It started as a humble initiative in the small town of Kivik, where a förening of twenty residents were given permission to start marine allotments by the local municipality. Using long ropes attached to weights as a sort of underwater trellis, they grew seaweed (blåstång and sockertång), algae (rörhinna), and mussels for private consumption. The results were not perfect—the mussels in particular had a peculiar taste due to low salinity and pollution—but it did not matter much to the sealotters, particularly given the spiralling of food costs throughout the 2020s. But there were unexpected, or perhaps just unplanned upsides: as the seafood they farmed absorbed excess nutrients in the water, it reduced the degree of eutrophication. From such small beginnings, the sealotters have contributed hugely to the regeneration of the marine environment—as well as normalising some previously unusual foodstuffs. Did you know that rörhinna tastes a bit like truffles?
In truth, the Slow Coast has a long history of co-existence with the sea: the coastline is spackled with small fishing villages that have had to forego much of the commercial fishing on which they were founded, in order to allow Baltic fish populations to recover. Commercial fisheries had an extractive relationship with the ocean, withdrawing as much fish as possible without risking future revenue (at least that was the idea). In the early 2020s the area was referred to, rather sarcastically, as “the Green Coast”—a verbal play on both the environmental rhetoric of some residents, and the persistent cyanobacterial “blooms” that appeared every summer, preventing residents and visitors alike from taking a dip to cool down during the very hot spring and summer months—which, given the region was once referred to as the Swedish Riviera for its popularity as a place to bathe, was a pretty damning indictment.
The algal blooms, along with all the other ecosystemic weirdings of the 2020s and beyond, spurred the locals to make their own plans for fixing things in the absence of government action: the first act of the right-wing bloc that took power in 2022 had been to shut down the environmental agency, and signalled clearly that help was not to be expected from Stockholm. Groups were established, deliberative meetings were held, and alternative futures discussed—and the sealotters movement was among the initiatives that really stuck, its regenerative and cooperative attitude finally unifying words with deeds.
A few decades later, there are sealotters all along the Slow Coast. They grow different species depending on their location, but are united in their belief that there is a mutualistic relationship to be had with the ocean and its myriad of species. If you book a stay somewhere close to the Baltic shore, you might see a small notice that reads: “Location comes with obligation. Please follow the instructions on how to maintain the Sealott during your stay”. There will be wading boots in a cupboard somewhere; pull them on, head down to the shore, and get harvesting! Who knows, you may even end up eating whatever you bring to shore in a local eatery later that day…