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Reducing the harm caused by nuisance macroalgal mats in coastal ecosystems

Reducing the harm caused by nuisance macroalgal mats in coastal ecosystems (Project RaNTrans)

Project ‘Rapid Nutrient Reduction in Transitional Waters’ (RaNTrans) aims to improve the ecological status of transitional waters in England and France by developing ways to exploit human-caused accumulations of macroalgae (seaweed).

RaNTrans will develop and test innovative, sustainable and cost-effective methods that will rapidly reduce algal mat coverage and contribute to reductions in nutrient levels – leading to improvements in the ecological status of transitional waters.

The project is led by Dr Gordon Watson, from the Faculty of Science at the University of Portsmouth, and funded by Interreg Channel. The principal investigator from Bournemouth University is Dr Daniel Franklin, from BU’s Faculty of Science and Technology (FST). Other FST members and co-investigators include Dr Roger Herbert,  Dr Iain Green and Professor Richard Stillman.

Transitional waters are waters between land and sea; these include fjords, estuaries, lagoons, deltas and rias. When these waters become covered in macroalgae (seaweed, or algal mats), due to an excess of nutrients (particularly nitrogen), the ecosystem can be completely transformed. Bacteria feed on the dead algae, using up large quantities of oxygen, and reducing the amount of oxygen dissolving into the sediment and water. Less oxygen available to other water organisms can ultimately result in the death of  animals, or changes in the type of animals that can live there.

RaNTrans will demonstrate and test algal mat removal methods and ways to exploit these algal mats in the inter-tidal areas of coastal wetlands (mudflats). Examples of possible exploitation methods include conversion of the algal mats to aquaculture feed or processing of the mats to produce useful compounds for biotechnological applications.

Successful methods will reduce nutrient levels and, if scaled up, consequently improve the transitional water ecosystem, for example the diversity of invertebrates which birds feed on. Improved coastal ecosystems will benefit coastal economies leading to an increase in tourism, an expansion of aquaculture and improved fisheries yields.

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