Image: Golli.

Plentiful Sea: Rethinking the ocean’s output

 In Business, Magazine, Magazine Intro, Nature, Sci & Tech

Words by Tinna Eiríksdóttir

Photography by Golli

Seventy percent of the Earth is covered by water – that’s 361,132,000km2 (139,434,000 mi2) of water, to be exact – and considering the fact that a large part of the ocean is uncharted, there is a lot we don’t know about it. What we do know, is that the ocean is a vast origin of resources and its abundance is very important. For years, Iceland was first and foremost a nation of farmers and fishermen. Iceland’s catch has mostly been traditional, including cod, haddock, pollock, and herring, but in recent years focus has shifted to other marine resources, like seaweed, kelp, and fish skin. Even more interestingly, many of the companies that are leading this development are also focusing on creating sustainable products. But what is the appeal of products like these, and how are they used?

Snacking on seaweed

To most people, seaweed is the slimy stuff you see when you take a trip to the beach, but its use in kitchens is on the rise. Íslensk hollusta is a company that was founded by marine biologist Eyjólfur Friðgeirsson, who started using herb-marinated seaweed to create a healthy snack. “Us Icelanders have a long history of utilising dulse and herbs but for a while, it was considered tacky and we disconnected from that part of our history,” says Ragnheiður Axel Eyjólfsdóttir, Eyjólfur’s co-worker and daughter. “When my father started to desiccate and manufacture dulse, many thought it was odd,” she says, but after a while, Eyjólfur was contacted by chefs who soon became his customers.

Today, some of the world’s most high-class restaurants, such as London-based Texture and noma in Denmark are amongst Íslensk hollusta’s customers. What makes the company unique is the fact that everything is handpicked, meaning that no machines or boats are used when collecting the seaweed. “We think it’s important to limit intrusion and that the disruption of the biosystem is minimal when collecting seaweed,” Ragnheiður says.

Better skin with seaweed

Icelandic cosmetics company Zeto uses seaweed in their skin care products. Founded in 2016, Eydís Mary Jónsdóttir says that Zeto began in her mother Fjóla Sigurðardóttir’s kitchen when she started creating skin care products for her grandson who was very sensitive to parabens. Fjóla’s brother, Steindór Runiberg Haraldsson, had developed a method to extract seaweeds in a way that is both sustainable and leaves no waste. The extract has proved very effective in treating eczema and itchy skin.

Zeto uses seaweed harvested by Thorverk, a plant located in the town of Bíldurdalur in the Westfjords. Thorverk has both sustainable and organic certification which is important for Zeto’s production. “It’s important for us to build up a company with sustainability in mind,” Eydís says. “The production of seaweeds doesn’t require land space, irrigation, fertilisers, or pesticides, which is very important when aiming towards sustainability.”

Sustainable salt

A few years ago, a group of friends decided that they wanted to establish a small company. Being foodies and fans of gourmet provisions, they wondered why no one was producing salt in Iceland. One thing led to another and they decided to try their hand at salt production. They soon found out that in the 1700s, during the Danish-Icelandic Trade Monopoly, salt was manufactured on Reykjanes peninsula. The group headed west, filled a small skillet with seawater, heated the pan with geothermal water and in a few days’ time, they had 200g (7oz) of salt. Thus, began the saga of the company Saltverk.

Saltverk takes pride in creating a sustainable product. “One of our passions and the basis of our production are environmental matters,” says Gísli Grímsson, a salt maker for Saltverk. “In that context, we are keen on treating both nature and the ocean well.” Gísli says that the future is bright for the company. “We sense a lot of interest in both North America and Europe. For now, we just continue towards our goal of trying to produce the world’s best sea salt.”

Fish skin – a substitute for human skin

Fish skin is a by-product of fishing. While it’s occasionally used as animal fodder, and in designer accessories, it’s most often discarded as waste. The founders of Kerecis have found a new use for cod fish skin: creating skin grafts for wound treatment. The company was established a decade ago in Ísafjörður, where their product is still manufactured. Ísafjörður’s local fish industry makes it a perfect location for the company to access the main ingredient for their product. The company’s cod skin grafts help regenerate damaged tissue. They can be used to treat burns and diabetes wounds, in lung and colorectal surgeries, and even in neurosurgery.

Independent research has shown that cod skin closes wounds faster than other technologies such as pig skin. When grafted onto wounds, human cells coalesce with the substitute and in the end, the fish skin substitute is converted into living tissue. The Kerecis technology was invented by the company’s founder and CEO, G. Fertram Sigurjónsson. “The goal with our first product, Kerecis™ Omega3 Wound, was to avert amputations,” says Fertram. “There are over 100,000 amputations performed annually in the US and about 500,000 globally because of persistent wounds that won’t heal,” Fertram says. The product has been well received and in 2017, the company was the fastest-growing company in Iceland and the runner-up in 2018.

This article is an excerpt. Read the full article in the latest issue of Iceland Review Magazine. Subscribe here to get the magazine delivered to your door.

Iceland Review is the longest-running English-language magazine, presenting Iceland’s community, culture, and nature since 1963.

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