How does seaweed manufacturing impact the prosperity of local habitats? We revisit this question all the time. With sustainability at the core of our business, we’re always evaluating the way Uist Asco, local industries, and local communities impact the coastal ecosystem in the Western Isles.
Though we learn an incredible amount about the science and resilience of seaweed and the local environment through the field work of our Resource Science team, there are always opportunities to connect with the larger scientific community, learning from their perspectives and research. That’s why we were proud to support our Resource Biologist, Malcolm Gibson, as he furthered his education with a M.Sc. in Marine Resource Management.
We recently had a few moments to talk with him, learning about his accomplishment and how it contributes to the exceptional work he does for Uist Asco and the larger Acadian Seaplants family.
Uist Asco: What specific discipline did you get your Masters degree in?
Malcolm: It was based at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh. The title that I earned at the end of a year’s time was a Masters in Marine Resource Development and Protection, which is very topical with my role as Resource Biologist at Uist Asco.
Uist Asco: Was seaweed the primary focus? Or did you cross-focus on different species and the whole ecosystem?
Malcolm: The one-year program was split up into three sections. The first block entailed four core introduction modules, the second more advanced modules, and the third a research topic. The modules were wide in scope, providing a broad grounding in the marine sector
In terms of finding a specific course that complemented my role, we figured a more general grounding was useful. The topics were not seaweed based, but we did touch on seaweed in some of the lectures and its role in the U.K., Europe, and elsewhere.
There were opportunities within the coursework modules where I took any opportunity to aim things toward seaweed, which allowed me to deepen my knowledge of the academic side of seaweed.
For the research component, I used the work we were doing here already and took that a bit further. At every Acadian Seaplants site, the science team has been looking at Ascophyllum nodosum productivity, which is the main species we looked at. I used my work research as the basis for the thesis, which fed into the larger project. This was useful because I was working on my thesis while continuing to do my job. There were time constraints that were challenging as I learned to deal with long nights and long days. Still, by juggling both responsibilities simultaneously it meant that I didn’t have to do a lot of additional work on top of what I was already doing. So, that was quite useful.
Uist Asco: What was something interesting you learned in your Masters that you’re bringing back to the Acadian team?
Malcolm: My B.Sc. provided a solid scientific grounding and while this was not marine based, it exposed me to the world of academia. The Masters gave me an opportunity to spend time developing my ability as a scientist while also allowing me to dig deep into the relevant seaweed research that was out there, which was great.
One of the key modules had us look at the potential conflicts and interactions of different users of the marine space. Whether that is fish farmers, fishing, oil and gas firms, tourism companies, or any of these types of groups, we reflected on how their operations can impact the environment and how they all intersect. That linked everything for me and just helped me to see the big picture and how seaweed is a wider industry, but also as Uist Asco in the Western Isles, how we fit into the whole thing. It was good to take a step back and understand seaweed within the broad marine sector.
When it comes to the environment, we are already thinking about our impact from a holistic perspective. In addition to the surveying and data collection I do, I also maintain communication with environmental bodies to ensure, without their auditing, that we are maintaining the sustainability goals we have set out. We have self-imposed restrictions in place to make sure our impact is sustainable and in alignment with environmental best-practices and I’ll have an opportunity to share, across the company, any additional lessons I learned in my Masters program.
For example, we clearly mark seal haul outs, which are areas used and relied upon annually by these marine mammals for different life events at different times of the year. The two major annual events are when they’re pupping and when they’re molting. In response, we’ve placed restrictions on the harvest, so these activities have minimal impact on seals at these times.
We also understand that the intertidal and nearshore region is important habitat for birds, such as terns, eagles and several other wading and diving species. Consequently, at certain times of the year, there are areas we close to prevent people from disturbing them, ensuring seasonal breeding and feeding cycles are not impacted by the harvest
Uist Asco: Thank you Malcolm for your time and congratulations again on earning your Masters.
Malcolm Gibson’s M.Sc. in Marine Resource Management is just part of how we are always expanding our eco-friendliness and sustainability. Read more about our sustainable seaweed harvesting or contact us with any questions.