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June 26, 2020

Visit to ‘land of fire and ice’ aims to boost CT seaweed industry 

PHOTO | Contributed Seaweed dominates the landscape outside of Reykjavík, Iceland.

When looking for ways to grow the Connecticut economy, we may need look no further than our southern neighbor — Long Island Sound.

Michaela Garland, who recently completed her master’s degree at Southern Connecticut State University, traveled to Iceland this spring for a six-week internship at the Iceland Ocean Cluster House. 

While there, she observed Iceland’s seaweed industry with an eye for how Connecticut can implement that country’s ideas and duplicate its successes.

“The goal of the internship was to see how the seaweed industry works in Iceland and come back to Connecticut to see how it can work here,” Garland said.

“There’s an opportunity for Connecticut to create a cluster for itself,” Garland said, citing the state’s proximity to both Long Island Sound and the Atlantic Ocean — and, therefore, plenty of seaweed.

Garland is a research member with Project Blue for SCSU’s Department of Environment, Geography & Marine Sciences. Project Blue is SCSU’s initiative to foster a "blue economy" in the New Haven region. Its efforts include collaborations to pursue seaweed startups.

L-r: Justin Sternberg and Craig Fleener from Alaska Ocean Cluster, Thór Sigfússon from Iceland Ocean Cluster, Michaela Garland from Long Island Sound Ocean Cluster, and  Sigurður D. Stefánsson from IOC.

While Connecticut does have a budding seaweed industry, it isn’t as advanced as Iceland’s, according to Garland. In Iceland, seaweed is harvested for an array of products, including food, fertilizer, animal feed, pharmaceuticals and nutritional supplements, for example. Seaweed can be used to make biotextiles and even biodegradable straws, much better for the environment than plastic, says Garland.

“People assume you just eat it in sushi, but there is seaweed jerky, protein bars, seasonings, it is surprisingly very good,” Garland said. 

Another takeaway? According to Garland, maritime industries, from seaweed harvesting to fishing to lobstering to shipping to biotech, can also benefit from increased collaboration, communication and relationships to solve common problems.

“I have been a Connecticut resident my entire life and grew up on the Sound,” Garland said. “Being in Iceland for six weeks and seeing how they operate, the collaboration and networking, was really something. Innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum.” 

At SCSU, Garland has researched how to sustainably use the ocean’s resources to create jobs while also helping the ocean and planet.

“I became fascinated with this — a way to alleviate poverty and help people get jobs,” Garland said. “We want to sustainably improve our oceans.”

Garland hopes to get people to learn more about the benefits of seaweed and eat more of it. While it grows right in our backyard, most seaweed consumed here originates elsewhere, primarily Asian countries. 

If Connecticut can increase processing capacity, it can produce more of the types of products coming to fruition around the world, according to Garland.

This diagram demonstrates some of the many uses of kelp. Image courtesy Alex Girard, Project Blue, Southern Connecticut State University

SCSU students recently took a kelp innovation class. Kelp is a type of seaweed, and the students are now pursuing prototypes for their ideas. They include an ocean data app to help kelp farmers, a Connecticut Kelp Fest event, a kelp-based egg substitute and a biodegradable tampon made of kelp and cotton.

Two SCSU staffers — Colleen Bielitz, associate vice president for strategic initiatives and outreach, and Patrick Heidkamp, who chairs the Environment, Geography and Marine Sciences Department — created the kelp innovation class.

According to Bielitz, several of the class participants’ projects will undergo continued development this summer.  

Garland will be teaching the students in July, when they will have six weeks to develop their product ideas and a business plan.

For more information, visit Project Blue’s website HERE

Garland wrote “Opportunities for Seaweed in the Ocean Economy” based on her internship experience. 

Contact Michelle Tuccitto Sullo at

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