Beach wrack - How to convert a smelly nuisance to a profitable resource


When I applied to the Interreg program, I was hoping I’d get to work in the French Pacific Islands on conservation. I was far from imagining that, even during the Corona crisis and the severe lock-down, I would get to work on a European project in the Baltic Sea as complex and comprehensive as the CONTRA project. This project, named Converting a Nuisance to a Resource and Asset is about beach wrack, the algae leftovers that get washed onshore by the tides and the waves. It’s a partnership projects between all the countries surrounding the Baltic Sea, including universities and research centres as well as more « management-oriented » bodies to face all the aspects of this issue.

Usually, people don’t really know about beachwrack. First, because it’s not really useful to our everyday life and also because it can even feel a bit disgusting as it dries under the sun, hosts different types of bugs and can even leave an unpleasant smell as it rotten on the beach. For these reasons, beach wrack is usually cleaned on the main touristic days. In summer, it’s cleaned almost every day and often with big grooming machines. But beach wrack is not necessarily only a nuisance, and the objective of CONTRA is to highlight the advantages of beach wrack and how it could become a resource for the coastal communities.

First, beach wrack provides a lot of ecosystem services. It provides a home to many beach inhabitants that are also nice preys for the coastal birds. As it mixes with the sand, it also nourishes the beach and allows for vegetation to grow and protect the sandy coasts from erosion. The beach wrack, by itself, also protects the coasts from the effect of the waves and the tides. Unfortunately, these great services are not enough in themselves to protect the beach wrack from grooming as our first public perception study shows that both tourists and residents really expect from the beach manager to keep their beach cleaned from algae and beach cast. The income from tourism and beachgoers is way too important for beach managers to decide to keep the beach wrack « just » because it’s useful for the beach.

You start to feel the extent and complexity of the problem, right? To try and improve the management of beach wrack to be cheaper and more sustainable, CONTRA focuses on 3 main aspects. The first one is to evaluate the amount of beach wrack that is « good » for the beach, the fauna, flora and the people. The idea is to define how much is needed by the environment. The second goal is to define how much can be accepted by people. What is the position of the different stakeholders towards beach wrack? Where most conflicts lie? The last objective is to make beachwrack a valuable resource. Where can it be used? How can the supply chain be improved to make it easy and profitable to use beach wrack?

The topic is complex and very new: if beach cleaning gets some attention, this is the first time that beach wrack benefits from a whole project around it. To me, that what makes it so interesting and I love learning from all the different partners in the projects who work on different aspects with, each time, a different background. My role in this big constellation of knowledge is to analyse the position of the different stakeholders and the conflict that might arise. It’s already pretty challenging (especially as I just work from my desk!) but I am already learning a lot and looking forward to going to Germany, by the Baltic Sea to talk about beach wrack in person! If I managed to convince you with just a few lines that even the leftovers of the sea were worth your attention, don’t hesitate to contact me and give me your opinion about it.

Image source: https://www.beachwrack-contra.eu/

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