Journal of Applied Phycology

, Volume 28, Issue 1, pp 629–642 | Cite as

Seaweed compost for agricultural crop production

  • Andrew J. ColeEmail author
  • David A. Roberts
  • Alan L. Garside
  • Rocky de Nys
  • Nicholas A. Paul


This study manipulated the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio (C:N) of seaweed composts by varying the proportion of high N green seaweed (Ulva ohnoi) and high C sugarcane bagasse to assess their quality and suitability for use in agricultural crop production. Seaweed-bagasse mixes that had an initial C:N ratio greater than 18:1 (up to 50:1) could be transformed into a mature compost within 16 weeks. However, only composts with a high seaweed content and therefore low initial C:N (18 and 22:1) supported a consistently high rate of plant growth, even at low application rates. Sugarcane grown in these high seaweed composts had a 7-fold higher total above-ground biomass than low seaweed composts and a 4-fold higher total above-ground biomass than sugarcane grown in commercial compost that did not contain seaweed. Overall, the optimal initial C:N ratio for seaweed-based compost was 22:1 which corresponds to 82 % seaweed on a fresh weight basis. This ratio will produce a high quality mature compost whilst also ensuring that a high proportion of the nitrogen (>90 %) in the Ulva biomass is retained through the composting process.


Macroalgae Phosphorous Nitrogen Agriculture Salt Electrical conductivity 



This research is part of the MBD Energy Research and Development programme for Biological Carbon Capture and Storage. The project is supported by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and the Advanced Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (AMCRC) funded through the Australian Government’s Cooperative Research Centre Scheme. We thank Jonathon Moorhead, Tom Mannering, Lewis Anderson and Giovani Del Frari for assistance with experiments and the Burdekin Productivity Services for supplying the sugarcane stalks.

Supplementary material

10811_2015_544_Fig5_ESM.gif (60 kb)
Supplementary A

The relationship between the height (mm) and dry weight (g) of 78 recently sprouted sugarcane seedlings that ranged in height from 60–300 (mm). This regression equation, y = 0.001x + 0.61, was used to account for the initial biomass of the cane seedlings when they were transplanted into the compost treatments. This enabled an accurate calculation of the total above-ground biomass production of sugarcane in each of the compost treatments. (GIF 59 kb)

10811_2015_544_MOESM1_ESM.eps (919 kb)
High Resolution Image (EPS 918 kb)
10811_2015_544_Fig6_ESM.jpg (1.4 mb)
Supplementary B

The relative differences in root growth from sugarcane plants grown in seven seaweed-based composts and four compost / sand mixes (100, 75, 50 and 25% compost). In these seaweed-based composts the seaweed was included in varying proportions to manipulate the initial carbon to nitrogen ratio of the compost material. These ratios from left to right are 18:1, 22:1, 26:1, 30:1 34:1, 40:1 and 50:1. King Brown (KB) is a commercially available compost that contains no seaweed and was used as a positive control. King brown compost had an initial C:N ratio of 28:1 and a final C:N ratio of 15:1. As the initial C:N ratio of the compost increases the size of the root mass decreases (left to right). Likewise as the proportion of compost in the pot increases (bottom to top) the root mass also increases. The composts that had an initial C:N ratio of 18 and 22:1 have considerably more root growth, even when these composts are mixed with large proportions of sand. (JPEG 1459 kb)

10811_2015_544_Fig7_ESM.gif (21 kb)
Supplementary C

Changes in a) pH b) salinity and c) electrical conductivity of each of the seven seaweed-based composts after being added to pots, wet to water holding capacity with freshwater and left to stabilise for seven days. (GIF 20 kb)

10811_2015_544_MOESM2_ESM.eps (745 kb)
High Resolution Image (EPS 744 kb)
10811_2015_544_MOESM3_ESM.docx (17 kb)
Supplementary D PERMANOVA output table and the relative effect size (as % variance explained: η 2) for each of the main effects and interactions between the initial C:N ratio of the composts and the proportion of compost added to each pot on the a) stem width b) stem length c) number of stalks per plant and d) the total above-ground biomass of sugarcane plants. (DOCX 17 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Andrew J. Cole
    • 1
    Email author
  • David A. Roberts
    • 1
  • Alan L. Garside
    • 2
  • Rocky de Nys
    • 1
  • Nicholas A. Paul
    • 1
  1. 1.MACRO – the Centre for Macroalgal Resources and BiotechnologyJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia
  2. 2.College of Marine and Environmental SciencesJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia

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