The World is our Oyster

By Raymond Keene OBE and Professor Michael Crawford

Thinker Photo credit: freddie boy via / CC BY-SA
Photo credit: freddie boy via / CC BY-SA

Intelligence is the holy grail of humanity, and the hub of that intelligence is a healthy brain.

While other mammals rely largely on protein-packed milk to feed their bulk in the early years, we humans require an additional ingredient, specific to the health of our brains – omega-3 DHA fats, the richest source of which is found in the sea. Without the presence of DHA in our mothers’ milk and our early diet, our brains are unable to develop to their full potential, with the often devastating consequences we are currently witnessing in the worldwide epidemic of mental ill-health.

In order to feed that all-important human organ, we need a new industrial revolution, based on the sea. In the eighteenth century Britain benefited from coal and iron ore, whose possibilities were fully explored through a combination of ingenuity, entrepreneurial skill and adventurous spirit.

By exploiting the British coastline after leaving the EU, we will be in a position to create a new national industry of immeasurable benefit, for which the UK may act as the gold standard template for the rest of the world

The coast is clear

We have reached the limit of arable land for food production in the UK. If we continue with the current agricultural status quo, we will have to import more and more. However, if we take our coastal islands into account – the large and small alike – we have an estimated 20,000 miles of coastline to work with.

Much of this, especially around the islands, has the potential for sustainable marine agriculture, involving oysters, mussels, various other shellfish, and marine pastures for fish with deeper water artificial reefs to expand the surface area and hence to stimulate the food web.

This isn’t fish pie in the sky. Marine agriculture is already underway – a Japanese project started 1991 has trebled that country’s fish production and added new elements to it. It is for his contribution to this project that Professor Michael Crawford received The Order of The Rising Sun from The Emperor of Japan.

Playing the oyster card

Oysters Photo via VisualHuntFor the UK the heart of the new marine industry will be the growing of oysters. If you’re looking for the best outcome of Brexit, it lies in the fact that we will assume full control of the country’s coastal waters and sea bed. Just as the industrial revolution and Britain’s wealth grew out of indigenous resources, so we have a new resource – or an old resource revived, to be more accurate – which can be utilized to establish oyster beds. This will be a rich source of food for the brain, to counter the ever increasing mental ill-health bill (£77 billion for the UK in 2007, rising to a colossal £113 billion in 2013).

The brain evolved in the sea 600-500 million years ago using marine nutrients and omega-3 DHA fats for its structures and signalling systems. The human brain requires those same nutrients today, and they are difficult to find in modern land-based food systems.

The proposal to vastly increase the growth of oysters provides a large part of the solution. And there are additional benefits too. The growth of oyster shells on an industrial scale – along with the recycling of shells on the seabed for marine-flora anchoring and growth – involves the capture of CO2, in amounts greater than that released by the respiration of the oysters. So we get brain food and CO2 sequestration, which will be like creating new rain forests. Brain food and addressing climate change, all at the same time!

Summary of the oyster revolution

  • Global mental Ill health is one of the world’s costliest problems, and the only way to tackle it at source is to boost the brain food in our diets, including oysters.
  • Increased oyster production on a global scale will create a multiple-win situation – it can help address mental ill health, it can help address climate change, and can become a major UK industry which can then be expanded globally.
  • After Brexit, the UK can utilize thousands of miles of coastal waters in which to grow oysters. In addition to their role as vital foodstuffs, these new shellfish beds will help to clean polluted local environments. Newly developed designer algae can assist in this procedure.
  • The UK can become a world leader: environmentally, financially and morally by advising on marine agriculture around the planet.

It pays to be shellfish

Land-based agriculture is finite. Even if it wasn’t finite, it would still struggle to supply foods rich in omega-3 DHA, which is largely water-derived. However, marine agriculture is capable of creating food rich in this vital brain nutrient. Growing extra oyster beds provides brain friendly nutrition, international sales, and can even assist in neutralising global CO2 emissions.

The first of the celebrity advocates is already on board, with Leonardo DiCaprio announcing his investment in LoveTheWild, a sustainable fish seafood farming[1] company based in Colorado. This will hopefully assist in giving the soon-to-be revolutionised marine industry the spotlight it so vitally needs.


[1] LoveTheWild adopts a potentially misleading use of the word ‘aquaculture’, encompassing not just fresh fish farms but seafood farming too. At the Mother and Child Foundation we prefer to call the seafood part of the equation ‘marine agriculture’, to avoid confusion.

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