March: Year of Coasts & Waters 2020

March highlights:

Modern Apprenticeships, promoting women with International Women’ Day 2020, looking at historical and modern day uses of seaweed and a great Cod Kebab recipe from Da Haaf Restaurant!

Book of the Month

Marine Conservation: People, Ideas and Action by Bob Earll


In the last 50 years marine conservation has grown from almost nothing to become a major topic of global activity involving many people and organisations.  Many marine conservation actions have focused on human impacts on the marine environment from development and pollution to the impacts of fisheries. Whilst science has provided the backbone of thinking on marine conservation, perhaps the biggest change over this period has been the use of an ever-increasing range of techniques and disciplines to further marine conservation ends.

Bob Earll explores what marine conservation involves in practice by providing a synthesis of the main developments from the viewpoints of 19 leading practitioners and pioneers who have helped shape its progress and successes.

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Kid’s Book of the Month

Big Blue Whale by Nicola Davies


Beautifully illustrated and full of facts written in a conversational style.  Two little human observers give an up-close look at “the biggest creature that has ever lived on Earth”.

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Project of the Month

The Shetland Seaweed Growers’ & Macrobiocrude Projects

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There are a variety of edible species of seaweed found around the British coast. It has formed a staple part of human diet for 1000’s of years in China, Korea and Japan. In Europe is has also been eaten for many years but usually more as an alternative food source during hard times. Two of the most famous types in Britain are Dulce and Welsh laver.

Agar and Carrageenans are made from certain types of red seaweeds and are used in food production as a gelling or thickening agent. Agar is also used in laboratories as a substrate for bacteria cultures.

Liquid seaweed extracts from brown seaweeds are used as vitamin and mineral supplements in agriculture and more recently in human health products.
Alginates are extracted from brown seaweed and are a common ingredient in a variety of cosmetic and health products such as soap, shampoo & conditioner, facial masks, absorbent wound-dressings and indigestion remedies.

Lately, pharmaceutical and medical profession have been investigating the anti-cancer and anti-bacterial properties of certain seaweed derivatives.

Shetland Seaweed Growers’ Project

The Shetland Seaweed Grower’s project investigated the feasibility of growing and harvesting seaweed on a commercial scale in Shetland. It was funded by the Coastal Communities Fund which aims to promote sustainable economic growth and jobs in coastal communities around the UK.

Seaweed is harvested around the UK in comparatively small amounts with much of the wild harvested seaweeds used by small businesses for food production or alginates. However, an increased demand for seaweeds has led to more research. Commercial seaweed farms could help create a sustainable supply which could minimise environmental impacts from over harvesting wild seaweed.

Kelps are large brown seaweeds which create forests that offer nursery habitats to fisheries and can reduce coastal erosion. They are also an important part of the food chain.

Two types of kelp were trialled in Shetland, Laminaria digitata and Alaria esculenta. Spores from the seaweed were grown on spools of string in seawater tanks before being deployed on longlines at sea. To see the process in more detail check out the video on our website! A seaweed cultivation manual was created and is also available on the NAFC Marine Centre UHI website.

NAFC Marine Centre UHI worked with a number of industry partners and local businesses to develop methods for growing seaweed on a commercial scale and how the product could be used locally.

Scottish Sea Farms Ltd. was a commercial partner in the project and provided a six hectare licensed sea site for growing seaweed. They also provided the use of a work boat, skipper and crew to help with setting up the longlines, deploying the hatchery grown seedlings and harvesting the seaweed crop.

East Voe Shellfish Ltd. were contracted to do similar tasks as Scottish Sea Farms Ltd. at another site in Shetland and Grieg Seafoods Ltd. donated several drying/smoking racks so that NAFC Marine Centre UHI could dry large quantities of seaweed.

NAFC Marine Centre UHI also worked with a number of local businesses and succeeded in encouraging nine local Shetland businesses to diversify by including seaweed, both cultivated and wild-harvested, into their products. These products included chocolate, gin and soap to name but a few.

The Shetland Seaweed Growers’ Project also created a leaflet to be used in schools to educate children about the different types of seaweed and how they can be used.

Macrobiocrude Project

NAFC Marine Centre UHI was a partner in a 5 year EPSRC (Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council) funded project to trial a combined supply and processing pathway for producing aviation biofuels from seaweeds in a sustainable manner. The project was led by the Universities of Durham and Harper Adams.

Since the UK Government have set strict targets on greenhouse gas emissions and with the increasing demand for decreasing oil reserves, it was timely to investigate developing environmentally and economically sustainable transport fuels.

Using seaweed could reduce the competition of crops grown for biofuels with food production on land. Seaweed doesn’t need freshwater or arable land for growth and could make biofuel more affordable.

NAFC Marine Centre UHI ensiled seaweed which had been surplus from the Shetland Seaweed Growers’ project, together with wild seaweed fouling mussel lines, and donated it to the MacroBioCrude project for successful biofuel production and analysis.

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Course of the Month

Modern Apprenticeships

NAFC Marine Centre UHI run a number of modern apprenticeships relating to maritime industries. You can find summaries in the slideshow below or head to the NAFC Marine Centre UHI website.

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Fish of the Month


Atlantic Cod colour CMYK

Gadus morhua

The Atlantic cod is a demersal (bottom dweller) or white fish and part of the cod family. Cod can be found in depths of usually 30-40 metres but can be found in depths of up to 600 metres.

It usually grows up to 150 cm long and has a pale line along its side. It has a barbel on its chin and varies in colour depending on its habitat1, with cod living in kelp beds having a red hue. It eats a variety of fish and shellfish such as sand eels, whiting and even smaller cod2.

It has a mild, sweet flavour and is very versatile. It is often used for fish and chips but can also be baked, steamed, poached, stewed, smoked or salted3. Cod cheeks are also a delicacy in some countries4. Cod is rich in lean proteins and contains Omega-3 fatty acids. It is also a source of vitamins A and D3.

Wind dried cod or “stockfish” goes back to at least the Viking age. Dried cod is very nutritious but takes up little room which made it a great provision to take on long sea journeys1.

Salted cod was popular with Catholics during lent when traditionally they could not eat meat, and it is still used in a number of traditional dishes found in southern Europe such as bacalhau from Portugal5.

COD KEBAB RECIPE–  Download here.

1 Sea Fish by Bent J. Muus & Jørgen G. Nielsen 1999

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Heritage Topic of the Month

Sheep eating seaweed on the Stenness Beach, Eshaness

Seaweed Uses

Seaweed has for a long time been used as a fertiliser. During the winter storms in Shetland, seaweed would be blown on land. Men and women would collect the seaweed and pile it up above the High Water Mark. This was called “laying up waar”. Waar is a Shetland word used for seaweed, especially Laminaria species. When there was a break in the stormy weather, the waar was loaded into kishies (a straw basket designed to be carried on your back) and carried up from the beach. It was put into large waar middens and left to break down until the spring when it would be spread onto the rigs.
Seaweed was also used as an alternative food source during tough times for animals such as sheep, cattle and ponies, and humans too. Hinniwirs (Dabberlocks or Alaria esculenta) were sometimes eaten during the long winter months.

Further information:
Traditional Life in Shetland by James R. Nicolson 1978

Kelp Burning

Kelp was a alkaline ash that was used in the manufacture of glass and soap and it was made by burning seaweed. Coarse seaweed would be harvested by wading out to sea and using a large fork called a tari grep. The seaweed would then be laid out to dry before being burnt in a kelp kiln until it was quite smooth. The kelp would be left to harden before getting broken up for transportation1.

Although kelp burning was not on the same scale in Shetland as it was in Orkney or the Western Isles, it was still executed in the islands. As early as 1760 Shetland lairds had Orcadians knowledgeable in the kelp trade coming to survey the compatibility of their shores for the industry2.

Kelp burning was one of very few industries which employed women at the time in Shetland. It was a hard and dirty job and mainly carried out by women and children on the beach3.

The main time scale for the growth of the kelp industry in Shetland (1780-1820), coincided with the difficulty of getting alternatives to kelp such as salt and barilla (an alkali product made from burning plants such as saltworts) due to very high taxes on the products or blockades during the Napoleonic Wars.

After the reintroduction of salt and barilla, the market for kelp collapsed. Although kelp burning was continued on a small scale for a number of years afterwards in some of the more remote communities of Shetland4. If you are interested in seeing photos from this era, check out the Shetland Museum and Archives photo library.

1 & 3 Myth and Materiality in a Woman’s World: Shetland 1800-2000 by Lynn Abrams (2005)
2 & 4 Shetland Life and Trade 1550-1914 by Hance D. Smith (1984)

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Tabu Word of the Month


Tabu words were words used at sea while at da haaf fishing instead of using the “land” words. For example an otter would have been called a dratsi. The practice arose from superstitions that go back through the centuries and it was thought using tabu words would help to calm the sea gods amongst other things.

Most of the words that have been collected, are either nouns relating to animals and things left ashore or activities done whilst fishing and indeed the fish themselves. Nearly all of the known tabu words are of Old Norse origin.

Occasionally there are several words for the same animal. Sometimes this was related to how the speaker was describing the animal and sometimes it was a regional difference with fishermen from different areas using different words for the same thing.

For Further Information:
Shetland Words: A dictionary of the Shetland dialect

daggastø noun.

wind with rain

[Old Norse. dogg: dew; moisture + stø: wind]

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Activity of the Month

This month’s activity comes from the Fuelling the Future leaflet created as part of the Shetland Seaweed Growers Project.

Images from the Fuelling the Future Leaflet © NAFC Marine Centre UHI

Make your own Biogas


  • Plastic bottles (best with wide opening)
  • Balloons
  • Electrical tape
  • Biomass: seaweed, food waste, manure, grass, gar-den waste, crops (corn, wheat, rapeseed).
  • Notebook

Seaweed are full of carbohydrates or sugars similar to many land plants. Biogas is produced when these sugars are broken down by microscopic bacteria through a process called anaerobic fermentation. Biogas is mainly made up of methane and carbon dioxide which can be used as a fuel or turned into electricity and heat. Biogas is a renewable energy source with a small carbon footprint as it often uses waste products such as manure, sewage and food waste. Plant crops such as grasses or seaweed are added to increase gas production.

Seaweed farming is environmentally sustainable and does not compete for space on land with crops for human consumption. Make your own biogas generator and think about how the gas is produced, what raw materials can you source and how big the carbon footprint of different materials are?


  1. Collect your biomass, you can go cut some seaweed from the shore or grass from a field, or bring some food waste from home. Any biomass you think might work!
  2. Cut or grind the biomass into smaller pieces and fill a plastic bottle 2/3 to the top.
  3. Carefully cover the top with a deflated balloon. Inflate the bal-loon once before use to make it more flexible. Secure and seal the balloon to the bottle with electrical tape. Make sure no air can get in or out!
  4. Monitor your biogas generator at least once a week, write down observations on how the biomass and balloon changes. Mostly carbon dioxide will be produced, but make sure to keep the balloons in a well-ventilated area.

Suggested experiments:

A. What happens if you add an acid (lemon juice or vinegar)?

B. Does light or temperature change how fast gas is produced?

C. Compare different raw materials.

D. You can also monitor the change in pH if you create several sealed plastic bags and measure their pH at different times.

E. Think about why any differences occur and what processes are involved

To download the whole leaflet with lots of great information click here. To download How to make Biogas on a handy sheet to print out click here.

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What’s on this Month

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This year’s British Science Week theme is ‘Our diverse planet

Here are some topic ideas to help you get the inspiration started:

Biodiversity: from the garden, to the very bottom of the ocean, investigate all the amazing creatures and organisms that live on our planet.

Science and STEM subjects: have a think about all the diverse ways that science affects our lives and who you know that uses science every day. Remember that science is everywhere, you just have to look for it!

Other kinds of diversity: from the diversity of each and every molecule that make up essential parts of life, to the differences between you and your friends.

Our planet is unique: why not investigate what makes it different from the other planets in our solar system?

Make your poster
Once you’ve done your research, it’s time to get creative! Posters can be made by hand or using a computer. Entries must be submitted digitally.

Age categories are as follows:

  • Nursery/ P1
  • P2-P4
  • P5-P7
  • S1-S3

Entries can be made by schools, by youth groups/ other organisations as well as individually. The deadline is 3rd APRIL 2020

Key digital entry rules:

  1. One entry per email
  2. Subject line should state which age category the entry is for
  3. The body of the email should include: student(s) first name, organisation name (or if no organisation, parent name so we can identify full information from the entry form) and address, student age
  4. Only one photo per email
  5. You still need to fill in the online form with full details

For full Terms and Conditions head over to the British Science Week website:

Modern Apprenticeship Week


Check out the Course of the Month for a summary of the Modern Apprenticeships offered through NAFC Marine Centre UHI. You can also check out this video about Billy Seatter’s experience of the Modern Apprenticeship in Marine Aquaculture.

International Women’s Day 2020

international womens day

For International Women’s Day 2020 the staff of NAFC Marine Centre were asked to write about a woman who inspires them. Below you can see some of the responses!

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The Great Nurdle Hunt


Nurdles are small (about the size of a lentil) plastic pellets used to make nearly all of the plastic products we use on a daily basis. Accidental spills can happen wherever nurdles are handled or transported. This could be at any stage of the industrial process; from the production of nurdles, to their transport, to the manufacturers of plastic products and then again when goods are recycled back into nurdles. There are a number of reasons this is worrying:

  • Animals mistake them for food and they end up in the food chain
  • Nurdles can soak up pollutants and become toxic
  • They never disappear from the oceans, just get smaller and smaller.

Take part in The Great Global Nurdle Hunt and join thousands worldwide searching for nurdles. You can sign up as an individual or a group. Here is a handy leaflet to help identify nurdles.

Below is a diagram showing how nurdles potentially end up in the sea. Data from the Great Nurdle Hunt has allowed conversations with industry and government and work towards finding a solution.

great nurdle hunt lost at sea infographic
Image credit: Fidra

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