[UK, Sweden] Our craving for fish is an ecological catastrophe in the making; according to WWF’s report Living Blue Planet, between 1970 and 2012 overfishing has shrunk the world fish population by 49 percent. Trawling — a widespread fishing method using large nets dragged by several boats — is progressively eroding the seabed, and killing the microorganisms thriving there.
What’s maybe surprising is that not all fish are fished to be actually eaten. Almost 20 percent are crushed into fish oil, which is later sold as a dietary supplement called Omega-3. But fish aren’t the primary source of Omega-3: algae — which fish eat — are. So what if we used them to get the good stuff, instead?
That’s what Fredrika Gullfot, founder of Swedish algae-growing company Simris and a WIRED Innovation fellow, told the audience at WIRED 2015, in London’s Tobacco Dock. The current mode of Omega-3 production is just irrational, she said. “We have to use 600 sardines just to fill a bottle of Omega-3 supplement,” Gullfot said. “That’s crazy. It’s much smarter to use algae.”
Right now, only 2 percent of Omega-3 is extracted from algae. If that percentage could be brought up to at least 25, Gullfot thinks it could make a genuine different to restocking the oceans. And what’s better for the environment and fish stocks is better for us, too. “Apart from driving over-fishing, fish oil is quite a nasty ingredient because it’s full of environmental toxins,” Gullfot says. “It’s better to do it the way nature does it, growing it on sun and carbon dioxide. […] We get something that is so pure, it’s much better to use as a dietary supplement.”
Founded in 2011, Simris grows algae– chlorella and spirulina varieties– in water-filled glass tubes fitted as tiny greenhouses. “All we need is water and a little bit of plant nutrients,” she said. “That’s very sustainable.” Then it sells them as Omega-3 products, or even as algae crisps or teas.
If algae tea sounds to you like something straight out of Shoreditch, you’re right. Gullfot made a point of explaining that while it is not the only company growing algae for Omega-3, Simris’s aim is to become a lifestyle brand, rather than a fitness product. Hence the trendy vibe about the company’s logo and packaging.
Gullfot’s work with Simris is as much PR campaign as innovative new product. Even the logo is more in keeping with the sort of friendly, aspirational branding that you’d find on high-end cosmetics, and she describes algae as the “hipsters of the sea” (they were making omega-3s first, after all).
It’s an approach that’s filtered right down to the design level of the product. “Andy Warhol was described as turning everyday things into objects of desire. Our objects of desire [come in] a beautiful glass bottle,” Gullfot says. “If you think of what normal omega-3s look like on the bathroom shelf, they’re white, they’re plastic. We’ve tried to create something that you’d feel happy about having on your shelf — a decoration as much as anything else.”
And it’s not just sexy omega-3 bottles. Simris’ evangelising of the humble algae extends to gourmet snacks in stylish packaging. It’s all part of a wider effort to promote the versatility and potential of algae. “We realised we have to open a wider discussion about algae, to make them relatable to everyone,” Gullfot says. “We’ve started a collaboration with other algae growers, in Europe mainly, where we sourced ingredients to make other products.”
View original article at: Eat hipster algae and save the oceans