Barti and the Big Blue

Jonathan Williams, founder of Barti Rum, is embarking on a challenge, to learn about and action the use of seaweed as a carbon capturing tool. Meaning that one day Barti Rum, and many other business’ and individuals will be able to offset their carbon through seaweed in the same way that some business’ currently do by planting trees.

If successful the project has the capability to be vastly more scale-able than planting trees on land, and could be a colossal step forward in reducing the volume of carbon in our atmosphere.

The Blue Carbon Story So Far….

Chapter 1 – How the idea began


Quick background summary – Jonathan Williams started Café Môr in 2010 as a mobile catering business celebrating the wonderful produce of the Pembrokeshire coastline: seafood, seaweeds and wild seashore plants. In 2012, Café Môr became enveloped in a wider venture; The Pembrokeshire Beach Food Company, which began developing a range of sea foraged food products, from Welshman’s Caviar (dried laver flakes) to seaweed Pesto. In more recent years, Jonathan founded a spiced rum brand, Barti Rum, which again uses a seaweed infusion to enhance and smooth the flavour of the spirit.

Jonathan Williams foraging for seaweed.

Jonathan describes “One morning, I was at the beach collecting seaweed to use in my menu and rum, when I had a conversation with a local lobster fisherman, Danny, the owner of local business DASH Shellfish. He said he had seaweed growing on his equipment and had to employ someone to regularly cut it off. It interested me, that this fisherman’s unwanted seaweed was not only thriving, but regularly self seeding on submerged ropes and fishing kit. I began to wonder if the abundant seaweed he referred to as a nuisance could be used to some benefit.

I told Danny about my ideas and together we left some ‘ghost’ (pretend) lobster pots out for six months to see what would happen. They amassed around 10 kilograms of different seaweed species on each rig, a couple of kilos of mussels and some spider crabs feeding off the mussels. I was amazed – I thought it was like very easy, lazy gardening!

Jonathan Williams with the first “Ghost” lobster pot covered in seaweed.

After a lot of research and speaking to some experts and theorists on the subject of “blue carbon” I became fixated with the idea that the simple method of providing  extra surface area for growth to occur on below the surface of the sea, meant it would quite simply, automatically happen. The more  surface area I can provide, in the form of ropes, the more seaweed  will grow and the more carbon will be absorbed. This project, if proven to be as simple and effective as it appears, could be rolled out in endless waters around the world. The magnitude of positive environmental  impact this could have is almost indescribable.”

That humble conversation on the beach, followed by swathes of research began in 2020. There are still some questions to be answered before any kind of mass project can get funding to go ahead. One of which is whether deterioration of carbon absorbing efficiency wanes as the seaweed ages. However there are different solutions for this if it proves to be the case. In the instance that the seaweed does become less effective and subsequently completely inactive at absorbing carbon after a certain time has passed, you could recurrently harvest the aged seaweed plants to make way for new spores and use the bi-product in the food industry.

If the project is successful and when the science is able to more precisely predict the impact each measure of seaweed has on the carbon crisis, Barti Rum will be the first business to become carbon neutral (or hopefully negative) using this method. It will happen based on the idea that each bottle sale will fund the opportunity for more seaweed to grow in the sea, and absorb an equal amount of carbon, to that which produced and transported the bottle into existence initially. The benefit of this method of becoming “carbon neutral” over the existing method of planting trees to offset carbon, is speed and space.

Barti Spiced

Jonathan continues “From my earliest amateur experiment, right back when we pulled the first ghost pot out of the water onto the boat, it was pretty clear that seaweed grows quicker than trees, and if the early evidence is to be believed, it is better at cancelling carbon than its land counterparts. There is a huge amount of scope for other business’ to use this initiative for a brighter future.

I am excited by the potential of this initiative for myself, both my business’, my family and for future generations all over the world.”

Read more about Cafe Môr and The Pembrokeshire Beach Food Company here.

Chapter 2 – Pushing the Project Forward (And Ranting)

Written by Jonathan Williams.


Now is the worst time to open a pub. If we’re talking about the entire history of mankind, a properly bad time to open a pub would have been the caveman days when they didn’t know what pubs were. That would have been the worst time, and second place would be now in 2022.

I have opened a pub. In the post covid, post Brexit, mid energy crisis bedlam that is 2022 I have taken on The Old Point House in Pembrokeshire, West Wales. The pub itself is a 400 year old pub “re-born”, it is such a lovely pub.

The Old Point House, Angle, Pembrokeshire.

Also, it might be worth mentioning that I have never in my life worked behind a bar, ever. So considering it is the worst time in the history of mankind to open a pub (apart from the stone age) and the fact that I have never actually worked in a pub, now really isn’t a good time to get distracted with my seaweed blue carbon project. This is definitely something I shouldn’t do, really, really shouldn’t, but…

The Barti Rum Blue Carbon Project begins.

In between pub renovations, Barti Rum meetings, staff training, families, grandads 90th birthday party in Greece and well, chaos. I successfully applied for grants from the good folks of SMART Wales and MEECE. How I had time to do this I can’t quite remember especially considering that many “grant” consultants shudder at the very idea of applying for SMART WALES grant, as they are known to be notoriously difficult to get, and apparently carry a wedge of bureaucracy when it is time to claim your money back. (Looking forward to that.)

Anyhow for the time being, the folks at SMART Wales have been wonderful and have awarded me a grant of £30,000 (they pay 50% and my business pays 50%) to spend essentially on navigating the murky waters of consent for my seaweed lines in the very complicated world of coastal/ sea licensing. In a nutshell the sea is in disarray with various stakeholders and people with an interest in the sea for one reason or another and the goal is to carve out some permission from the powers that be and some physical space to get my project moving.

Let’s go back to basics, I want to grow seaweed to create life and capture carbon so that ultimately my business, and in the future many other business’, are not shitting on the world. 

What I really should do is buy a field and plant trees. I could buy a field, they tend to go for around £5,000 to £10,000 (note that’s cheaper than what I need to stump up to get my grant) and I personally could plant enough trees to make my business “carbon neutral”. I wouldn’t need to ask permission from anyone, the field is mine. Then drive home happy and be proud that I have done my bit and probably treat myself to a nice long holiday somewhere hot and exotic.*

What I have instead chosen to do, is whittle out the very first path towards the same thing, but in the sea. Sadly the sea is a mess. Well, more the act of using part of the sea. I cannot buy a field in the sea as it is all owned by the royal family, I can only rent it. But to rent it I have to hold “official” talks with the following groups of people:


*Shipping companies

*Conservation bodies

*Natural Resources Wales

*Leisure people

*The royal family

After our chats, I have to do environmental impact surveys, marine and visual assessments.

This process takes around 2 years and at the end of it I pay annual rent and everyone I spoke to above can still use my sea field.

Imagine renting a field, planting lots of trees and then anyone can come along and use it pretty much as they wish? Or renting a house but it is an open house for anyone who happens to be passing by, yep they can come in and enjoy your lovely rented house, sit on your furniture and enjoy the movie you happen to be watching and hey, even help themselves to what’s in your fridge. Oh and that privilege will cost you at least 10x more. 

Also I forgot to mention the big elephant in the room and that is planting trees gives you official ‘carbon credits’ which is cool, it means you can officially say “Look at me I’m saving the world”. Seaweed doesn’t, countries and scientists have agreed that seaweed captures carbon, but they haven’t agreed on how long seaweed captures carbon for, so currently there is no carbon credit.

In essence this whole idea is ludicrous, expensive, difficult, and hugely time consuming. 

As I mentioned before, to reduce my business’ carbon footprint I should, for an easy life, buy a field, plant some trees and then go have a nice sit down somewhere.

But that would be boring and just too easy….

So you great big blue difficult wonder of the world, let’s do this!

*In case lost on some people this is a jibe at pretty much all of us, we do one “good thing” and plough on with something pretty catastrophic, but it’s ok cause we did the good thing.

Chapter 3 – The Project is Granted Funding


MEECE allocated us a project fund to firstly research if anything has been done like this before in the world via Swansea University, it turned out it hasn’t. Which is both lovely, “hey I’m the first”, but equally annoying as we get to make all of the mistakes which means more money.

Secondly, the project funded the official scientific test to see what type of rope attracts the most life and works best at harbouring that life in the sea long term. The idea being that the sea is full of seeds just looking for something to attach itself to and grow (as I discovered way back with my lobster fisherman companion in the very beginning). So the idea is to plop a few different types of rope in the sea and get a marine biologist to survey them for 12 months and see if we have made a negative or positive impact on the local environment, alongside analysing which rope works best. 

Obviously normal rope is evil and wonderfully cheap, being plastic we have the micro plastic and the nano plastic issue in the marine environment, that is not good. Natural ropes are very good for the environment but depressingly expensive, up to 5x more expensive than regular evil plastic fishing rope.

The engineers at MEECE spent months researching natural ropes, designing the array and looking for permission to stall them somewhere around the Pembrokeshire coast.

Different types of rope for phase one of the official Blue Carbon project.

Eleri at SMART Wales is a born wonder! Having navigated me through the mountain of paperwork I managed to claim my 50% grant money back. Just in time to pay the huge costs of running a pub during the second worst time in the history of the world for running a pub.

The grant paid for the good folks at Pembrokeshire Coastal Forum (consultants) to talk to lots of people associated with the sea and built a road map to help me install my first test site to see if this idea could work.

This was beginning to get exciting but still frustratingly slow.

Chapter 4 – We Get a Test Site!


We have a test site people! An official site, where every stake holder in the world is happy for us to use the area for this project to (potentially one day) save the world. Every risk assessment, cost assessment and impact assessment has been well and truly ticked off the list.

I must admit their “fast track” pace and my “fast track” pace are very different speeds but we will ponder on this later, for now all we need is a weather window for the lovely people at Williams Shipping to deploy the lines and we can get life growing.

It took 2 years to get there, but we got there! And apparently this happened faster than usual as the site is an existing “test site” for renewable energy, so it was fast tracked? 

November proved to be stormy, too stormy for our lines, December a little stormy still, followed by no storms but issues with boat availability. 

Everything was ready but still no deployment, I figured it was time to try an “alternative” approach.

Chapter 5 – Getting Frustrated and Going Pirate Style

9/12/22 Secret Sea Garden Blog (That’s right, a blog inside a blog, includes further ranting.)

The “official” site would cost more than £20,000, without the support of SMART Wales and MEECE the project simply would not happen. For a small business running a struggling pub it is ludicrous to even consider it.

But I had another idea, “Shellfish lines”, according to Natural Resources Wales if you grow shellfish on single lines you do not need a license and if seaweed just happens to grow on it then so be it.

This gave me an idea for the “unofficial” project, “The Secret Sea Garden” in the waters outside my pub. I knew just the man to help me, my lobster man.

With natural rope delivered to Danny’s I was spurred on to find anchors, I had images of “natural” anchors of hessian sacks filled with baby oysters, or cages of mussels in reclaimed lobster pots to help fast track ocean recovery. But the cost of baby oysters/ mussels and the practicality of keeping them alive while we wait for a launch date meant this was far from an easy solution.

Especially at this time as the pub is losing money, bookings have dropped, no shows have increased which has meant spare cash for the secret sea garden was not available. This meant it was time to use my savings to help keep this project going.

So fanciful ideas of “life anchors” were out, just “normal anchors” back in. The problem was that Danny uses saddle anchors, basically bits of railway, 20 – 30kg a piece. Easy, but the supplier has been out of stock for 12 months. There were posher anchors available but these where £50 plus. So I phoned my old schoolmate Ryan, boat yard extraordinaire. He had a chain which some lobster men use for anchors, so thought this would be easy? Can I have 30 chain anchors please Ryan?

Not so, his van was in the garage, so he was working from home. I needed to cut the chain myself into 30kg blocks. Not so easy in the depths of winter, as while the pub was quiet I was deep in Barti Rum packing mode, Christmas orders were piling in but covid and all kinds of lurgy were raging so staff absence was up. Postal strikes meant our delivery window’s were limited to 2 or 3 days so I was tied to the Barti warehouse helping Fran (Barti MD) and crew to get the orders despatched. 

Thankfully Adam my kitchen porter was willing and able to cut the chains. I won’t bore you with the absolute mountain of logistics issues that lead to me doing two trips with my old wooden trailer to get the anchors to where they needed to be. While standing in the pouring rain, wading through mud, unloading a tonne of sliced chain I did have a moment of thinking what the f**k am I doing?

But I was so close after 3 years of working on this, every tiny little step was a step closer. I left a little broken but eager to push. I called Danny (lobster man), “Danny, when can we get these lines out”? He was Christmas shopping in Bath, try next week, ok cool.

21/12/22 Secret Sea Garden Blog

Danny is busy, young family, Lobster & Mor shop, 2 fishing boats and a gin business. I’m busy, young family, pub, online seaweed business, and a rum business. We really do not have time to do this, the idea is ludicrous, it doesn’t make any financial sense and this close to Christmas me and Danny actually have a million other things we really should be doing. But we managed to confirm a day in the chaos of our lives.

December 21st 8am! Me, Danny and Joe (volunteer intern) rocked up at Danny’s yard and started rigging up our seaweed lines.

With light showers we set to work, Danny on knots, I can’t do knots, Joe on blowing up the fishing buoys and marking them, and me cutting up rope and basically moving chain back and forth. It was the first time I had seen the natural rope. I had ordered Sisal, Manilla, Jute and Hemp. This is the same rope we are using on the “official” project. None of it was marked so it was a quick call to the supplier and double check which was which. Pretty fundamental as the whole point of the secret sea garden was to see which “natural rope” produced the most life. Once sorted, we allocated buoys, set the anchors in fishing trays and rigged up and I double checked costs. 

Again, it does not make sense and that is why no one has done this before. Normal fishing nylon rope is £35 for a 220m coil, my “hippy” natural rope is the following:

So, my rope is at least double in cost compared to current standard rope and by all accounts much more inferior in terms of longevity in the water. On the flip side it is not made from plastic so will not release millions of tiny nano plastics into the sea. It makes no business sense but in terms of saving the world it’s a no brainer.

And that is part of the problem. Their views demonstrate what I mean by the sea being a complete mess. The bureaucracy to do anything new, to improve the way things are is immense, but somehow the archaic rights of old school industries go pretty much unregulated. Current policies provide a landscape where lobster wars are happening every day. Half of the fishing equipment you find on the beach is not from storms but from lobster crews cutting up other fishing crew kits in their ongoing battle of sea “turf” wars.

The system needs to change to bring it up to date so we all can benefit, not least the sea itself.

Our seas have been decimated for centuries and everyone is used to that, there are no “no-take” zones in Welsh waters. It doesn’t sound like a problem until you imagine the whole country without a National Park?

That is the current situation in our seas, and it is very wrong. It is the 21st century, the sea is  one of Wales’ most important assets but it has been forgotten. If this was happening on land there would be a national outcry.

And that is why we plan to change this, planting trees is so last year…

Chapter 6 – The First Official Ropes Go In


Finally, in February 2023 after more meetings than you can shake some seaweed at, we board a boat in Pembroke Dock, ready to drop a few of each of the four rope types into the sea at our test site area. They will live there for a full year, checked and studied monthly by the excellent Marine biologist Jon Moore.

Jonathan Williams (Barti Rum) and Jon Moore, marine biologist.

It’s starting to feel like this is actually happening now. Jon’s findings will help us decide what the next best course of action may be.

  1. Natural fibre rope vs standard plastic rope. Which has the best longevity and provides the best surface for attracting life?
  2. How many species will self seed on the ropes?
  3. How much plant matter will grow on the ropes, how will it vary through the year?
Phase one Blue Carbon

Once more we wait.

Chapter 7 – The Test Site Review

August 2023

Good old Jon the marine biologist goes out to check the ropes once a month come rain or shine. And for those living elsewhere you need to know that summer 2023 is mostly all about rain (like more than normal). Some exciting news, every single rope has grown copious amounts of life. Seaweed, shellfish, each one is it’s own magnificent habitat.

Underwater images by Lou Luddington

And more news from the test site, only the plastic and hemp ropes have remained in a viable state to continue the project. The natural jute and sisal have proven not to be able to withstand the period between February and August let alone the full twelve months of the test project. This outcome is useful as it rules them both out. Once January comes around and we see how natural hemp and the plastic fair after being submerged for a full year we will know which rope will be best to take to the next phase of our research. Jon is reviewing the breadth of life found on the ropes. Time for some more waiting!