Researchers delve into the mounds of beach cast lining Deep Bay in an effort to find answers to a contentious seaweed harvest polarizing the community.

Deep Bay Seaweed harvest report sent to provincial ministry of environment

Says marine station manager: “there may be a much bigger story at play beyond the issues around algae”

Deep Bay’s most recent seaweed harvest season proved to be an important one.

Last winter, researchers — for the first time — were tasked with monitoring the ecological activities imbedded in the seemingly abundant beach cast lining the coast. The study was made possible by a contract granted to Vancouver Island University’s Deep Bay Marine Field Station by the Ministry of Agriculture.

The study came to a close March 25 and marine station manager Brian Kingzett confirmed a scientific report has been sent to the ministry.

While Kingzett remained tight lipped about the research results, he offered: “there may be a much bigger story at play beyond the issues around algae.”

The seaweed harvest is one of the more contentious issues facing Deep Bay, with regional district director Bill Veenhof saying it “defined” his first term in office.

Seaweed harvesters are after a red algae called Mazzaella japonica, a foreign species believed to be introduced to Deep Bay’s coast more than 80 years ago with a shipment of oyster seed from Japan.

Mazzaella japonica is valuable because it is rich in carrageenans, a compound used as a gelling and thickening agent in an array of products from cosmetics to pharmaceuticals. Some have estimated the carrageenan market is worth $700 million worldwide.

While many believe the bountiful supply of seaweed already on the beach may be the bread and butter of an untapped industry, others are critical of the long term effects of removing mounds of beach cast away.

In 2013, Ian Birtwell led and released a biological review called Seaweed Harvesting on the East Coast of Vancouver Island confirming the seaweed being harvested off the coast of Deep Bay “has a direct influence on those organisms higher in the food chain.”

According to the report, it has been well-documented that when seaweed is detached and washed ashore, like the mounds in Deep Bay, it can “provide readily available nourishment for organisms at the base of the food chain. In the location of Baynes Sound that food chain includes the organisms that are used for food by fish, birds and mammals …”

Kingzett said the report will be made public in the near future at which time he will look to host a community symposium to discuss their findings at the station.

“It’s been interesting, we’ve learned a lot and have a lot more questions,” he said. “I see this as something we will be focusing on in the future.”

Kingzett said he’s proud of his team for its hard work and looks forward to presenting their research to the community.

“We’re already thinking about future projects,” he said. “In some ways this is preliminary.”

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