contemplating the development of an EU Algae Strategy. The results of the knowledge assessment will be used in the development of this strategy. Additionally, the identification of possible knowledge gaps or knowledge needs related to the subject will advise, through MARE, the development of relevant research activities under the next EMFF and Horizon Europe programs. The main policy context of this request is the European Green Deal.


Date request received: April/2020
End of Call for Knowledge (CfK): 06/11/2020

The potentials of macro-algae culture to provide a wide range of ecosystem services, climate-related and other, is widely discussed, especially in the framework of the imminent actions necessary for climate change adaptation and mitigation, bending the biodiversity loss curve, relieving pressure inland regarding food and feed production, producing primary resources (including food) with low GHG emissions. There are strong indications that algae, especially macro-algae cultivation, has immense potential to provide a wide range of solutions in a multitude of issues. Macro-algae have the potential to successfully remove excess nutrients from the water column and improve the coastal water quality in degraded areas. There seems to be great potential in becoming a sustainable, low emission protein and lipid source both for food and for feed, also providing an answer to the issues of productive land availability. Macro-algae can also be used as a potential source of biofuel, again presenting the benefit of reducing pressure inland.

Additionally, there is evidence showing that macro-algae aquaculture establishment can act as soft measures of coastal protection, reducing wave and current energy. At the same time, there is an indication that these kinds of farms can have a positive effect on maintaining and increasing local biodiversity. Nevertheless, there are still many questions regarding the feasibility and possible impacts of harvesting this potential and exploiting those mentioned above (and possibly more) ecosystem services. A knowledge assessment and synthesis is required to understand this potential better, as well as to identify the essential knowledge gaps to be covered, before deploying actions and policies to harvest it in the benefit of the environment and humankind.

Scoping phase

The Document of Work (DoW) described the results of the scoping activities as well as the background of the request and was the basis for the call for experts.